Religious literacy is becoming a ‘hot topic’ according to the National Union of Journalists’ latest magazine.
As journalists face increasing criticism for misrepresenting people
of faith, and of being Islamophobic, there have been calls for
journalists and media outlets to undergo religious literacy training.
This is according to an article in the December/January issue of The Journalist by Jenny Sims, who stated that “[Religious literacy] training is slowly taking off.”
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ), which has members in
Ireland, the UK and Europe, held a workshop on the topic in Cardiff
under its NUJ Training Wales programme.
The first guide to religious literacy for media professionals was
launched in London in November. The guide, published by Lapido Media, is
named Religious Literacy: An Introduction.
“We’ve pretty much lost the ability to talk about religion and belief
just when we need it the most,” Dr Jenny Taylor, Founder and Senior
Executive of Lapido, said, citing Professor Adam Dinham of Goldsmiths
College, University of London.
Lapido Media is now working with the Press Association and the
National Union of Journalists to produce learning systems that
incorporate religious literacy, for which she said there is a “crying
current hot topic is Islam, and there were many speakers emphasising
the need to go beyond labels such as ‘radical’. There was also input
from Christians. Ireland correspondent with Sky News, David Blevins, who
was nominated for a Royal Television Society award for his coverage of
the Omagh bombing, spoke at the launch.
He said that a lack of religious literacy could cause ‘serious
offence’ and cost journalists credibility. Reflecting on the use of the
phrase ‘Christians killing Christians’ in Northern Ireland, he said
there are “staggering levels of religious illiteracy.” For
example, journalists reported that prayers were said for Protestant
victims of a bombing, even though Northern Irish Protestants do not pray
for the dead.
He took time out from Sky to study theology, and stated that
journalism is a vocation for him. He rejected journalists’ traditional
scepticism of religion, saying: “Report on others as you would have them
report on you.”
NUJ workshops involved Angela Graham, who comes from a Christian
background and has been involved as a producer and director in broadcast
and other media for decades. She wrote in her blog that she felt no one
was responsible for ensuring that journalism students and professional
journalists are well-equipped to interpret what she called “the powerful
impetus of religion at home and abroad – and not only religion but
belief in a wider sense.”
She linked up with NUJ Training Wales, and the workshop was held in
Cardiff on 8 November. ‘When Religion Makes the News’ had 82
participants, including journalists and representatives of faiths and of
secular belief systems.
“Without knowledge, we can’t report on and challenge the more
problematic aspects of religion and if we don’t do that, extremism
flourishes and people retreat into their own echo chambers. It was also
great to meet some new faces from so many religious communities,” stated
one participant, Gareth Jones, journalist with BBC Cymru Wales.
Those present heard how it is a challenge not only to learn more
about a religion itself but to recognise which branch of the religion
the story refers to, so journalists know where to go and find out who
has authority to speak for that particular group.
Innes Bowen, author of Media in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam,
highlighted the breakdown of branches of Islam and ethnicities within
Wales’s mosques and institutions, indicating that journalists may need
to look for a number of representative voices.
The issue for faith media representatives (some of whom are
non-professionals) often is how to engage and communicate effectively
with their own members and with the media at large.
is deemed to be news is also important, and to be available for
journalists at very short notice when they need interviewees or case
NUJ Training Wales made resources available for attendees and the wider community via its website:
– Table of religious literacy resources from Dr Michael Munnik, Centre for the Study of Islam, Cardiff University
– ‘Guide to Christianity in Wales for Journalists’ by Gethin Rhys of
Cytûn (Churches Together in Wales) with information about the different
branches/denominations and media contact details.
– ‘Guide to Non-Christian Faiths in Wales’, compiled by Gethin Abraham-Williams is in the pipeline.
For the faith media reps, resources on the website include:
– ‘Working with Journalists’ by Angela Graham;
– From Christine Warwick, PR consultant: ‘What makes news?’; ‘Target
audience’; ‘Writing an effective press release’ and ‘Tips for broadcast
Media reps from among the many facets of the three Abrahamic faiths
in Wales presented their services and resources.
Roman Catholic Church Alexander des Forges
The Church in Wales Anna Morrell
Union of Welsh Independents Alun Lenny
Muslim Council of Wales Abdul-Azim Ahmed
Board of Deputies of British Jews Stanley Soffa
Judaism and the Media Professor Nathan Abrams, Bangor University
For further information see: http://nujtrainingwales.org/resources/.