Religion Reporting Gets a Boost
It is an issue that affects people’s lives across the world every day,
yet most media institutions do not dedicate much time, resources or
manpower to covering religion.
That was the assessment of some 25 journalists from six continents and
23 countries who gathered last month in Bellagio, Italy, to lay the
foundations of an international association aimed not only at boosting
the prominence and professionalism of religion reporting but also to
emphasize the need for responsible journalism that can unite instead of
Despite some of the obvious differences—linguistic, nationalistic,
religious and political—between those that gathered in Italy from March
20 to 24, the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ)
was officially launched.
“We are living in a global society and our understanding internationally
of religion is weak. With this association, journalists now have
contacts in various countries and can work together,” commented U.S.
journalist David Briggs, a Pulitzer Prize nominee and the main driving
force behind the initiative.
Briggs, who was elected as the association’s executive director during
the meeting’s closing session, has been trying for the better part of
the last eight years to establish a global association similar to the
Religion Newswriters Association (RNA) in the United States, which aims
to promote high-quality media coverage of religion.
His luck turned recently when he formed an alliance with the
International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in Washington, D.C., a
non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to promoting quality
journalism, and the Association of Religious Data Archives (ARDA), which
focuses on creating wider access to information on religion, both of
which helped make his dream a reality.
At the meeting, Briggs shared his vision with the journalists present.
He hoped that the association would—through an interactive web site,
conferences and workshops—be able to provide concise and impartial
information on world religions, ignite discussions on religious issues
and provide access to essential contacts as well as connect media
professionals all over the world who deal with the subject.
Although still in its infancy, the IARJ has already drawn outside
support from one of the world’s most popular writers on religious
issues, British author Karen Armstrong.
“One of the problems we have is the media which only present very
one-sided views of certain religious activities,” said Armstrong. “Islam
is the obvious example. We hear all about the negative [things] that
people are saying, but we don’t have a balance of the positive.”
Armstrong added that it was terrific to have journalists meet to start
to “develop an ethic about how religion is reported [on].”
While most of the meeting in Italy was spent in deep discussion about
how the association should look and feel in its final form, there was
also plenty of time for those gathered to learn from each other about
the numerous challenges facing journalists covering religion.
Jordanian journalist Hani Hazaimeh, who was elected to the association’s
steering committee, said he hoped the IARJ would address the taboos
surrounding religion in some countries.
“Even though the Arab Spring has succeeded in breaking many of what used
to be sensitive issues that the media was unable to address freely, the
religion issue remains a challenge that is yet to be tackled and
reported on,” he said, adding that an international association would
empower journalists to change that.
Peggy Fletcher Stack, senior religion writer for the Salt Lake Tribune
in the United States, said the association could also help improve the
quality of writing about religion and encourage more fair-minded
reports, rather than biased or self-interested propaganda.
“I hope that it will promote better understanding of each other and
bridge the gaps causing biases and hatred between religions,” added
Waqar Gillani, a Pakistani journalist who contributes to the New York
Boosting responsibility in religion reporting and advocating for those
prevented from, or persecuted for, writing about it were certainly
points that almost all those present agreed on.
There were some practicalities that divided the association’s 25
founders, however, including how to overcome the political conflicts and
sectarianism that impact how religion is viewed. There were also
concerns that such divisions could negatively influence the association
or dictate the make-up of its steering committee, which was elected at
In the end, however, journalistic integrity, professionalism and logic
won out with everyone agreeing that the association’s ultimate goal is
to see media reports on religion as free as possible of such influences.
Hopefully, efforts like these can help make media coverage of religion
an opportunity for dialogue and overcoming misunderstanding—something
sorely needed in today’s world.
* Ruth Eglash is deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post in
Israel. She was invited to be one of the founding members of the
International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) by the
International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and was elected to the
association’s steering committee. This article was written for the
Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Source: CGNews, April 10, 2012, <www.commongroundnews.org>.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.