Parliamentary report calls for religious literacy
A Parliamentary Inquiry into Religious Literacy in Print and Broadcast Media published today (April 14) concluded that religious literacy is essential for anyone who seeks to understand UK society, and has been backed by Network Norfolk.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Religion in the Media conducted a virtual launch (pictured below) of the “Learning to Listen” report. Welcoming the report at its launch were the editors of the Daily Mirror and Daily Express, the chairman of press regulator IPSO - Lord Faulks - alongside numerous MPs and several bishops and other faith leaders.
Introducing the report, Chair Yasmin Qureshi MP, and Co-Chair Baroness Butler-Sloss, said: “We believe that religious literacy is essential for anyone who seeks to understand society today. A public conversation which treats religion as outdated and irrelevant to today’s world will leave a growing number of our fellow citizens increasingly isolated and marginalised.
“We are lucky in this country to have a free media. However, that does not make it above reproach, nor does it make improvement impossible. It is worrying that we heard from many people - faith groups, academics and journalists - who believe that misrepresentation of religious people and beliefs has become widespread across our media.
“To be clear, journalists must be able to question freely and criticise religious beliefs - such criticism may well be merited. Highlighting shortcomings and exposing hypocrisy is a vital feature of public interest journalism.
“Our title, “Learning to Listen”, is not just directed at the media. Faith groups have a responsibility to work to understand how best to tell their story and to hear and respond to the constraints faced by journalists and the demands of modern-day journalism.
“Learning not just what people think, but why they think it, is essential in bridging gaps and crossing social and cultural divides. This is the broadest suggestion we would like to make – that our society can be richer, more harmonious and more confident in itself if we all learn to listen and empathise with that which we do not believe or support.
“A media that is diverse, curious and sensitive to the enormous variety of beliefs in the UK today can play a key role in fostering that society.”
In its summary, the reports says: “A central theme running through this report is the basic and fundamental conviction that journalists and programme-makers should aim to explore the ‘lived experience’ of religion as well as its doctrinal, ritual and ceremonial elements.
“Too often, religion and belief are reduced to a series of rules to be learnt and practices understood; it was instructive that the majority of responses from media organisations understood religious literacy only as a matter of acquiring knowledge. For the vast majority of people of faith, this is only one part of their religious lives. Focusing on practices and rituals fundamentally misses the lived experience of faith as something which informs every part of public and private life and acts as a source of motivation, strength and guidance to the majority of the world’s inhabitants. Until this simple truth is understood, the media will continue to misrepresent and misunderstand religion.”
The report highlights a 2016 study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism which found that, from the 2011 Census, compared to the general UK population, journalists in the UK are less than half as likely to ascribe to a religious belief, with the Christian, Muslim and Hindu faiths the most under-represented.
Network Norfolk editor Keith Morris, was invited to the launch as a contributor to the report. He said: “I fully back the report’s findings but am glad to say that in Norfolk we do have many journalists who show religious literacy, or at least are open to presenting faith stories fairly alongside other important elements of our society.
“However, I do believe that religious knowledge and literacy among many journalists – along with much of the rest of the population - has dropped dramatically over my 30 years in journalism.
“This is where good communications and media staff, working on behalf of faith organisations or churches in helping journalists, can have a very positive impact on coverage and therefore religious literacy.
“Understanding of the substantial faith elements in our communities is now quite low in some places and the faith and spiritual angle to many stories in often almost entirely overlooked. For example, when a local person makes great efforts to raise money for a charity or takes part in an overseas development project, the reporter often does not ask the “how” and the “why” questions alongside the more mundane and basic “who, what, when and where”. The “why” and “how” are often motivated by their faith or other beliefs - which can then get overlooked in the 300 or so words allocated to a reporter.”
You can read the full report here.