Baroness ScotlandThe Churches Media Conference is taking place at Swanwick and there is an impressive line-up of speakers and contributors. We began this afternoon with an address on Faith in the Public Space by Baroness Scotland, the first black and first female Attorney General. She was impressive, but left a lot of questions hanging – especially about the supposed neutrality of non-religious government ministers and the need for individual ministers/politicians to have to decide for themselves how comfortable they are ‘doing God’. Why should ministers who hold a religious world view be subject to a dilemma to which holders of other world views are not subject?

But, following a video appearance form Tony Blair, she did give us some good quotes: ‘Public policy that turns its face from faith turns its face from the public’ – noting that faith is not an optional add-on (but runs through a life like ‘Brighton’ through a stick of rock) and is held by the vast majority of the population in one form or another. She further noted what has become abundantly clear today: the BNP took a reduced number of votes but got two MEPs elected because of the ‘stay at home’ policy of thousands of people who normally vote. Recalling Martin Luther king, she observed that for evil to succeed it only required good people to do nothing. (The consensus here seems to be that the church needs to engage seriously with the BNP and not just leave them out and hope they will go away.)

John Lloyd of the Financial Times made a very good contribution to the conference, celebrating the ability of politicians to compromise. Compromise is often thought of as a negative and weak word/concept; but this is misguided. He pointed out that David Cameron has urged young entrpreneurs to join the Conservative Party and stand for election to public office. The problem with this is that the young entrpreneurs don;t want to dilute their ideals once in office. But, politics is the art of compromise – not of fundamental values, of course, but of priorities and praxis. ‘The only ones who don’t ever compromise are Communists and Fascists,’ he said.

(He later made us laugh by interjecting to a statement by another contributor who asked why young people are always said to be in ‘gangs’, but old people are not. Lloyd suggested that old people form not ‘gangs’, but the ‘House of Lords’.)

Mona SiddiquiMona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic Studies at Glasgow University, made a strong case for the media  carrying a moral burden because of the nature of their business: communication. The media, she asserted, affect strongly the way we talk about God and yet regularly succeed in diluting ‘faith’, failing to subject it to the same intellectual rigour as politics and economics or culture.

What is interesting about all this is that over a hundred media professionals and veterans are wrestling with serious matters relating to faith, broadcasting, integrity, creativity and the moral weight their profession imposes upon them. ‘Telling the truth’ is not always straightforward because it isn’t always clear what the truth is (about an event, a person, etc.); but the journalist still has to produce something for public consumption that (a) the public will want to read about and (b) will sell the medium. And that brings with it particular challenges – both professionally and ethically.

And this brings me back to questions raised in an earlier debate on this blog about the moral responsibility of the media in a civil society. Not an easy one.