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#ReportingBelief16: When Religion Makes the News

“A much-needed and timely event – and we were reminded today of how little we know about religions. Without knowledge, we can’t report on and challenge the more problematic aspects of religion and if we don’t do that, extremism flourishes and people retreat into their own echo chambers. It was also great to meet some new faces from so many religious communities.” Gareth Jones, journalist, BBC Cymru Wales.

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by Anna Wynn Roberts, NUJ Training Wales

The world was reeling from the attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris when writer and TV producer, Angela Graham, asked me if NUJ Training Wales would be interested in running an event to promote religious literacy and engagement between journalists and faith groups.

Fast forward a year and a half and the event, “When Religion Makes the News”, ran in Cardiff on Tuesday 8th November, 2016 bringing together over 80 people – journalists, faith group media representatives, experts and others interested parties to look at how the two ‘sides’ can work together to improve mutual understanding and the reporting of these issues in the media.

And by faith we mean belief in the broader sense, encompassing non-religious stances such as humanism – hence the #ReportingBelief16 hashtag for the event.

Chair, Roger Bolton (former editor of Panorama and currently presenter of Feedback on BBC Radio 4) is a strong proponent of religious literacy in the media – the journalist’s ability to ‘read’ how religion affects society at large (The Media Society debate: Damned If You Don’t? Why Journalists Can’t Afford to Ignore Religion)

The challenge for journalists is not only to learn more about a religion itself but to be able to recognise in the first place which branch of the religion the story refers to so they know where to go and find out who has authority to speak for that group. For example, they might not know that their interviewee is not representative of the largest number of adherents of that particular faith.

Innes Bowen, author of Media in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam, highlighted the breakdown of branches of Islam and ethnicities within Wales’s mosques and institutions, indicating to journalists that they might need to look to a number of different ones for a representative voice.

The relationship between religion, ethnicity and politics is also crucial while belief in the broader sense requires objectivity from the journalist, as well as an awareness of any personal prejudices.

The issue for faith media representatives (some of whom are non-professionals) often relates to communication – how they can engage and communicate effectively with their own members and with the media at large. Understanding what is deemed to be news is also important – and to be available for journalists at very short notice when they’re researching a story and looking for interviewees or case studies.

NUJ Training Wales is making a number of resources available for attendees and the wider community via its website. Created especially for the workshop there are two companion resources  for journalists:

  • Speaker at the event, Dr Michael Munnik from the Centre for the Study of Islam at Cardiff University has produced a table of Religious Literacy Resources and
  • Gethin Rhys of Cytûn (Churches Together in Wales) has put together a Guide to Christianity in Wales for Journalists with information about the different branches/denominations and media contact details. A Guide to Non-Christian Faiths in Wales, compiled by Gethin Abraham-Williams is in the pipeline.

For the faith media reps, a session at the event on engaging with the media is supported by a number of resources on the website:

The event itself was just a start. We hope that we have put the accurate and sensitive reporting of belief firmly on the agenda for news organisations. Two Welsh media organisations have already made contact with one of the event’s speakers to invite her to their offices to deliver some training after hearing her speak.

Feedback suggests that there is an appetite for a follow-up and Emma Meese from The Centre for Community Journalism has agreed to partner up with us to run a training session for faith media reps on using social media more effectively to engage and communicate.

Journalists I have spoken to would like further opportunities to interact with the faith groups so as part of the wider training day we will invite journalists along for one hour’s networking with the faith/belief groups.

To keep up the momentum we plan to hold this in March next year.

Photographs are copyright of Natasha Hirst @HirstPhotos

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More photographs of the event are available on request. Please contact Natasha Hirst: natasha@natashahirst.co.uk

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