CHRISTIAN COMMENT The news – a negative bias?

BBC bias. Does sensitivity in this area suggest what I’m feeling is real or merely psychosomatic?

Do you recognise the symptoms? Every time you switch on the news (and I’m referring to BBC specifically) there seems to be an item being presented from merely one side – and that is much more frequently than seems necessary.

The case I’m reacting to is the very sad story of Tony Nicholson who died this week from Locked-in Syndrome. The condition is described as one “in which a patient is aware and awake but cannot move or communicate verbally due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body except for the eyes”.

It’s a horrible situation to find oneself in and seems to occur as one of the results of strokes or blood-clots on the brain or cerebral cortex.

The current story has made the news not simply as highlighting this condition but because of his campaign to gain legal permission to end his own life. As such it becomes part of the history of euthanasia.

So – where’s the bias?

Mr Nicholson died two days after being refused such permission by the High Court.

On that day, his story was balanced with another, featuring someone with the same condition who had no wish to die and who was still enjoying his very limited life. Since then, the unpleasantness of the syndrome and the fact that the campaign is continuing have been in every newscast I’ve seen – with nothing to balance the message.

Alerted by this, I’ve been reading up some background and some stories of other sufferers of LIS. I’ve read of people who have come out of the condition – against all predictions. I’ve found a survey that suggests that as many as three-quarters of sufferers are ‘happy’ in their condition – something I find extraordinary. Even more extraordinary was this sentence from the report: ‘The longer people were locked-in, the more likely they were to be happy.’ More likely to be happy’! And two-thirds of those who were interviewed claimed never to have had suicidal thoughts.

The fortitude behind that claim and the extent to which we humans can find new levels of expression for the life with in us is powerful and uplifting. It’s a good message to accompany the current focus on the Paralympics.

So why ignore all this positive in favour of the negative? It reminds me of reporting during the first week of the Olympics before public outcry forced the BBC to start giving credit rather than blame to those who missed out on medals.

One friend who knew Jesus really well and understood better than most what Jesus was about wrote this: “We’re in a crisis: God’s light has streamed into the world (through the person and teaching of Jesus), but men and women everywhere prefer darkness.”

I think we’re still in that crisis.

Of course, we must recognise that there is a great deal of suffering all around us. But there is also an equal or even greater potential for courage and hope in the face of that suffering.

I wonder how the country would be if the media shifted its bias towards such reporting. As one Christian writer put it, looking to encourage the right emphasis: ‘Whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable – if there is any excellence, anything worthy of praise – think about these things.’

By Nigel O’Dwyer, who leads Goring New Life Baptist Church