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Dear Readers,

I read an editorial in a newspaper in late July that was commenting on the fact that the ‘silly season’ had been delayed. The ‘silly season’ is that period between July and the August when there is little serious news to report because everyone is on holiday; at least that’s the theory. Of course, it’s not true – wars continue to rage, politicians continue to draft legislation and face the subsequent criticism, health and education matters remain in the spotlight and so on. The editorial said that, this year, the news from around the world continued to be serious and depressing even though it was the height of the ‘silly season’ when the headlines would normally concern animals doing amusing things and extreme weather conditions.

Congratulations to one tabloid newspaper then, who at the end of July ran a front-page story, with a picture, of a 4 year old boy who supposedly had the “mark of the devil”. The boy in question had a barely discernible mark on his chest which had attracted some attention via social media. As missiles were falling in the Gaza region, this particular newspaper thought that this mysterious birth-mark was worthy of a front-page spread. An odd choice perhaps, but nevertheless a reminder that silly season was alive and well. The silliest part of the story was that, apparently, the mark had actually began to fade away since June; so why print the story at all?

The need to have a ‘bit of fun and a laugh’ when the world is in turmoil because of war, economic recession, famine, often justifies atrociously bad taste jokes and trivial news stories. Let’s be honest, newspapers are only in the business of selling copies and any attempt to kid the public into thinking that they are serving the public interest is a myth we can choose to buy into or not.

There is so much to feel depressed about but surely the response is do try to act to change that rather than bury our humanity into a mire of bad taste and trivia? One of the most depressing facts in all of this is that the particular newspaper that printed the story about the ‘mark of the devil’ had the highest daily circulation rate in the UK, during May this year. Some folk believe we get the newspapers we deserve, journalists and editors will claim that they print ‘human interest stories’ and meet the demand from the public. What does that say about us?

As we begin September and move into a busy time of the year let’s focus our minds on what really needs our attention as we attempt to protect our world from the ravages of war and famine, as we look to improve the rights of those who are underfed and underpaid, and as we address the pressing concerns of our local communities. Perhaps then we might banish all talk of the ‘mark of the devil’ from our media.

Revd Steven Rothwell