Religious extremism is growing in major countries of South Asia amid a compromised political will and a fearful and polarized media that often lacks neutrality and faces various types of censorship.

These were some of the concerns raised in the first dialogue/webinar of 2023 organized by the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ). The panelists highlighted different aspects of religious extremism in South Asia and challenges posed to the media. The dialogue, held on April17, had a panel of senior journalists representing India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh:

  • Noted opinion writer with Orissa Post and sitting chairperson IARJ Uday Basu from Kolkata (India)
  • Priyadarshini Sen, an independent journalist, from New Delhi (India)
  • Mubasher Bukhari, senior journalist and author from Lahore (Pakistan)
  • Indeewari Amuwatte, broadcast Journalist from Colombo (Sri Lanka) and one of the founding members of the IARJ
  • Waqar Gillani, journalist mostly covering religion/human rights, from Islamabad (Pakistan) moderated the discussion. Mr. Gillani is also a founding member of the IARJ and South Asia representative of the IARJ.

The panelists highlighted the challenge of growing religious extremism and talked about different religious hardliner groups and parties promoting religious extremism in their respective countries. They also talked about the often compromised political will to tackle religious extremism. The panlists highlighted the non-partisan and polarized roles of media. They highlighted difficulties faced by reporters/media houses to report such incidents of religious extremism independently and impartially and insecurity while reporting such issues amid threats from such groups; a weak role of gatekeepers.

They also talked about the challenges to media while reporting because of threats that include threats to life, security, censorship imposed by state/media houses and an increasing trend of self-censorship that affects factual reporting and critical editorial lines to curb such religious extremism.

The IARJ dialogue series, engaging distinguished religion reporters and experts from different regions of the world, aims to discuss different situations and aspects of religious extremism in the various regions of the world. Our members observe that extremism fueled by strongly partisan ideologies is threatening many countries around the world, from Sri Lanka to Nigeria to the United States. Faith is being used as a political identity in very divisive ways, and sometimes violence is waged by religious, political, and governmental forces in its name. The victims include not only people of other faiths, but those of the same faith and ardent secularists.

This series of webinars/dialogues brings together journalists to explore religious extremism in their countries, how it impacts their communities, and how it is shaped by political, ideological, and cultural forces, including the exploitation of existing cultural fears and prejudices.