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Wednesday, October 21, 1998 Published at 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK


The article The Times wouldn't print

Rev Doug Gay resigned as a columnist with The Times when the paper objected to a column criticising its owner, Rupert Murdoch. Here, for the first time, is Mr Gay's unedited article.

After months of supreme indifference, our nine-month-old son has just started taking notice of what's on television. His interest wanes after about sixty seconds, perhaps just as well since he insists on watching from a distance of three inches.

Alongside the usual parental glow at another developmental milestone, I surprised myself with the depth of feelings stirred up by the beginnings of his relationship with television.

There was no TV in our house until I was ten years old. To cope with this deprivation we read furiously, seethed with envy and went round our friends' houses to watch there. Eventually our parents gave in and we joined the masses.

Ever since I have carried a strange ambivalence about television. It was I think good for me that I watched little and read a lot as a child.

On the other hand the sense of exclusion from the shared culture of other kids was intense. TV held all the fascination of forbidden fruit.

My son's burgeoning interest in Pingu is just one more prompt to think harder about the role of television in our lives. Others include the cabling of our street, the current advertising blitz as digital TV is launched and the superb, prophetic Huw Wheldon lecture by Andy Hamilton.

The television our children will take for granted will be massively different from the meagre three channels I was so desperate to gain access to.

We are at the threshold of a revolution in television, which promises to have a major social impact and needs to be accompanied by thoughtful and watchful critique, not least from within the Christian churches.

While there was only three, four or five channel terrestrial television, most of us often watched the same things. Television constructed shared experiences on a mass scale as we all watched Coronation Street, the Generation Game or the Six O'Clock News.

With 200 channels we are going to experience ourselves, our own sense of society in a more fragmented and disparate way. When we surf channels and hit on transmissions in German and French, our sense of where Europe is will shift.

When we can choose CNN, Sky News and BBC World, our consciousness of the global context will move up a gear. We will simultaneously find ourselves part of much larger audiences and much smaller ones, as we zap between CNN and that specialist angling channel.

Reactions to this revolution are interesting. Many people groan whenever hundreds of channels are mentioned, yet early sales of digital packages are booming.

Various elites are deploring the (still further) vulgarisation and popularisation of what is already a pop medium. This predictable pattern of huffing, puffing, then capitulating is a seriously inadequate response.

We need to think hard and ask hard questions about what is happening. We need to use our power as consumers and work together to make a difference.

I believe a Christian response which cherishes freedom of expression and cultural diversity must oppose the monopolistic workings of media moguls, with Rupert Murdoch's empire offering most cause for concern.

We might also care to reject those cable or digital packages which pre-bundle channels in favour of those where we can choose what we want from the menu.

On the plus side, more channels could mean more access to programme making for local groups and minority groups.

Of course there will be dreadful TV evangelists, but there might also be room for some genuinely creative Christian contributions instead of the bland horrors of religious programming past and present.

'And finally' - we will have to give up on the excuse that there's nothing much on TV tonight and take responsibility for switching off and doing something better.

Reproduced by kind permission of Rev Doug Gay.

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