Association connects religion journalists worldwide (JERUSALEM POST) By RUTH EGLASH 04/02/12)
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It should have been a simple task: Establish a worldwide association
to connect journalists who cover religious issues, boost their
resources and encourage professionalism in reporting on this most
sensitive of topics.
However, as with most things connected to religion, the path to the
successful creation of the International Association of Religion
Journalists (IARJ) was fraught with barriers. The idea to form such
an association was voiced more than 10 years ago by long-time US
journalist David Briggs, a Pulitzer Prize nominee who has been
published in thousands of media outlets across the globe. Yet the
IARJ was finally created on March 23 in Italy, as journalists
spanning seven continents and 23 countries – including Israel – came
together to launch the association.
“We are living in a global society and our understanding
internationally of religion is weak,” said Briggs, who was elected to
serve as the IARJ’s executive director alongside a multinational
eight-member steering committee of journalists. “With the
association, journalists now have contacts in various countries and
can work together.”
Last month’s meeting, held in Bellagio, Italy, saw a wide range of
nationalistic, religious and personal views pushed to the side as
attendees held intense debates to decide on the look and feel of the
organization, which ultimately hopes to offer members international
access to online resources, training programs and, most importantly,
Despite obvious differences, the association found its footing, and
appointed Spanish journalist Maria-Paz López IARJ chairwoman.
López, who has been reporting on religion for 12 years for La
Vanguardia newspaper and spent six years reporting from the Vatican,
said that the goal of IARJ is not to promote religions but to instead
foster better journalism about religion.
“I have seen many alleged religion reporters who do not respect the
journalism profession,” she said. “There are journalists who advocate
for religion and not journalism.
This association needs to change this and give credibility to
Journalists from countries with conflicts shared their experiences at
Among them was Sri Lankan TV anchor and journalist Indeewari Dona,
who echoed López, saying the reporting slant some journalists take
was one of the biggest challenges they faced.
“There are certain journalists who promote their own religion and
discriminate against others,” she said.
“Journalists need to understand that promoting their religion is not
professional journalism. It means that you are a religious reporter.”
The association has already drawn support from British author Karen
Armstrong, who is one of the world’s most popular writers on
religious issues. “One of the problems we have is the media, which
only presents very one-sided views of certain religious activities,”
“Islam is the obvious example,” she said. “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 – are all not true.”
“It’s terrific to have journalists meet together to start to develop
an ethic about how religion is reported. It’s absolutely terrific,”
When he first came up with the idea, Briggs contacted the US-based
Religion Newswriters Association about adding an international
element. However, despite Brigg’s ties with the organization, his
request was turned down.
Undaunted, Briggs – who continues to write about issues of religion
in the US and worldwide – approached the Washington-based
International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the Association of
Religion Data Archives for support.
With their help, his dream of a global network dedicated to religion
and media came true last month.
“I have been working on this for 10 years. It’s a dream to see it
come to fruition,” said Briggs, following the inaugural meeting of
the newly-elected IARJ steering committee.
Patrick Butler, vice-president of programs at the ICFJ, said his
organization would support the IARJ for at least a year.
“We want to help journalists around the world better cover a topic
that is essential to the lives of billions of people but is also
fraught with controversy and conflict,” he said at the IARJ meeting.
“In many countries there are violent clashes between people of
different religions and faiths. The media has played a role in this
with bad reporting. Some media have been affiliated with one side of
the conflict,” said Butler.
“Religion is difficult to cover because it’s controversial and
sensitive,” he said.
“In some parts of the world journalists don’t want to cover it
because it can cause tension. But we believe that it can also relieve
tension. It can help people understand different faiths.”
The author was invited to participate in the creation of the
association by the IFCJ and was a guest of the Rockerfeller
Foundation’s Bellagio Center.
She was subsequently elected to the IARJ steering committee. (© 1995-
2011, The Jerusalem Post 04/02/12)
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