Tuesday was a difficult day to listen to the News. The search for a missing Bristol teenager had become a murder hunt. A report catalogued the abuse of over 300 young girls in Oxford and how their cries for help went unheard. An investigation listed the errors that led to the unnecessary death of eleven babies and one mother at a Cumbrian hospital. And all this before the latest news from Syria and Ukraine yet alone the stories from which the media have moved on (the girls kidnapped by Boko Harram) are still missing) and the stories that never even make it into the news.
Each individual, in each of these stories, is caught up in unbearable pain. And faced with such a catalogue of suffering how should we the listener/viewer respond?
With 24hr rolling News, accessible in a multitude of formats, the danger is that the news becomes a mere backdrop against which we just carry on with our lives as if nothing had happened. Or worse still it can become a pornography of sadness in which we become voyeurs, drawn to ever more tragic stories.
Sometimes there may be a response we can make; a letter to an MP or a donation to a charity but more often than not we have to listen in utter powerlessness, aware of the suffering of others, but unable to make any response that can help alleviate what we have seen or heard. But this is no excuse to turn off or change channel – those caught up these stories do not have that option. The very least we can do is to give the News our fullest attention; to do less than this is to fail to honour those whose lives are being broken open in such suffering.
Perhaps we need to listen to the News less and so listen to it more. Contrary to what the media outlets are encouraging us, telling us we can listen to the News any time and any place, perhaps we should just listen/view the News just once a day. Find one time when we can really stop and give the News our fullest attention, not distracted by other tasks and then really listen. By listening less often but listening more intently, perhaps we can risk opening up our lives more to what is going on, be determined to let it not wash over us and discern more deeply where we might engage, respond or make a difference.
Listening to the News needs to become a sacred act, to be received in an attitude of prayer, with the lighting of candles and in stillness before the mystery of suffering. Journalist and audience are caught up in a shared act of Intercession. The News is not entertainment nor an opportunity to make drinks between our favourite programmes. This is the heartbeat of the world around us and it needs our fullest attention.