Journalists urged to learn more about religion
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Knowing about religion is essential to understand many major news stories, but media in Indonesia and the United States have mostly failed to grasp the religious context of the news, concluded a book seminar.
“The world is religious and some say it’s getting more religious. The problem is most American journalists are ignorant about religious matters,” said Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, at a book review seminar titled “Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion”, on Wednesday.
Endy Bayuni, the chief editor of The Jakarta Post, said the situation was different in Indonesia.
“Religion has always been important for Indonesian people. Journalists respect religion. However, most editors in Indonesia prefer to avoid religious issues,” Endy said.
Endy added Indonesian media was used to avoiding religious issues since the New Order era. During that era, the government forbade the media from writing about religious issues, especially about the religious dimension of conflicts.
He added most media had been reluctant to write about the harassment of religious minority groups like Ahmadiyah, or church attacks in Indonesia.
Bahtiar Effendy, a political professor at Jakarta Islamic State University, said most writing about religion by Indonesian journalists was shallow.
“Even the leading newspapers do not write with a deep understanding of religious matters, especially about Islam. But, they also do not make big mistakes,” Bahtiar said.
Marshall said there was an increasing demand for information about religious issues.
“In the book titled Blind Spot, the writers argue that in democratic countries, the role of religion in politics is increasing. Democracy is giving the world’s people their voice, and many want to talk about God,” Marshall said.
Marshall warned that taking religion as important part of journalism did not necessarily mean always writing about the religious issue in every story. “The most important thing is a journalist should understand whether the religion factor can help explain the story,” he said.
Marshall gave as an example the importance of religion in the Bali bombing case. “It is important to address that the perpetrators acted based on their version of Islam. Yes, most Indonesians do not believe in the bombers’ version of Islam, but still, Islam was an important factor in the bombers’ beliefs,” he said.
Bahtiar also said religion was an important factor explaining conflicts in political, economic or even legal spheres.
“In Indonesia, most Indonesian [journalists] like to view conflicts as triggered by differences between ethnicities, political stances, or the gaps in the economic situation.”
However, when there is a religious dimension in conflicts, the journalists prefer to overlook it, he added. Bahtiar said many journalists missed the connection between politics, the economy and religion.
“The journalists just have to study more. You cannot expect someone to master religion just because they are writing about religion in limited deadlines,” Marshall said. (mrs)