AMMAN — Leading journalists discussed the best way to cover contentious global religious issues at a major international congress held in the capital of Jordan.

The chair of the International Association of Religion Journalists, María-Paz López of Spain, and board member Endy Bayuni of Indonesia, took part in the annual congress of the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI).

The conference was devoted to the subject of press freedom in a rapidly changing world (

Titled Documenting Change / Empowering Media, the three-day event in May drew 350 journalists. They examined the many challenges, concerns and opportunities journalists face in a fast-altering media landscape – not only in the Arab world, but around the globe.

Ms. López, senior religion writer at La Vanguardia in Barcelona, moderated the panel on Reporting on Religion – How to Reconcile Respect and Press Freedom.

Mr. Bayuni, senior editor of Il Jakarta Post, had originally been invited to speak on the same panel to talk about media coverage of religion and religious tensions in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

Instead, the IPI eventually featured Bayuni as a panelist in a session on How Media and Governments Can Work Together to Fight Corruption.

The presence of two IARJ board members presented a rare opportunity to talk to congress participants about the new association, its role and its expectations – and explain how those interested could join the group.

It was clear from the IPI’s decision to allocate an entire session to religión reporting that it has become a growing concern among many journalists and their media outlets.

As moderator, Ms. López asked panelists to share their views on how to deal with prejudices against religion, or against a particular religion, in newsroom editorial decision making.

Ms. López also asked the journalists if it is acceptable in their country for reporters to produce articles that reflect what could be called positive discrimination of religious minorities.

Stephen Pollard, editor-in-chief of The Jewish Chronicle in the United Kingdom, argued, The definition of a free press is a press that has the right to offend, to antagonize and to be critical of any subject, which does not mean simply holding the powerful to account. It especially means offending deeply held beliefs which many would demand were not offended.

According to Pollard, religious views should be no more worthy of protection from criticism and scrutiny than any other views. A press that is able to attack the foundations of Christianity, of Islam and of any other faith is free. A press that is forbidden from doing so either by custom or law is not.

In short, in Pollard’s views, religion reporting should be treated in exactly the same way as political, crime or sport reporting.

Mohammed Haruna, of Nigeria, managing director and editor-in-chief of Citizen Communications Ltd, said the private sector media in his country is often biased against Muslims.

The dominance of the Nigerian media by the private sector, in spite of the heavy presence of government in the broadcast media … does not reflect the ethnic, regional and religious plurality of the country. It has led to a reporting culture which is heavily biased against Muslims and Islam.

According to Haruna, this has resulted in under-reporting by local media of abuses of people in the north-eastern and north-western regions by the country’s security forces {as} they fight against Islamic terrorism in those regions.

At the same time, however, Haruna said those media are being accused by security forces of being sympathetic to the insurgents by giving too much publicity to the conflicts in general and to the insurgents in particular.

Bulbul Monjurul Ahsan, editor-in-chief and CEO at Boishakhi Television in Bangladesh, said religion and politics often overlap in controversial ways in his country.

Sometimes politicians use religion to further their own ends, Bulbul said. And sometimes religious figures use politics to further their sectarian aims.

As a journalist I think media should consider religion as one beat,Bulbul said. The quality of reporting and the reporter should improve. That way media can help to minimize the {public’s} over sensitivity {to religious issues}.

In addition, Bulbul encouraged the media to open more space for intellectual discussion on religion. Interfaith dialogue can bring more tolerance in the society.

Mr. Bayuni shared the experience of Indonesia in fighting corruption, which remains a challenge 15 years after it rid the country of the tyrant, General Suharto.

Mr. Bayuni stressed that the presence of a free media, independent of the government, is crucial if the fight against corruption is to be effective.

The other panelists in the session on corruption were Suzanne Hayden, senior adviser at the International Anti-Corruption Academy in Austria, and Christoph Wilcke, a director with Transparency International in Germany. Professor Brant Houston. of the University of Illinois, moderated the discussion.

Some 350 journalists participated in this congress of IPI, a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists devoted to enhance freedom of expression in the world. The Amman-based Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) co-hosted the event.

Other panels focused on fostering free speech and media professionalism in the region after the Arab Spring; who to trust as a source in covering Syria; the role of women in the media; criminal defamation; promoting and protecting the safety of journalists, and Internet regulation.