Truth is becoming a commodity, up for auction to the highest bidder, says Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell in an article published in the Christmas edition of Radio Times.
Lamenting the decline of truth in public life, the Archbishop told the UK magazine, “The echo chambers of social media and the fake news that often goes with it have led us to mistrust and cynicism.
“In other parts of the world, even news channels seem to be mouthpieces of certain political parties or vested interests.”
Commenting on the US presidential election, Archbishop Cottrell said, “Look at how divided and mistrustful of each other the people of that nation have become. Most alarming of all, there seems to be no common understanding of what is true or who can be trusted. Truth itself seems to have become a commodity, bought by the highest bidder.”
The Archbishop’s words echo those of former President Barack Obama, who told the BBC last month that the US was more sharply divided now than when Donald Trump won election four years ago.
Using the term “truth decay” to describe a rise in conspiracy theories and disinformation in the US, Obama said, “I think at some point it’s going to require a combination of regulation and standards within industries to get us back to the point where we at least recognise a common set of facts before we start arguing about what we should do about those facts.”
Cottrell, who took up the post of Archbishop of York in July, warned that the divisions in the US could come to the UK. He believes that the BBC and other UK ‘public service broadcasting’ channels like Channel 4 have a vital role in holding the country together.
He said: “I know that there are many across the country who feel that during this terrible pandemic year, others have been favoured at their expense. The vision of the united but diverse nation that we see on TV programmes such as ‘Gogglebox’ is not always what we see around us.”
The Archbishop voiced concerns that the rise and spending power of US broadcasting giants Netflix and Amazon places “our British way of doing broadcasting under threat. A voracious, unchecked market may just sweep it away. Even some of our own politicians don’t always see this.”
He added: “Along with the NHS, and even the Church of England, the BBC and other public service broadcasters are a precious part of our cultural ecology. They help us to see ourselves clearly. They can be trusted.”
Rev Peter Crumpler, author of Grove Books’ ‘Responding to Post-truth’, backed the Archbishop’s comments.
“It’s really good to see a senior Church of England bishop speaking out on this important subject and making strong, valuable points,” he said.
A project running in the CofE’s St Albans diocese has sought to bring people together to examine the erosion of truth in modern society.
Rev Crumpler, a former communications director with the Church of England, explained: “We have gathered together journalists, scientists, representatives of Big Tech and authors with people from a range of faiths to consider how we can stem the rising tide of disinformation and fake news in our society. Churches and other faith groups could have a key role to play.”