Christian journalist defends role of the media in the pandemic

Julie Etchingham(Photo: ITV)

ITV News journalist and producer Julie Etchingham has defended the role of the media during the coronavirus pandemic.

The news presenter, who is a practising Roman Catholic, has also explained how her faith is supporting her during the health crisis. She describes going to Mass as "an anchor" in her life.

Julie told the Christians in Media website: "Like all other journalists, we are living the story as well as reporting on it - and it is the biggest of our lives. Reporters are coming in for a lot of flack for the questions they are asking government. But, what else are we for?

"We all get that this is a crisis like no other; that few in government have ever had to navigate such a challenge. But, if we're still attempting to function as a democracy in the face of this, then scrutiny is clearly crucial. Many in our front-line services and the wider public are demanding answers. We are there on their behalf."

She explained the challenges of asking difficult questions in the current situation: "It is sometimes hard to do it when you are doing interviews on a remote link - where you can't properly look someone in the eye to interrupt a minister, repeating the same answer you've heard a hundred times, to get to a point of fact."

The award-winning journalist admitted: "We don't always get it right. This isn't a moment to trip people up, but urgently to get to the truth."

Speaking of her faith, she said: "We're practising Roman Catholics, so that part of life has changed too. We suddenly find ourselves in a different parish, because our own doesn't livestream Mass. So on a Sunday evening, we go into our sitting room for 6.30pm Mass from Christ Church Priory in Eltham.

"My parents sometimes 'go' to the same Mass and, actually, it's been rather a special time. It feels a bit like a church in exile. In some ways, because of the extreme circumstances, it has actually pulled faith communities even closer together, I think.

"I wonder when this is all over, whether moments like the sign of peace in Mass, where you always turn to your neighbours to shake hands, will really fully return. But this new reality is no less prayerful, and I find it settles my soul before the working week begins again. In a time where the days can roll into one for me, going to Mass is an anchor I couldn't bear to be without."

In Julie's 'Life under Lockdown' blog for the Christians in Media website, she describes how her working life has changed.

"The newsroom is almost deserted. Only those who absolutely can't work from home are there. Some of the pieces you see on air have been edited in someone's front room. Meetings are zoomed.

"When I go to the studio for News at Ten, I make my way through deserted corridors. I do my own hair and make-up with varying results; go into a studio where there is no floor manager; wipe down the studio desk and microphones after I've been in the chair. If a correspondent comes in to do a 'live', they are beyond arm's and germs' reach on the opposite corner of the desk."

Julie's blog is one of a series of articles being published by Christians in Media, a UK network and community that supports, encourages and inspires Christians who work in, and with, media.

The Christian charity has a vision "to see Christians in the industry flourish and become key influencers, to see churches engaging positively with the media, and to see the life-affirming Gospel message of faith, hope and love increasingly reflected in the UK media."

It recently published a Prayer for the Media during the Coronavirus crisis:

Loving God,
We pray for everyone working in and with media in these challenging times.
Encourage all who seek to explain and interpret the fast-changing world around us.
Embolden the truth-tellers, truth-seekers and fact-checkers.
Promote coverage that builds our shared humanity and where everyone has a voice.
Bring clarity where there is confusion
Bring knowledge where there is speculation
Bring wisdom and insight when the way ahead seems unclear.
And bring us all to a knowledge of truth that sets us free, and helps keep us safe.
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Rev Peter Crumpler is a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts, UK, and a former communications director with the CofE.