Le centre Bellagio sur le lac de Côme en Italie
The Bellagio Center, where journalists met in 2012 to organize the International Association of Religion Journalists.

Marking our fifth anniversary as a worldwide organization, our web team invited some active members to respond in this Forum format to the question: Why does the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) matter in today’s world?

As we raised the question, we wondered whether our original 2012 mission statement was still relevant. Perhaps our individual perspectives on our mission had evolved? We were fascinated—and encouraged—to find some of the first responses from our members clearly echoing that mission statement.

In 2012, our organizers agreed on this mission statement:

L'Association internationale des journalistes religieux (IARJ) est un réseau mondial de journalistes qui promeut l'excellence dans la couverture de la religion et de la spiritualité. Elle fournit des services et des ressources pour renforcer et soutenir le travail de ses membres. Elle sensibilise les responsables des médias, les établissements d'enseignement et les communautés à l'importance d'une couverture précise, équilibrée et éthique de la religion pour favoriser la compréhension.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are an IARJ member, email any comment you wish to add to this Forum to Web Editors Elisa DiBenedetto ou Larbi Megari. We invite journalists to respond in any language that is most appropriate. If you are not a member of IARJ and would like to learn more about our work, please follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RJournalists If you are a journalist interested in covering religion-related news stories, please see the “Become a Member” box on our front page.

Now, in 2017, here are some of the responses to our current call for comments on:

Why does the IARJ matter in today’s world?

Réponses à la question du forum

Professional Dialogue

The IARJ offers a network of highly skilled religion-reporters from around the world and an arena for debate on how to report on sensitive topics in a professional way.

Astrid Dalehaug Norheim is head of the newsroom at the Norwegian newspaper Dagen.

Helpful Resources

The IARJ offers all the means to help journalists accurately and fairly cover religion, which ultimately will promote tolerance among people of all faiths.

J.D. Vital est un journaliste brésilien originaire de Minas Gerais qui a fait des reportages pour de grands journaux et à la télévision. Il est l'auteur de deux livres, dont The Making of a Catholic Bishop.

Promoting Balance

IARJ’s members are active in their contributions in promoting balanced journalism in general, and religion journalism in particular.

Larbi Megari est un membre fondateur de l'IARJ et l'un des deux rédacteurs web que nous invitons les membres de l'IARJ à contacter s'ils ont des commentaires à ajouter à ce forum.

Like Astrid, J.D. and Larbi, many members echoed the original mission of the IARJ, which is an encouraging sign after five years. In addition, a number of members responding to this 2017 Forum emphasized that the challenges of religion newswriting are larger than covering under-reported issues in the news. In today’s world, members pointed out to us, we are collectively confronting individuals and movements actively trying to skew, control or conceal religious influences. In her comment, below, Rachel mentions the challenge of secularization and even anti-religious movements. Then, in his comment, Martin goes further and describes a common newsroom attitude of anxiety or even fear over tackling religious issues.

A Balancing Influence

The IARJ exists to promote the importance of informed and unbiased coverage of religion-based stories in the media. By encouraging specialization in reporting on religion and enlarging the worldwide network of religion journalists—coverage of developments that effect the human rights and civil rights of individuals and communities will be improved. The IARJ counterbalances the highly secular and often anti-religion journalistic culture that frequently misses important religion stories. Properly covering these stories can contribute positively to society and can foster positive inter-faith relations, especially in high-risk communities.

Rachael Kohn est la fondatrice et la voix de L'esprit des chosesLe programme de la radio ABC Radio National (RN) est l'émission de référence en Australie pour des reportages approfondis sur le rôle de la religion dans la société, les arts, les relations avec la communauté et la vie personnelle.

Easing Newsroom Fears

Religion is a subject that many publications are afraid to tackle because they don’t understand that it’s possible to cover religion as a sociological phenomenon with a profound effect on culture and politics. I like to say that religion doesn’t exist on the surface of politics so much as just below. All you have to do is scratch the surface a little, however, and you begin to understand how significant a part of our institutions it is. The IARJ is all about teaching reporters and editors how to scratch those surfaces effectively. Developing that skill is more important now than ever.

Martin Davis est le trésorier de l'IARJ. Sa longue carrière dans le journalisme s'est étendue de l'enseignement à la rédaction et à l'édition. Il est actuellement rédacteur en chef de la rubrique "Autos" de l'US News and World Report.

Our most recent IARJ conference was held in Africa and, not surprisingly, our African members especially emphasized the dangers in that continent of leaders who attempt to abuse religious authority, exercise anti-religious bias and even attempt to curb religious freedom. The IARJ’s global networks, strengthened by our annual conferences like the one in Ghana, help journalists across an entire continent to build stronger working relationships. The following are comments from Tanzania, Sudan, Nigeria and South Africa.

Solidarity Among Reporters

The IARJ brings solidarity among reporters interested in covering religion issues across the world. Also, religion may sound uniform in theory but it is diverse in practice and members of IARJ appreciate how diverse these issues related to religion are in today’s world. Collectively, we can draw on the association to learn about each other’s experience in efforts to accurately understand global religion with all of its complex dynamics.

Erick Kabendera est un journaliste d'investigation indépendant basé à Dar es Salaam qui écrit pour des publications régionales et internationales, dont le Guardian et The Independent.

Confronting Bias

The IARJ is important in this year 2017 because we all share a common need to accurately report on ideas, issues, problems—and perspectives on such events—that are linked in some form to religion. If we do this, we will contribute to a more conscious and supportive public opinion about religious diversity. In many parts of the world, right now, we are encountering negative perspectives on religion that include abuses of religion, religious bias and even efforts to curb people’s freedom in choosing their beliefs. If we hope to achieve comprehensive and balanced change in societies around the world—moving toward peace and security—then a better of understanding of religion is essential.

Mona Abdelfttah, basée au Soudan, est une auteure titulaire d'un doctorat en sciences politiques qui a réalisé des reportages sur la religion pour de nombreux journaux et qui est également active au sein de l'Union des journalistes soudanais.

A Pool of Experts

The IARJ matters to me in covering Nigeria and West Africa. I am able to draw from an immensely talented pool of expert journalists. I like to refer to this resource as The IARJ Edge—a platform for journalists and related media profesionals to gather for the purpose of writing, reading, sharing and exchanging views on religion and reportage.

Prince Charles Dickson est un journaliste nigérian et membre fondateur de l'IARJ. Il est publié dans plusieurs journaux nigérians ainsi que dans des publications internationales.

Helping Each Other

With global membership that cuts across religious, cultural and social backgrounds, the IARJ plays a significant role in addressing misconceptions of religion and its practice. I appreciate learning about ways to focus in my reporting on commonalities that cut across diverse religious communities, such as themes of peace, equity, justice and truth—and how these values affect the social space. I appreciate this balance, because I find that too many reports on religion focus on negatives as perceived by the public, sometimes forgetting to highlight the similarities or the commonalities in religion.

Odinga Modesty Nuhu Adiwu was born in Zagun, situated in the Bassa area of Nigeria’s Plateau State. A broadcast journalist and a content producer, she is currently working at Plateau Radio and Television Corporation (PRTVC).

A Space for Healthy Debate

The regional networks we are building are very important. Coming together through our association with the IARJ creates a space where journalists can talk passionately about the work we do and share examples of the best reporting in this beat. It is an initiative with noble intentions: to encourage journalists to improve their reporting on religion, something that plays an important role in the lives of people worldwide. The work the association does is essential to ensure better reporting on religion and ultimately bring about understanding within diverse communities.

Yazeed Kamaldien, basé en Afrique du Sud, a réalisé des reportages dans différents pays, notamment en tant que photojournaliste et réalisateur de documentaires.

These perspectives are not limited to Africa, of course—as evidenced by two comments from longtime members in Europe (Germany) and Asia (India) as well as one of our newest members in North America (the U.S.).

Beneficial Exchanges

The IARJ matters to me because it is network of journalists from various countries and cultural backgrounds who truly care about religion reporting, thus enhancing the exchange of views and international perspectives on religion coverage worldwide. Such community is important so that we can help each other as journalists in how to deal with newsroom prejudice against religion, or against a particular religion, in editorial decision making both in secular and confessional media. Also important to me is that the IARJ was founded with the goodwill of promoting fairness and accuracy in religion journalism as a means to contribute to resolving global conflicts in which faith is a component. In that sense, providing tools, resources and forums for journalists from every religion, or without religious affiliation, to learn about other traditions and beliefs is essential to our purpose.

María-Paz López est chroniqueuse religieuse et correspondante étrangère à Berlin pour La Vanguardia, un quotidien national espagnol basé à Barcelone. Elle reste membre du conseil d'administration de l'IARJ.

Exploring Universal Experiences

The IARJ encourages journalists in openness and understanding toward religion, which is a universal life experience. Every person, at some point during life, faces questions about religious identity—and the dilemma of so many other religious identities around the world. As journalists, IARJ members open the minds of their audiences to a broader understanding of this complex and diverse life experience. Religion also is a social force and a key part of cultural identity. While religion can promote peace, it also can lead to conflict. Our world today suffers from far too much conflict, some of it related to religion. We certainly need information that can help us to collectively seek peace, harmony and human understanding. Inter-religious news reporting is all about broadening our identities and our understanding of the sacred traditions, social forces and cultural customs of religion. In joining IARJ, I am proud that I am able to work with journalists who strive to do this in a mature way.

Bhavya Srivastava, based in India, has reported news stories involving religion for TV as well as online and print news publications.

Research & Accuracy in Reporting

The IARJ matters because as funding is cut for religion-based journalism in many major and minor newspapers and publications worldwide, the necessity for accurate, knowledgeable reporting has not ceased. On the contrary, it has increased. As more world citizens turn to the web for news, it is the job of professional journalists to publish information that helps to combat the many rumors, biases and hate-filled messages flowing across the Internet. As business becomes more international each day and neighborhoods blend people of differing cultures and religious backgrounds, it is vital that religious news be reported with clarity and with authenticity. The complexities of religion—and, to that end, the meticulous wording and vast knowledge that is needed when reporting on religion—cannot be understated. As members of the IARJ, we share the value of reporting with accuracy, which means that we share the burden of learning ourselves through research and reporting. In an arena of life with such capacity for controversy, it is critical that news be reported by knowledgeable, perceptive and well-informed reporters. One of the great strengths of the IARJ is the wealth of knowledge available from our colleagues.

Stephanie Fenton has reported the only daily coverage of religious holidays, festivals and milestones for the www.ReadTheSpirit.com magazine.

A Founder’s Perspective

Screenshot of an article titled ”Amid global suspicion and mayhem, a route to religious understanding.”
Click on this image to read Douglas Todd’s original 2012 coverage of the IARJ.

A final perspective on this question comes from IARJ Chair Douglas Todd with a reminder of an early ally in the founding of the organization: Best-selling religion scholar Karen Armstrong.

Karen Armstrong responded to the creation of our global association of religion journalists with the word: Terrific. Armstrong said it is crucial for the world’s religion journalists to promote ethical coverage of the often-divisive and controversial subject. One of the problems we have is the media who only present very one-sided views of certain religious activities, said Armstrong, the British author of best-selling books about Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, the city of Jerusalem and religious fundamentalism. Islam is the obvious example. We hear all about the negative that people are saying. But we don’t have a balance of the positive. All too many platitudes that people assume about Islam—that it’s basically opposed to modernity, that it’s inherently violent. This is all not true. Armstrong spoke with me during a visit to Vancouver, Canada, as part of her global tour to promote the Charter of Compassion. She said, Il est formidable que des journalistes se réunissent pour commencer à développer une éthique sur la manière dont la religion est rapportée. C'est absolument formidable.

Douglas Todd, basé à Vancouver, est le président de l'IARJ. Écrivant principalement pour le Vancouver Sun au Canada et le Religion News Service aux États-Unis, son travail de journaliste a été salué au niveau international.

Faites part de vos réflexions

Nous espérons que ce Forum incitera les journalistes à réfléchir aux sujets que nos pairs considèrent comme importants cette année. Si vous êtes membre de l'IARJ, envoyez par courriel tout commentaire que vous souhaitez ajouter à ce Forum aux Web Editors Elisa DiBenedetto ou Larbi Megari. Nous invitons les journalistes à répondre dans la langue qui leur convient le mieux. Si vous n'êtes pas membre de l'IARJ et que vous souhaitez en savoir plus sur notre travail, suivez-nous sur Twitter : https://twitter.com/RJournalists Si vous êtes un journaliste intéressé par la couverture de sujets d'actualité liés à la religion, veuillez consulter le site web de la Commission européenne. Devenir membre sur notre page d'accueil.