This week's blog is another catch-up.
In April 2010, the ABC aired the last of its series "Hungry Beast". I enjoyed the program as a refreshingly different take on current affairs with an eclectic mix of light-hearted comedy, satire, cynicism and serious criticism.
However, there were two pieces in one episode that irritated me to the point that I wrote a complaint to the ABC. The following is my complaint, and the response from the ABC.
(I have edited the emails to remove email addresses. I have also inserted some links for ease of reference).
I'm in two minds about this. On the one hand, the ABC has seriously considered my objections in accordance with its own guidelines. On the other it has assumed that its audience is aware of the difference between the Old and New Testament (am I assuming that the audience knows too little?) and is capable of time-lining the development of the Bible (noting that some surveys have suggested that most people don't know who came first, Paul or Moses). So, I'll invite readers to answer the question, was the ABC's response satisfactory?
To: Audience & Consumer Affairs
From: Martin Jacobs
Subject: Bible-bashing on Hungry Beast
Date: 15/04/10 22:12
Below is the result of your feedback form. It was submitted by Martin Jacobs
ABC program: Hungry Beast
Response required: true
Date of program: 15 April 2010
Contact type: Complaint
Subject: Bible-bashing on Hungry Beast
Comments: Dear sirs,
Where do you draw the line between information and opinion? The short answer, I suspect, is that information is carefully compiled from demonstrable fact, and opinion is what you (or your viewers) make of it.
Last night's episode of Hungry Beast crossed that line with two of its articles.
The first concerned the bagging of Scientology and concluded by implying that all religions believe in crazy, implausible stuff so they are all (to use the presenter's phrase) "a little bit bullshit".
The second concerned the current pedophilia crisis in the Roman Catholic Church.
My objection is not that these subjects should not be addressed, or even satirized. I do not object to a presenter expressing an opinion on these matters, even if I find it offensive.
What I do object to is when the information in these articles misrepresents what can be learned from demonstrable facts.
The subject in this case is the history of the Bible, which was grossly misrepresented by your presenters. I wrote an email to Hungry Beast on this subject via its website last night.
The first article claimed that the Bible was written by a "couple of fishermen". The second claimed that the Didache (a late first to second century document) was "older than the Bible", and it implied that the Bible was both the creation and the sole property of a malfunctioning Catholic Church.
Whereas I don't expect your presenters to agree with the agenda of the Bible, I do expect that when they present something as "information" (not opinion), they might at least get their facts right. It seems, though, that they got their information straight out of the Atheists Handbook, or Dan Brown's fiction, The Da Vinci Code. Had they not even heard of the Old Testament?
Whereas there is a broad spectrum of serious scholarship on the history of the Bible, the compelling consensus is that it is the product of a large number of people over a period of many centuries. The earliest parts of the Old Testament were written several hundred years before Christ, and the last parts of the New Testament can be reliably dated to the close of the First Century AD (or even the start of the 2nd), which coincides roughly with the authoring of the Didache.
What should be obvious from this timeline is that the Didache is NOT older than the Bible. That the Catholic Church did not create the four fifths of the Bible that is the Old Testament should be obvious from the fact that it wasn't around at the time. We could debate whether we should consider the New Testament authors as Catholics, but we're still mid to late First Century AD, well before the Didache.
Further, there is a compelling case that the Bible has been reliably transmitted from its autographs, which places the idea that the Catholic Church changed it in the Third Century AD firmly in the urban myth basket. The Catholic Church has done many things (current crisis included), but the one thing it has not done is vandalize the Bible.
Your reporters should also note that the Bible is not the sole property of the Roman Catholic Church; the Reformation saw to that. In fact, the Bible isn't owned by anyone, which is a good thing because new translations cannot go unchallenged. No single interest group can alter it to suit their own agenda, though it is every person's prerogative to make what they will of it.
Ironically, I would agree with your article's assessment on the origins of the Book of Mormon (Joseph Smith's head in a hat), because it is borne out by the extant documented evidence (including the records of the LDS Church). For some years I have been involved with a counter-cult initiative, which contends for these issues at blog.mrm.org. Having read the Qu'ran, I have a little more sympathy for it, and if you have the time, you can browse my opinions at http://web.mac.com/martin_jacobs1/iWeb/Superseded/Quran_Blog/Quran_Blog.html. I have also run a short course in the History of the Bible, and studied theology by correspondence with Moore Theological college in Sydney.
I don't necessarily expect your presenters to subscribe to my opinions, but to say that because one religion gets it wrong, they are ALL wrong, is plain wrong in itself.
Getting back to Hungry Beast; did the Church know about pedophilia 2000 years ago. According to the Didache, yes. But we've also known about murder since Cain, and that gets the same treatment. Again, the article's analysis is almost right in one respect, but it implied that the root cause of pedophilia was the Church. How absurd! Genuinely, I'd like to know if anyone else in the First or Second Century AD Greco-Roman world was taking a stand against pedophilia.
Fundamentally, I am concerned that too often the ABC presents certain urban myths as if they had some credible basis in demonstrable history. The currently fashionable dogma, that the Bible was created by a malfunctioning Catholic Church to serve its own agenda, is a prime example.
I would be pleased to discuss this further with the ABC, though I will do all I can to maintain the distinction between my information and my opinion.
Subject:Re: Bible-bashing on Hungry Beast
Date:15 June 2010 2:38:51 PM
Dear Mr Jacobs
Thank you for your email regarding the episode of Hungry Beast broadcast on 14 April. I am sorry for the long delay in responding to you.
I understand you considered that two segments in this program misrepresented facts. In accordance with the ABC's complaints process, your concerns have been investigated by Audience & Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of program making areas within the ABC. In light of your concerns, Audience & Consumer Affairs has assessed the segments to which you refer against the relevant editorial standards for accuracy.
The first segment to which you refer was the regular 'Things We Think Might be Bullshit' segment. This segment was categorised as opinion content in accordance with the ABC's editorial standards. This content category is subject to the requirements of section 6 of the ABC's Editorial Policies, available in full here: http://abc.net.au/corp/pubs/edpols.htm. Opinion content is specifically commissioned or acquired to provide a particular perspective or point of view. The standard for accuracy which applies to this content category is outlined in section 6.6.4 of the Editorial Policies, as follows: "In the presentation of this content, staff should... take reasonable steps to ensure factual content is accurate".
In the case of 'Things We Think Might be Bullshit', each week a different member of the Hungry Beast team used the segment to briefly present their opinion on a specific subject. On this occasion, Daniel Keogh presented his opinion that attacking Scientology is "a little bit bullshit" because, in his view, other religions can be equally "kooky". During the segment Mr Keogh said, "The reason a lot of people mock Scientology is because it was created by the science fiction writer L. Rob Hubbard [pointing at the book 'Dianetics' by L. Rob Hubbard], but why is that any weirder than those religions invented by an allegedly illiterate businessman [holding up the Quran], a bunch of fishermen [holding up the Bible], or a guy who read the words of God out of a hat [holding up the Book of Mormon]?".
I understand you considered Mr Keogh's claim that the Bible was written by "a bunch of fishermen" to be inaccurate as it was the product of a large number of people over many centuries. The producers of Hungry Beast have advised that this claim represented Mr Keogh's opinion. They have advised that the segment was not intended as serious academic scholarship on the collective authorship of what came to be known as the New Testament. I understand some of Jesus' key disciples had been fishermen and were involved in passing on knowledge about his life which became the New Testament. I am advised that Mr Keogh's visual reference to the Bible was intended as shorthand for the New Testament, and his reference to "a bunch of fishermen" was intended as shorthand for its collective authorship.
On review, Audience & Consumer Affairs considers that the exaggerated shorthand used by Mr Keogh was acceptable within the context of opinion content. Although it is not precisely accurate to describe the authors of the Bible as "a bunch of fishermen", it was an exaggeration based in some truth, and was clearly presented as a hyperbolic claim designed to amuse and bolster Mr Keogh's argument. Audience & Consumer Affairs is satisfied that the segment was consistent with the editorial standards for opinion content.
The second segment to which you refer was the regular 'Beast File' segment. This segment was categorised as topical and factual content, which is subject to section 7 of the Editorial Policies. The standard for accuracy which applies to this content category is outlined in section 7.4.2(a) of the Editorial Policies as follows: "Every reasonable effort must be made to ensure that factual content is accurate and in context".
This particular 'Beast File' examined the Catholic Church's response to child sexual abuse and the historical church documents showing that the problem has existed for almost 2000 years. On review, Audience & Consumer Affairs does not agree with your suggestion that the segment implied that the Bible was the creation or sole property of the Catholic Church, or that the Catholic Church changed the Bible in the third century. Furthermore, the segment did not imply that the Catholic Church was the root cause of paedophilia, as you suggest.
I note your comments about the dates of composition of the Bible and the Didache. The relevant statement in the segment was as follows: "But the Church's own paper trail shows it has known about and failed to deal with the problem for 2000 years. The first recorded link between priests and paedophilia can be found in a manual for church officials from around AD 60 called Didache. Older than the New Testament, it made the rule clear: 'Thou shalt not seduce young boys'".
While I understand some parts of the New Testament were written as early as the middle of the first century, as you point out, the later parts have been dated to the close of the first century or the start of the second century. There is considerable uncertainty as to the date of composition of the Didache. However, the producers of Hungry Beast have provided several sources in support of the claim that it was written "around AD 60", and Audience & Consumer Affairs is satisfied that every reasonable effort was made to ensure that this claim was supported by evidence. Given this, we are satisfied that the description of the Didache as being "older than the New Testament" was consistent with the editorial standard for accuracy.
Nonetheless, while we are satisfied that both segment adhered to the relevant editorial standards, please be assured that your comments have been noted and conveyed to the producers of Hungry Beast and ABC Television management. Thank you for taking the time to write.
ABC Audience & Consumer Affairs