For many years much of the news out of Spain, at least as reported by the allegedly “mainstream” media, has been rather bad. The most recent evidence of this was last summer, in the laughably awful media coverage of World Youth Day in Madrid. Yet rather than throw up our hands and ask, “What can we do?”, a new story out today from Spain should give us not only cause to hope that all is not lost in that country, but also provide us with a good lesson on how to use new media to our advantage.
It was a real pleasure this morning to read that, for the second year in a row, city authorities in Madrid have denied a group of atheists, anarchists, and other leftists a permit to march in protest of the Church on Holy Thursday. In rendering their decision the authorities issued a press release which states, in part [translation mine]:
The date, time, and place chosen by the organizers, although in principle having a legitimate purpose, in reality is being sought for a demonstration on a day of special significance for Catholics, in the same place and time when many religious ceremonies will be held, and which indicates, at the very least, a clear intent of provocation.
For those of my readers who are not Catholic, or who have not been in Spain during Holy Week, a little explanation is in order. It is a very ancient tradition in Spain for the major towns and cities to hold religious processions during Holy Week, i.e. the period from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. This is the holiest time of the year for Christians, as we remember the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
However these processions are not simply parades, like one might have for a sporting event or secular holiday. Most of these very special processions feature gigantic parade floats decorated with hundreds of flowers and candles, and bearing life-sized crucifixes, tableaux showing scenes from the Bible, or figures of the Virgin Mary and other Christian saints. The processional groups accompanying these floats, which are usually the property of individual churches across each city, are huge, and include such people as clerics, musicians, local dignitaries, and so on. For example, Spanish actor Antonio Banderas has, for many years, participated in the Holy Week processions in his home city of Málaga, in southern Spain. Thousands of people attend these processions, or watch them on television, and those on Holy Thursday, when Catholics commemorate the Last Supper and the institution of the Holy Eucharist, take place on one of the most important days of this very important week.
As the authorities correctly held, the only reason why a group of leftists would want to hold an anti-Catholic protest march in downtown Madrid on Holy Thursday, in the middle of the sort of atmosphere I have just described, would be to try to pick a fight with those participating in or watching the religious processions. I am obviously very pleased that the local government had the sense to see sense on this point. However it should come as no surprise to anyone that the “mainstream” media in Spain has been wringing its hands and whinging about this decision all morning.
In tone, the reporting on this has been similar to Pope Benedict’s recent visits to Spain, when the media deliberately ignored or under-reported on the tremendous numbers of people who came to cheer the head of the Catholic Church. In 2010 such gatherings happened in Santiago de Compostela, home of one of the most important historical religious sites in Christendom, as might have been expected. However it happened again in ultra-hip Barcelona, which has a long history of anti-clericism, when the Pope came to dedicate the famous Sagrada Familia basilica, and it happened again the following year in the supposedly swinging capital of Madrid during World Youth Day. The result was reporting that so downplayed the numbers supporting the Pope, and so played up the tiny number of those protesting his visit, that the media frankly covered themselves in shame by being unable to hide their bias against Catholicism.
Of course, Catholics in Spain are not alone in experiencing this kind of biased reporting: it happens to any group which large news organizations do not like. For example, apparently the presence of around half a million people at the March for Life in Washington earlier this year, peacefully protesting against legalized infanticide, did not deserve mainstream media coverage. We can complain about it, as I certainly did, but the reality is that this type of reporting is not going to change, at least not anytime soon. So how we do we beat them at their own game?
The answer, it seems to me, is in fact what you are doing right now: making use of new media. If the role of the so-called mainstream media is to question authority, then I would suggest that one important role for new media content providers is to question the mainstream media. Where needed, it is now possible to produce media content that dismisses mainstream media coverage of events and issues that matter to us, as being biased and fundamentally untrustworthy. Through the use of blogging for example, in both macro and micro format, anyone can be a reporter or commentator.
Yet that reporting via new media platforms will not have any real impact if those who read it do not take on the task of sharing that content with others. Therefore if you care about an issue, and feel as though the mainstream media is misreporting, burying, or otherwise ignoring that issue, even if you yourself are not a new media content producer, you have an important role to play. By sharing that content with others, you can help to get the word out that, among other things, maybe The New York Times or The BBC is not the best place to get your news on the Catholic Church.
Combining the tools available to us through new media with the wider outreach possible through social media can provide greater encouragement to those who find themselves questioning news reporting on issues that matter to them. And as bizarre as it might seem to state, the type of biased reporting which we are questioning – or at least I am – in fact provides a wonderful opportunity to draw attention to that bias. We live in an age where we are no longer bound to accept, due to a lack of alternatives and as a kind of secular gospel, what we are told to think about an event, or a subject, or a policy, by the mainstream media outlets. Therefore, let us use their content, as untrustworthy as it often is, to create our own.