Sunday, January 10, 2016

Tired of all the Bad News in the Media? So is the Pope

Muslims protecting a Christian church in Pakistan, 2003

Tired of all of the bad stories in the media? Are all the reports about terrorism, crime, tragedy and suffering wearing you down?

If your answer is yes, you’re not alone—Pope Francis feels that way, too.

In his year-end address, the Pope called on the media to tell more positive and inspirational stories to counterbalance all the evil, violence and hate in the world.

He noted that 2015 had been a difficult year, what with all the “violence, death, unspeakable suffering by so many innocent people, refugees forced to leaves their countries, men, women and children without homes, food or means of support,” the Pope said.

But, he added, there have also been “so many great gestures of goodness” to help those in need, “even if they are not on television news programs (because) good things don't make news.”

It’s not true that good things don’t make the news—all media outlets carry many stories of how people do things to help others. 

But it is also true that most news line-ups feature a preponderance of what many would consider bad stories. And a lot of those stories are about radical Islamic terrorism and violence.

So, with the Pope’s words in mind, here’s a good news story about Muslims that didn’t make a splash locally. 

It happened in Kenya on December 21 when armed al-Shabab extremists stopped a bus carrying more than 60 passengers, mostly women, near the town of Mandera in the northeast part of the country.

According to news reports about the incident, after stopping the bus the terrorists ordered the passengers to form two separate lines. One line was for Muslims, and the other for Christians—who they would then kill.

But something unexpected happened: The female Muslims on board the bus gave the Christian women headscarves to prevent them from being identified. They also helped other Christians hide behind some bags on the bus. And they refused to get into separate lines. 

They told the attackers if they wanted to kill Christians, they would have to kill all of them. 

Unfortunately, two people were killed in the attack: A Christian man who tried to run away was shot, as was the driver of a truck behind the bus. But everyone else survived.

That wasn’t the only good news story involving Muslims at Christmas; another happened in Lens , France when Muslim men stood guard outside a church to protect Christians from any potential attacks during a midnight Christmas Mass. 

There were other stories like these as well last year, in places like Norway , Egypt and Pakistan . But stories like these don’t get the same coverage as terrorist attacks.

Part of me understands why; death and destruction usually attracts more readers and viewers, as the click counts on media websites often shows. But another part of me is sad. Wouldn’t it be great if the media spent as much time covering these acts of kindness and solidarity?

In his book The News: A User’s Manual, British author Alain de Botton asks why we get so many stories about disaster and celebrities, but not as much about ordinary people doing kind an decent things.

“Our nation isn’t just a severed hand, a mutilated grandmother, three dead girls in a basement, embarrassment for a minister, trillions of debt, a double suicide at the railway station and a fatal five-car crash by the coast,” he writes.

“[Our nation] is also the cloud floating right now unattended over the church spire, the gentle thought in the doctor’s mind as he approaches the patient’s bare arm with a needle, the field mice by the hedgerow, the small child tapping the surface of a newly hardboiled egg while her mother looks on lovingly, the nuclear submarine patrolling the maritime borders with efficiency and courage, the factory producing the first prototypes of a new kind of engine and the spouse who, despite extraordinary provocations and unkind words, discovers fresh reserves of patience and forgiveness.”

We need the media to report challenging, difficult and tragic news. But the next time you hear about another radical Islamic terrorist attack—and there will be more—or about crime in the inner city, political malfeasance at any level, or any other number of bad, tragic and painful things, remember these aren't the only stories out there.

They are just the ones that made it into the media. 

From the Jan. 9, 2015 Winnipeg Free Press


  1. Alain de Botton confuses news stories with real life. Real life isn't what is reported in the news any more than reality is what we see in so-called reality TV shows. The answer isn't for journalists to report positive stories. The answer is to turn off the TV, put down the newspaper, and live life by engaging with our communities, our neighbours, and our families. If we did that, we wouldn't need newspapers to tell us that people are good and decent. The America/Canada we meet when we meet individual Americans/Canadians is entirely different from the version of America/Canada we see on television. The evening news is not who we are.

  2. Nicely said, John. Thank-you!