Home > Opinion > A watching brief

A watching brief

IN JANUARY 1970 I arrived in Renmark, a vibrant community in the Riverland of SA, to commence my first ministry placement.

At that time the town congregation met for worship both Sunday morning and evening and the church was full on both occasions.

TV arrived in the Riverland some time in 1971. Within six months, while attendances at morning worship remained excellent, the evening service had diminished to the point that it was discontinued.

We should never underestimate the degree of influence that TV has on just about every aspect of people’s lives. Sometimes that influence is subtle, sometimes quite overt, but it is very real.

We are most at risk when we assume that we are immune from the impact that TV has on our values, our attitudes, and our lifestyle.

The incessant and awful advertising, the constant depiction of dysfunctional and destructive relationships as normal, the shallowness and bias of most news and current affairs programs, the sheer volume of violence… all have the capacity to do us harm in fundamental ways.

The statistics regarding the number of hours that people watch TV are disturbing, especially in relation to children.

The fact that TV is the default method used to keep children occupied is a real worry. The degree to which the TV watching habits of children are unsupervised is of even greater concern.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with watching TV for relaxation and entertainment. It can also be a valuable source of information when the facts are presented accurately and without prejudice. It can help keep us in touch with significant national and global events and it has considerable potential as a tool for educational purposes.

Proportionately, there is very little specifically Christian content on TV. Those who subscribe to cable television will know that there is a channel devoted to Christian programs, but the quality is often dubious.

It does remind us, however, that we have never really been able to harness TV in Australia as a vehicle for effectively sharing the Gospel.

The Christian Television Association did some creative things in past years, but the cost has often been prohibitive.

The Apostle Paul encourages us to take time to reflect on those things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing and commendable (Philippians 4:8), and there are programs on TV that enable us to do that.

However, there is a great deal that communicates, and seeks to justify, the exact opposite. Sometimes there will be the option not only to be discerning about what we watch, but to use selected TV programs as a basis for critical conversation and theological reflection, both within our own families and as a resource in our congregations. Otherwise, on many occasions it is better to turn the TV off and do something else altogether.

If for no other reason, we should do this for the sake of our children.

TV is with us to stay. Options will continue to proliferate. The challenges and issues involved can only increase in degree and complexity.
It is best then to make some wise decisions, implement appropriate safeguards and disciplines, diminish the pitfalls and maximise the benefits.
It’s up to us.