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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

TEXAS FAITH: How can the media better cover religion?


The media can earn respect and foster understanding by telling the truth, and writing stories about how a conservative, liberal and a moderate person views his own religion, rather than what a pastor, rabbi, pundit, imam, shaman or a clergy tells about other's religion.

Do you think these religious leaders will tell the truth about other religions? Of course, some do, but for others,  it is their paycheck and fame... that was  earned by bashing other religions or ill-talking about other faiths.  Should you believe a religious leader who talks ill about others? 

Is the media's coverage of religion too sensationalized? Most of the public thinks so, according to a survey released this spring by the Knight Program in Media and Religion at USC's Annenberg School of Communication and the University of Akron's Roy C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. The poll found that two-thirds of respondents think that religion coverage is too sensationalized. By contrast, only a third of reporters see it that way.

How do you think the media could better explain the role of religion in society? The answer is important for both consumers of news and those who report the news and interpret it. Twelve Texas Faith panelists weigh in on the subject.

MIKE GHOUSE, President, Foundation for Pluralism, Dallas

The model for religious reporting can come from political newscasting, where the mainstream media has done an exemplary job in being fair, and many journalists have earned the respect from opposing political parties for their neutrality. Indeed, at times, their adherence to equity and fairness makes it difficult to figure out their political leanings. There was not a Republican or a Democrat, who would not have wanted to be on Tim Russert's show.

We have made significant progress in explaining the role of religion since 9/11. However, sensationalism swallows reason and rationality. Increasingly focused on competitiveness and profits, the mainstream media is under pressure for its own survival. Undeniably, it is at a critical juncture of having to choose between fulfilling its societal responsibility and succumbing to the economic compulsions of our times by sensationalizing religious "bashing(news)" without countering it.

A couplet in Urdu language suggests checking out if elections were on, when religious skirmishes are on the rise. The aggrandized Ground Zero Mosque issue can be attributed to the political expediency of the 2010 elections.

Religion as a part of daily reporting is relatively new, and is taking root over the last decade. Most major papers have a full time column devoted to it. A few have a daily column, like the Washington Post andHuffington Post. Our own Dallas Morning News has gone through the turbulence from running an award-winning religion section to shutting it down and making a full comeback. It will succeed as it reflects diversity of the public, and is in step with them through the questions framed every week on this blog. Ultimately, sensationalism will recede, and the religion reporting will find its own equilibrium as it matures.

The religious explaining has grown from the exclusive domain of clergy to include non-clergy in an effort to offer a range of understanding to the news consumers. When Osama Bin Laden was given the sea burial, Melissa Cutler of Fox 4 News approached the Imam and the non-Imam for their perspectives, Steve Blow of the Dallas Morning News reached out to the pastor and the non-pastor alike to bring sense to the sensational attacks on the Quran. And, oddly, Sean Hannity broke the stereotyping trend of presenting Muslims with beards, with Muslims who looked like everyone else to represent Islam.

The faithfulness to the truth should be the higher goal. Over the last two years, I have come to admire the two moderators of this forum; William McKenzie and Wayne Slater. They are thorough in reading what we write and frequently ask for proof, to keep us on our toes.

Indeed, the eternal wisdom is expressed in John 8:32, "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free," To which the Hindu mantra from Upanishads adds power, "Satyamev Jayate," the truth ultimately triumphs. Truth-telling is a fundamental Jewish value as well as the value of every theist and atheist tradition,  and it must reflect in the writings of journalists from different faiths.

Quran (5:8) offers guidance to the religion reporters, "O you who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of any-one lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious. And remain conscious of God: verily, God is aware of all that you do."

Prophet Muhammad further urges mankind to tell the truth even if it incriminates you. He said it liberates you from endless anxiety and paves the way for a regret free life.

We need stories to effectively neutralize the derogatory meaning assigned to the words that were shoved into our vocabulary by the uncouth barbarians from the Dark Ages. Words such as pagan, idolatrous, wicca, and earth-based American traditions need to be consistently written as traditions as valid as Judaism, Christianity, Islam or any other religion. God has not signed a deal with anyone behind others back, and religion is not about arrogance, but humility.

Why do we need to do that?
When Jesus talked about the kingdom of heaven, he meant creating societies where no one has to live in fear of the other. He taught us to blame the sin and not the sinner. To make a point, he set the example of embracing presumed sinners like the prostitutes and lepers.

Every religion has a similar goal; to open people's hearts and minds towards the other.

The media can earn respect and foster understanding by telling the truth, and writing stories about how a conservative, liberal and a moderate person views his own religion, rather than what a pastor, rabbi, pundit, imam, shaman or other clergy tells about other religions.

To see all the twelve points of view, please visit Dallas Morning News at:
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MikeGhouse is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. He is a professional speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, civic affairsIslamIndiaIsrael, peace and justice. Mike is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News and regularly at Huffington post, and several other periodicals across the world. The blog www.TheGhousediary.com is updated daily. 

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