Where can we find the most reliable and unbaised biased sources for both our news and our spiritual walk?

Apr 22, 2024 | INSIGHTS, READ

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.’ (George Orwell)

Journalism is sometimes called the fourth pillar of democracy, alongside Legislature, Executive and Judiciary; ‘pillars’ because each of these entities aims to hold ruling governments accountable for their acts.

The extent to which journalism fulfils that role, of course, depends on the extent to which it either agrees, or disagrees with a government’s course of action, just as Orwell suggests. A pro-Putin news-editor (especially a Russian one) is unlikely to publish stories criticising the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Indeed he may not call it an invasion at all. Not so most Western journalists, and even some Russian: many stories have been told which Putin most certainly did not want printed – and woe betide the Russian journalists who have been brave enough to print and broadcast them. Neither does Israeli televison show the heartbreaking broadcasts that CNN have been showing of children dying from drone attacks in Gaza.

Many of us in other nations are bewildered by the manner in which so many Russian citizens have accepted Putin’s narrative. We might say they have ‘swallowed’ it – and that choice of word would immediately suggest to you how I might (and do) view the matter. Even a single word has the power to direct our attention toward a particular perspective.

Journalists (like any good writer) choose their words with deliberate intention, and as readers, we need to take note of what they are showing us – and, what they are not. With the news and social media sounding forth dramatic and often disturbing headlines, we need to pick our way toward what is true and trustworthy. It is not a straightforward matter. With the proliferation of social media, anyone can build a platform from which to broadcast their views and beliefs, extending their influence far beyond their geographical community: everyone from the girl next door posting videos about make-up techniques, to statesmen and women setting out their political agendas in the hope of winning votes and determining how history is told.

How do we know who to engage with, or which sources are safe and reliable? We need wisdom, both spiritually and practically, to help us distinguish fact from fiction, and objective truth from biased, and even deliberately deceptive and downright false statements. Where can we find those who tell the truth?

Praise God for all the ‘obvious’ channels: the Bible, our local church community, our peers and mentors, our daily devotions and times spent waiting on Him. Praise Him for the discernment that resonates in our spirits when what is true is sounded, or, alternatively, that ‘smells wrong’ when untruth is present. These are the things that will ground our ability to discern truth in many of the other sources we come across.

The ‘single’ eye that Jesus speaks of is capable of processing vast amounts of information and comparing it against those things we are already sure of, so that we can gain a ‘bearing’ on new aspects and ideas. (Matt.6:22) With more and more pressing issues hitting the headlines, it is so important to pray both for fair and honest journalism to thrive and continue, and to ask the Lord to train us in assessing the authentic so that we can distinguish it from what is not.

In this article we will be searching out the most unbiased and trustworthy news sources we can lay our hands on. Before we turn to examine specific media news outlets, however, it is important to set this topic in a wider context: the question of who we look to, to shape our perspective of what is going on in the world – especially spiritually.

Once upon a time, believers gathered together and sat primarily under the teaching of a handful of particular ministers, and perhaps extended their understanding through reading and conferences. But today, we can read and listen to any number of teachers and preachers, with all manner of creeds, understandings and revelations – and that at any time of day or night. The great abundance of teaching available via social media is both a blessing and a complication: people are able to earn a living by creating posts and achieving certain numbers of subscribers and ‘hits.’ For those whose ministry is funded by their ability to produce content, this is an area wherein it is essential to remain vigilant. And for those of us who engage with particular channels, we should perhaps consider our own responsibility in prayer and giving toward these ministries.

The Lord desires that we should have both the confidence and the ability to ponder and to evaluate, without falling into error or compromise. This requires maturity of outlook, plus the willingness to confer with others, and the ability to ‘tally’ different sources of input.

(I have just touched on this in the section ‘By many strands’ in the The Still Small Voice.)

Unsurprisingly, the turbulent times we live in have generated a huge number of ‘end time’ teaching and prophecies, sent to our inboxes in the form of newsletters, recorded as podcasts, and posted on personal YouTube channels. Some are dramatically catastrophic, and others rosily optimistic. Since they range from the truly inspired and anointed, to the downright deluded, it is so important to ask the Lord to direct our reading, listening and watching, and to reveal any underlying biases that influence the teaching we are sitting under. May we be open but not gullible!

In this respect, I would like to suggest (at least) two things to bear in mind: on the one hand, as Wayne Dyer put it, ‘the highest form of ignorance is to reject something that you don’t understand’ without investigation. On the other hand, some ministries are promoted and elevated to such an extent that multitudes are misled into assuming that everything a particular teacher says must be true.

‘My dear friends,’ writes John, ‘do not believe all who claim to have the Spirit, but test them to find out if the spirit they have comes from God. For many false prophets have gone out everywhere.’ (1 Jn. 4:1 GNT)

It is our responsibility to take the time to check out what we are hearing, to investigate details, and examine the accuracy of teachings and prophetic words. Of course no one matures in the prophetic ministry without making mistakes, but it is important that prophets and hearers learn from these, and set the record straight wherever and whenever the trail has proved false. Sadly, those who are concerned with their reputation often find it hard to admit to getting things wrong. We have to ask too whether we, as watchers and listeners, are doing what we can to foster a culture of grace and love that allows people to get things wrong without fierce backlash.

The Lord truly is sounding many warnings at the present time, not least about great storms and international shakings ahead; these will never negate His ability to save to the uttermost those who call on His name. (Rom. 10:13, Joel 2:32, Zeph. 3:9) But when times are turbulent, He wants us to be clear and decisive in our beliefs in order that we can contend effectively for the truth. Where the Church hesitates (especially where it reflects the ‘pick and mix’ mentality that only too willingly embraces syncretistic and universalist beliefs), it slips all too easily into embracing an ‘anything goes’ attitude that almost seems to glorify doubt, and which very often falls into approving beliefs and practices that the Word of God most certainly cannot condone.

Beware hesitation – and beware the overly dogmatic! We can easily become so convinced about our view on a matter, that our sense of ‘rightness’ precludes any consideration of other perspectives – even though they might, in reality, be as equally valid as our own. May the Lord help keep us willing to read and listen widely enough to be remain aware of other perspectives, and to weigh them properly.

A challenge
In what we have written so far, I wonder if there is anything the Lord might say to you? Many of us prefer to stay within the confines of our comfortable tramlines, fearing the confusion that could come were we to expose ourselves to other lines of thought, in case we are led astray. It is right to be cautious: there is a great deal of barbed and misleading propaganda pedalling lies or, more subtly, overstressing certain truths to the point of downright heresy. Do you have areas of belief which are not only precious to you, but where you perhaps come across as being overly dogmatic? Do you have respect for those who think and do otherwise? Or have you settled for the temptation to be so open-minded that you have effectively become ‘porous’ – open to anything but convinced of little?

Some of you reading this will have been hurt and wounded by those who have used even true beliefs as weapons to, as it were, batter you over the head. Father, set us and many free from the damage caused by overinsistence as well as by sheer delusions. May we see truly, and value the truth of Your Word rightly. May we be effective in our stand for You in this generation. Where insensitivity and even idolatry has entered into the equation, give us the willingness to skim out the spurious without in any way denying core tenets of the faith.

We often hear the phrase, ‘we are living in a post-truth age’ – I have used it myself many times. I prefer the idea that we are living in a ‘pre-truth’ era – for there will come a day when the Lord Jesus returns to set up His everlasting kingdom where righteousness, justice and truth reign supreme! We look forward to it with eagerness!

Aids to checking out media sources

Praise God for the many excellent media outlets still in existence, even though comparatively few exist without some form of partisan or political leaning, even if only to reflect the opinions of the person who compiled particular reports and articles. Media Bias/Fact Check provides an excellent first stop site for evaluating different media. Allsides serves a similarly useful purpose when it comes to providing bias ratings.

Human nature being what it is, it is impossible to be completely unbiased, but the most objective news agency I have come across is Reuters, along with AP News. The BBC, ITV and Sky News all score high for factual accuracy. Sky News came out with a ‘Least biased’ badge, with the BBC showing a slight to moderate liberal left leaning, and ITV the same percentage towards the conservative end of the scale. Both MSN and Yahoo News score high for factual accuracy, but draw very little of their material from right-leaning sources.

I have often found The Conversation stimulating. Mediafact have no hesitation in placing it in the ‘Least Biased’ category, rating it excellent for covering evidence-based topics and reporting factually on events. The Dispatch also scores highly for factual reporting, with a moderate right-Centre bias based on story selection and editorial positions. Raw Story, which approaches topics from a significantly more ‘leftish’ position, is also rated highly for factual accuracy, and for its willingness to correct mistakes. Ros and I also read The Week from cover to cover each week. It is an excellent compilation of world and UK news, deliberately presented from contrasting standpoints.

For keeping up to date with political developments, we have found Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American extremely helpful, albeit from an anti-right wing extremist perspective. Here is her latest: ‘Many foundations, organisations, corporations and other entities are caught up in a tidal wave of timidity and fear.’

Don’t forget, too, to check out the facts of the dramatic stories you come across. Fact-checking, myth-busting Truth or Fiction scores very high when it comes to this. PolitiFact and Washington Post fact-checker are also excellent sources (with both rated as being slightly left-leaning). Check out Snopes too, as a useful site for distinguishing fact from misinformation and hoax.

Compare CNN with Fox News.

France 24 scores very highly for factual basis, albeit with a slight liberal tendency. Euro news is owned by France, and also scores highly for facts, but with a pronounced liberal leaning. (I have found many of its Witness broadcasts extremely helpful).

Concerning events further afield, the Middle East Institute (MEI) is an American-based non-profit think tank that promotes dialogue and provides analysis on regional issues with the aim of fostering understanding between the people of the two regions. MediaFact rates it highly. Middle East Eye also scores pretty highly, although it does tend toward emotionally loaded language, and is somewhat left-leaning.

Mediafact rates The Jerusalem Post as taking centre right in its editorials, and favouring the right-leaning government. It scores as being ‘mostly factual’ rather than ‘highly,’ having failed some fact checks.

By contrast, Haaretz, whilst being left biased based on story selection and editorial positions, is rated ‘high’ for factual reporting.

The Eurasia Review scores highly, for world events and analysis; the Eurasian Times rather less so for matters further East and south.

The Hindustan Times is a handy reference site I have used, which, according to Media Bias, it is somewhat left-leaning and does not always check its facts sufficiently. The Times of India is correspondingly right leaning, and often appears to be an outlet for the nationalist government.

See also Freddie Sayer’s article Inside the disinformation industry A government-sponsored agency is censoring journalism.

By the way, Media Bias Fact Check is itself considered unbiased!

News that is tailored for each person’s preferences

In a move away from a broadly consistent range of news stories and facts the last decade or so has seen a great push toward providing people with precisely the news they are likely to be interested in. In 2010, News 360 began aggregating news items and other information from tens of thousands of sources, and then co-relating them to the known interests of each individual according to their internet searches and posts. In effect, people may never have to engage with news and views which run counter to their own pre-conceptions and beliefs. Instead, they are presented with stories that underpin their pre-existing outlook. It is a frightening prospect.

Prayer

With print media and broadcasting giants losing out to digital platforms hand over fist, let’s pray for the continuance of wise and perceptive journalism, and that people will recognise and escape the trap of narrow and uninformed opinions and mindsets.

Father, forgive us for the distress we cause You by our lack of discernment and concern for objective truth – and the damage that this does to society. Where our understanding about a situation is inadequate or even downright wrong, please show us Your perspective, even if it clashes with our own instinctive beliefs and preferences. Thank You, Lord.

See also Freddie Sayer’s article Inside the disinformation industry A government-sponsored agency is censoring journalism.

Photo by Google DeepMind on Unsplash

1 Comment

  1. Dane

    Thanks for this survey, Rob. It is much needed.

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