Media coverage of faith and religion the world over is by and large poor, inconsistent and increasingly marginalised. In fact, it is difficult to get right religious coverage, especially in largely secular newsrooms—mainly because most media professionals do not think of religion as meriting much attention.

These are some of the conclusions in a ground-breaking series of studies undertaken by the Faith & Media Initiative, part of the Radiant Foundation and a non-profit coalition of groups promoting balance and accuracy in media portrayals of religion. It was conducted by HarrisX, a market research company focused on media.

The original 2022 report, “The Global Faith and News Study,” is presented online in two ways:

Then, in 2024, the Faith & Media Initiative again worked with HarrisX to produce a second major study of the broader entertainment industry, focusing especially on audience responses to portrayals of religion. That study is presented in a graphically intensive overview that also is fascinating for journalists.

I am reporting on these studies for our IARJ website because I think journalists can benefit from these resources. The original 2022 study of more than 9,000 people around the world included an additional 30 in-depth interviews with journalists.

Summing up those 30 interviews with news professionals, the study concludes: “There is universal agreement among journalists that coverage about faith and religion has become more marginalized due to a set of newsroom dynamics.”

Those dynamics listed in the report include:

  • Newsroom economics—“squeezed budgets”
  • Fear of getting it wrong—“religion has become increasingly politicized”
  • Diversity and newsroom dynamics—“newsrooms rarely represent the plurality of religious views in society”
  • Clicks for Controversy—“religion is rarely seen as a driver for reader engagement”
  • And, lack of spokespeople and stereotyping—“a lack of diverse media sources and spokespeople”

The 30 media interviewees described a general “fear” in their newsrooms around covering religion. In an era defined by some as a time when religion has become increasingly politicized, news coverage, often at speed, brings with it the tacit acceptance that it is impossible to cover the topic with a level of nuance and sensitivity given the time and resources available. The possibility of inaccurate reporting on religious issues for lack of understanding of the intricacies of faiths among general reporters not well versed in religions turns out to be intimidating.

In addition to that general avoidance of religion due to anxiety about getting it right—the 30 journalists said that their editors almost never encourage stories in this area unless they correspond to a narrative of controversy, dissent or scandal. This runs counter to findings from the larger survey suggesting that 63% of people globally said that high quality content on faith and religion is needed in their respective countries.

However, positive stories around faith and religion are not seen by news professionals as a good fit with a hard-news agenda. Religion only seems to enter the hard-news agenda when things go wrong, or when there is dissent or scandal.

I found these detailed reports fascinating and I hope other IARJ members will take a look at this growing body of research from the Faith & Media Initiative.