There’s no easy answer when it comes to how religion should be portrayed in the news media. On one hand, there’s a need to be respectful of people’s beliefs and not offend or hurt sentiments. On the other hand, there’s a need to report on religious stories accurately and fairly, without bias.
It can be a delicate balance, but it’s one that needs to be achieved. With so much religious diversity in the world, it’s important that the news media gets it right.
Based on a survey done by the faith and media index, 63% of respondents say there is a need for high-quality content on faith, of which 1 in 3 respondents prefer media sources with faith-based content. On the flip side, the journalists universally agree that religious and faith content is getting marginalized due to a set of newsroom dynamics.
The content around religion is getting marginalized for the reason that:
- As religion is getting politicized these days there is sensitivity around it.
- It is often representing stereotypical beliefs and not mainstream religious observance.
- Anything which is controversial regarding religious content is ‘hard news. And the media prefer ‘hard news’ over ‘soft news’.
- Positive stories around religion are mostly covered under travel, culture, history, or lifestyle content as media houses don’t gain any traction from it.
While trying to stay objective, the media is inadvertently creating a bias against faith-based stories and perspectives.
You can find the study by faith and media index
How the media portrays Islam and Muslims?
Whenever there is an incident related to a person with a Muslim name in the media, the entire Muslim community is typecasted as extremists, jihadis, and oppressors. In doing so, the news media plays a pivotal role in disrupting the social life of the Muslim masses by flashing screens about generalizations of the community. This needs to be changed as it only leads to further Islamophobia and hatred. This is one of the main reasons why there is a lot of negative sentiment towards Muslims and Islam.
One study found that from 2011 to 2016, 78% of stories about Muslims in the New York Times were related to terrorism. This creates the false impression that Islam is a religion of violence when in reality it is a religion of peace. The media has a tendency to link Islam with terrorism and extremism. We never hear the term ‘Christian terrorist’, ‘Jew terrorist’, or ‘Hindu terrorist’ then why is there generalization by calling a person ‘Muslim terrorist’ just because he has a Muslim name?
Recently there have been a lot of discussions related to the issues of hijab, niqab, and burqa. There is a lot of misinformation out there about these Islamic garments and it’s important that the media get it right. For example, the niqab is not a symbol of oppression as many people think, but rather a personal choice that some Muslim women make. There needs to be a better understanding and portrayal of the true teaching of Islam in the media.
Now that we know why the media is preferring to ignore the issues relating to religion except if there is controversy or sensationalizing related to it. Let’s see some changes that we can bring in to have a respectful and positive portrayal of any religion.
Being Aware of Personal Biases
Whenever there is a topic related to religion, the main focus of the correspondents should be stating facts related to the matter. Even if they are inclined towards to particular personal opinion on the matter, it should not be spoken on air. Which might create a distorted opinion of the entire community or religion.
The media should know the impact of their words on the general public mind and report unbiased or not self-opinionated facts. It’s important to report on religious stories accurately and fairly by getting all sides of the story and by investigating the ground reality of the matter.
Educate The Audience About The Real Teachings on The Matter
Since the masses get to know about other faiths and their practices through the news media, it brings even more responsibility to the media to educate people about the real facts on the topic at hand. Instead of the stereotypical opinion influenced by political ideologies.
For example, when there is a discussion on the topic of terrorism and Islam, we also need to take into account what is the teaching of Islam on violence or killing innocent.
“That is why We ordained for the Children of Israel that whoever takes a life—unless as a punishment for murder or mischief in the land—it will be as if they killed all of humanity; and whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of humanity.1 ˹Although˺ Our messengers already came to them with clear proofs, many of them still transgressed afterward through the land”
But without considering the factual truth, the media portrays Muslims as extremists. It also often happens that a few verses of the Quran are misquoted or misunderstood. For which we need an expert’s help for better understanding.
Seek Out Expert Opinion When Covering Religious Topics.
As mentioned above, the teaching of religion on current subject matter should be broadcasted with an expert opinion who can give the right information. The media should invite a spokesperson for an opinion or debate who is humble, has a good knowledge of religion, and doesn’t have a hidden political agenda.
Be Respectful of The Beliefs of Others.
Faith and belief are considered very personal to people. So, when covering religious stories, it’s important to be respectful and sensitive to people’s beliefs. That means avoiding stereotypes and offensive language. It’s important to use the correct terminology while talking about any religion. This shows respect towards the beliefs of that particular faith.
Avoid Sensationalism and Stereotypes.
Media houses should be careful about labeling sections of people related to the current topic to sensationalize it. This often happens when they want to increase their viewership by showing some controversial topics related to a particular religion which ultimately results in sensationalism.
Sensationalism often leads to the creation of stereotypes and negative images of the people of that community.
Which can lead to misunderstanding and hatred between people of different religions.
Giving Importance to Positive Stories
There are a lot of positive stories related to religion that go unnoticed by the media. It’s important to give importance to these stories also as they help in changing the narrative around religion. For example, a story about how a mosque is helping the needy in the community or how a religious group is working towards social welfare.
These are some of the ways in which we can bring about a positive change in the way religion is portrayed in the media. It’s important to have a balanced approach while talking about sensitive topics like religion. The media has a responsibility to society and should be mindful of the impact of their words.
What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments below.