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"Spin” In Reporting
It is important to choose carefully how we select whom we trust to tell us the truth about anything.

Likely most readers can spot some “spin” in pronouncements by politicians, and possibly even in  some news stories. In Webster’s New World College Dictionary one of the meanings of spin is “to apply a slant or particular emphasis to (information), as to persuade or deceive.”

I’m not suggesting that our media mean to deceive us.

For example, Canadian media have been pumping the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. British media have been running exposés on Vancouver’s gangs, drugs and violence.

When an opposition politician asks that the government “make parliament work for people,” does this mean that their opposition party will support legislation that implements their own party’s policies, but otherwise likely not?

When a government representative laments that opposition parties claim they “have cards to play” but that “managing an economy is not a game,” does this mean that their party should be continued in government? Do we expect similar spins from unions and management spokesmen in labour disputes?

What many may not understand is that a similar process is at work in the crafting of news reports in all media.

This applies not only to the language used to report events and ideas (such as “homophobia”), but even more to which events and ideas are considered newsworthy, where these reports are placed (at the “top” of the news or later), and which dimensions of complex events and ideas are considered newsworthy.

In his landmark 2009 book, Through a Lens Darkly:How the News Media Perceive and Portray Evangelicals, former TV news reporter David Haskell (now a Wilfred Laurier University journalism professor) documents the left-leaning orientation of our national media.

This first-ever quantitative and qualitative research on this matter did “frame analysis” on the 119 nightly national CBC, CTV, and Global news stories about Canada’s Evangelicals from January 1, 1994 to January 1, 2005.

Haskell also analyzed e-mail and phone responses to open-ended questions from 21 reporters, copy-writers, and editors of this news copy.

I’m not suggesting that our media mean to deceive us. Rather, their beliefs and values are expressed in how they select, report, and place their news stories. And don’t we all do the same? For example, I gave you one definition for “spin” from one dictionary. I selected the dictionary, and I used the last definition (number eight), to suit my purpose.

Did I deceive you? I don’t think so. I just made my point.

This is what every teacher, preacher, writer, parent or friend does. Hence, it is so important to choose carefully how we select whom we trust to tell us the truth about anything.

For example, what are the beliefs and values of those who teach our children in K-12 or in post-secondary education? Do they regard as “homophobic” anyone who criticizes a gay-lesbian sexual lifestyle? We need not be surprised if our children come to embrace those beliefs and values.

As committed Christian stewards we need to choose such people of influence with biblical discernment.

Dr. Al Hiebert, an ordained EMC minister, is executive director of Christian Higher Education Canada. CHEC’s mission “is to advance Christian higher education, foster institutional cooperation, and raise public awareness of the value of Christian higher education in Canada.” CHEC has 35 members—Bible colleges, seminaries, universities.

Originally published in The Messenger, September 16, 2009.

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