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New survey suggests journalists are ignoring news about religion and faith

by Glyn Jones

A survey of 9,000 people suggests there is an unmet demand for more coverage of news stories about faith and religion. It also suggests that journalists often use lazy stereotypes about religions and often fail to reflect the nuances and complexities in stories about faith.

The research, which claims to be the largest ever survey looking at media coverage of religion, was conducted by Harris X and sampled the views of people in 18 countries. It was commissioned by the Faith and Media Initiative, a group that brings together faith leaders and people from the media.

Among the findings of the research:

- 53 per cent of people believe news media actively ignores religion as an aspect of society and culture today.

- 61 per cent of people say media coverage often perpetuates faith-based stereotypes rather than addressing and protecting against them.

- 56 per cent of people agree there should be more nuanced coverage of complex religious issues.

As part of the project, researchers also interviewed journalists and editors. The interviews suggest newsroom cutbacks are partly to blame for poor coverage of faith issues, with a reducing number of specialist correspondents. General reporters sometimes lack the necessary knowledge about religion to be confident in covering faith stories.

In addition, journalists suggest that religion is not seen as a driver of clicks for online stories. In environments where success is measured by the number of clicks an article attracts, that can lead to important stories being ignored.

"Ultimately, the research points to a clear global deficit in coverage, treatment and quality of understanding of faith and religion in modern media," according to Dritan Nesho of HarrisX.

The research company CEO adds: "The data reveals that faith and religion are a core element of personal identity globally, with 82 per cent of respondents viewing themselves as faithful, religious or spiritual.

"Yet the journalists with whom we spoke to believe that faith and religious coverage are becoming increasingly marginalised due to everything from newsroom economics to fears of 'getting it wrong'.”

The vice president of The Faith and Media Initiative, Brooke Zaugg, hopes the survey findings will be a "springboard" to better coverage of religion and faith in newsrooms around the world.

She commented, "These new findings shine a light on the urgent need to offer faith leaders improved access to the power and reach of the news media, and media a direct line to faith leaders."

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