“Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness” (Exodus 23:1).
“Thou shalt not raise a false report”. That should be lesson number one in Journalism school. If there is any question as to what, “Thou shalt not raise a false report” means, then refer back to the ninth commandment when God said, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).
Journalism. At its most basic level should be involved in nothing but the facts and the truth of a matter. A journalist conveys, he doesn’t create, otherwise his work would be fiction.
Interestingly, the American Press Institute defines journalism as, “the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information”.
Notice that truth as any qualifier or standard is not in their definition of journalism.
How important is telling the truth? All we have to do is to turn to the last page of the Bible for that answer
“Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie” (Revelation 22:14-15).
“Whosoever loveth and maketh a lie” shall not enter into the Kingdom of God. It’s plain and simple.
Keep this in mind. Words impact people. What we say creates a message that generates a way of thought and understanding for other people. This thinking then becomes a source of energy and power, direction and purpose. Our words influence other people. It causes them to think, to will and eventually to do. Journalist and media outlets hold tremendous sway over the general public. Any misrepresentation of fact can cause the public’s understanding of a situation to deviate away from reality. Knowledge of this power and its intentional use in order to serve a specific purpose other than the truth is intentionally communicating a false report.
This brings up another subject which many of our great Bible expositors address. There are two parts to any report. There is the teller and then there is the hearer.
“Were there no publishers of slander and calumny, there would be no receivers; and were there none to receive them, there would be none to raise them; and were there no raisers, receivers, nor propagators of calumny, lies, etc., society would be in peace” (Adam Clarke).
“Sometimes we cannot avoid hearing a false report, but we must not receive it, that is, we must not hear it with pleasure and delight as those that rejoice in iniquity, nor give credit to it as long as there remains any cause to question the truth of it. This is charity to our neighbour’s good name, and doing as we would be done by” (Matthew Henry).
“…for a lie would soon come to nothing from its own emptiness, and fall to the ground, if it were not taken up and supported by the unrighteous consent of others” (John Calvin).
“A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue” (Proverbs 17:4).
How we respond to a false report is equally as important as the report itself. Maybe even more so. John Calvin brings up an excellent point when he said that a false report would “soon come to nothing” if we did not act upon it.
In my opinion this is what we are seeing today. President Trump routinely decries journalists and news outlets as “fake news”. He has named specific organizations like CNN as “very fake news”. We have broadcasters, printers and webcasters working under the guise of news that the public has assumed to be true. It hasn’t been. But this is nothing new.
Over 200 years ago, President Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle”.
It is our responsibility to hold accountable those we have entrusted in the media, just like it is our responsibility to hold those accountable who we have entrusted to public office. In addition, we must hold ourselves accountable to the news and policies these entities promulgate. Are we pursuing the truth? Can we discern the truth? What is truth? Contrary to some beliefs, truth is not subjective.
What is truth? Government tends to have a problem getting a handle on that question. Pontius Pilate (The government) looked Jesus Christ (The truth) in the face and asked him that very question. (See John 18:38).
Jesus Christ and His word is the truth. What is His word? It can be found in every page of the Bible.