The Jakarta Post
To many journalists, it seems like counterculture to be advocating for more religion components in our daily staple of news. They argue that there is already too much talk in society about religion, a private domain, and that the media should be reporting less of it.
Besides, they say, there are enough publications or media outlets, run by faith-based groups, reporting on religion. The mainstream (secular) media should be reporting less to help reduce friction between religious communities now found in many societies, and not just Indonesia, they argue. Some even believe in the infamous expression that religion is the opium of the masses.
The conference on religion journalism “Reporting Religion in Asia,” which gets under way in Jakarta on Tuesday, will discuss the merits of more reporting on religion in our mainstream media.
This is a gathering of journalists and scholars of journalism from Indonesia, Asia and beyond, sharing experiences in best practices in the reporting of religion, courtesy of the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ), the Union of Journalists for Diversity (Sejuk Indonesia) and Universitas Multimedia Nusantara (UMN).
The sentiments among some participants, that many are already reporting on religion, are that there should be more and not less religious components in media reports. With religion increasingly taking center stage in the political and economic lives in many societies, the secular media with a far wider reach than faith-based media would do a great service to inform this phenomenon to society.
They should embrace rather than avoid religion to do a better job in reporting.
Admittedly, when it comes to reporting religion, the media and journalists generally fall short of the standard of good journalism that they apply in reporting other issues. Many struggle to shed their prejudices and allow them and the stereotyping of others to influence their reports.
Many of the friction and tension between religious communities found in many parts of the world today have been partly if not mostly fanned by poor media reporting; some deliberate as part of their editorial agenda, but some out of ignorance and sheer incompetence. When they do this, the media have become part of the problem when they could be a central part of the solution.
For many journalists, reporting on religion becomes both a professional and personal challenge, perhaps more so than any other subject because of the nature of the subject. But if we agree that there should be more religion rather than less in our news, then we have to make sure that the media and their journalists take religion more seriously.
The media could address this problem by mainstreaming religion into their daily reporting, by recognizing their failings and shortcomings and by providing the necessary resources, meaning more personnel and more training to improve their overall reporting.
Whatever faith the journalists follow or even if they profess to have no faith at all, they still owe it to their profession and society to do a good job in reporting on religion. That means all and every religion and faith that exist in their societies.