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Marvin Olasky: Bible is standard for objectivity in journalism

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–All journalists are shaped by their worldviews, and the only way to bring true objectivity to journalism is to be shaped by the worldview of the Bible, Marvin Olasky said at the Baptist Press Excellence in Journalism Banquet in Nashville, Tenn., Oct. 7.

The banquet — the culminating event of the sixth annual Baptist Press national Collegiate Journalism Conference — featured award presentations for students achieving excellence in the fields of print journalism, photojournalism, broadcasting, web design and yearbook.

Olasky is editor-in-chief of World magazine, a syndicated columnist and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of 17 books, and his writing has appeared in such newspapers at The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today.

“Only when we take up these biblical lenses can we see things as they really are,” Olasky said. “So here’s my thesis: the only true objectivity is biblical objectivity.”

Journalists frequently make two errors regarding objectivity, he said. Sometimes they claim to be completely objective and not bring any presuppositions to their reporting, Olasky said, noting that such claims are wrong because everyone has presuppositions and a worldview. He said others wrongly bring their presuppositions to bear on a story so much that they fail to report the facts accurately.

The right way to do journalism is to let the Bible teach reporters how to view any event and report on it accordingly, he said.

Olasky used a metaphor from whitewater rafting to explain that in some journalistic situations it is easy to know how to apply the Bible and in other situations it is very difficult. Just as rapids are classified in six categories according to their difficulty, Olasky outlined six types of situations where it is increasingly difficult to apply the Bible to journalism.

— Class one situations involve cases where the Bible gives very clear instructions on how to view an event.

— Class two situations involve cases where the Bible has an implicit but clear teaching.

— Class three situations involve cases where people on both sides of an issue quote Scripture but a thoughtful Christian can reach a biblical conclusion with careful study.

— Class four situations have no clear biblical solution but can be analyzed by adopting a biblical understanding of human nature and taking lessons from history.

— Class five represents situations where there is no clear biblical teaching and no clear historical lessons but where a biblical understanding of human nature can help process events.

— Class six situations have no clear biblical answer and no other easy answers.

“A very strong biblical stand on the part of a Christian political leader, a Christian journalist on a class one or class two issue is biblically objective,” Olasky said. “A more balanced position on a class five or a class six issue is also biblically objective, given our limited knowledge. We have a goal here. Our goal here is to approach objectivity by giving God’s perspective prime time and keeping silent as best we can when He’s silent.”

Journalists must quote people on both sides of the story for all six classes, but there is no obligation to weight both sides equally when the Bible gives one clear answer, Olasky said.

Experienced Christian journalists can increase their biblical objectivity by studying the Bible carefully and consistently, he said.

“When we study what the Bible says, we can come closer to a God’s-eye view,” he said. “And consistency is vital.”

Christian journalists must not shy away from reporting difficult stories because by showing humans at their worst, journalists demonstrate our desperate need for Christ, Olasky said.

“You look at muck so you can see how desperately we need Christ. Bad news makes the good news shine ever so much more brightly. We need to always be looking up so that we have the strength to look down without being corrupted by it. And we look down so we can appreciate all the more what is above.”

The final goal of journalism is to run with perseverance in order to honor God and know that He is pleased, Olasky said, referring to Hebrews 12.

“We’re in the middle of the story,” he said. “We don’t know how it’s going to end up. Each of us has a narrative of our lives. It may end well. It may end in temporary defeat. But in either case, running the race as journalists helps us feel God’s pleasure.”