‘Strong demand’ for more news coverage on faith, survey finds

Image credit: Yukiko Matsuoka CCLicense 2.0

By Lianne Kolirin

A global research study has found that more than half those surveyed believes the media actively ignores religion in its coverage of society and culture and revealed a “strong demand across the world for more news media coverage on faith”. 

The Global Faith and Media Study set out to discover how the media covered the world’s main religions.  It was commissioned by the US-based Faith and Media Initiative and funded in part by the Radiant Foundation, both associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The survey was conducted by global market research company HarrisX.

Online interviews were conducted with 9,395 people across 18 countries in August and September, as well as in-depth interviews with 30 English-speaking journalists and editors. Those surveyed were religious and non-religious, reflecting the population of their nation.

The countries ranged from highly religious to secular — among them Nigeria, India, Mexico, the UK and Australia.

  • Of those questioned, 53 per cent believed media coverage actively ignored religion as an aspect of society and culture today.
  • Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) felt that high-quality content on faith and religion was needed in their respective countries.
  • A similar proportion (61 per cent) felt that media coverage often perpetuated faith-based stereotypes rather than addressing and protecting against them.

The editors and journalists surveyed reinforced the suggestion that a significant overhaul was required in this field because those interviewed “universally described a continued marginalisation of media coverage on faith and religion”.

This was attributed to numerous factors, including tight budgets, a lack of diversity in the newsroom and a fear of “getting it wrong”. 

Eighty-one per cent believed the media perpetuated at least one of four faith-related stereotypes: that most religions were against homosexuality; that clergy abused children; that religion promoted radicalism; and that women were not welcome as religious leaders. 

Such stereotypes were not treated by the media in the same way as other stereotypes — such as racial and gender-related, the survey found.

Most respondents also agreed that the problem was, in part, down to the lack of diverse spokespeople put forward by religious groups. 

The vast majority of those questioned — 82 per cent — defined themselves as religious, spiritual or a person of faith, while 74 per cent were affiliated with a specific religion or denomination. 

Dritan Nesho, chief executive of HarrisX, said: “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 believe that faith and religious coverage are becoming increasingly marginalised due to everything from newsroom economics to fears of ‘getting it wrong’. Ultimately, the research points to a clear global deficit in coverage, treatment and quality of understanding of faith and religion in modern media.”

The report is the first to feature on the Faith and Media Index, a new platform for research and data launched by the Faith and Media Initiative, a branch of the Radiant Foundation.

The initiative, according to its website, is made up of a “global network of thought leaders, culture-makers, and influencers collaborating for a closer relationship between faith and media”. 

Aaron Sherinian, the original supporter of the Faith and Media Initiative, told the Religion Media Centre that an exploratory taskforce came together earlier this year amid the growing conversation about polarisation to discuss “what can we do to bring two sectors who are maybe artificially drawn apart together”.

 “It’s a group of people interested in this issue and who wanted to come together and raise awareness,” he said.

Mr Sherinian is senior vice-president, global reach, at Deseret Management Corporation, a global operating company, managing for-profit entities affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. All the groups involved in the study come under this umbrella organisation, based in Salt Lake City.

The initial study, he said, was funded in part by a grant from the Radiant Foundation, which according to Deseret’s website “seeks to create a healthier, more unified world by promoting authentic expressions of God-centred spirituality in personal and public life”.

The initiative aimed to “signpost” other organisations that were already working in the field, to improve the relationship between faith groups and the media, he said. 

“It’s a community of people who care about the issue. It’s not a membership organisation or a [non-governmental organisation]. This is a group of people saying ‘let’s shine a light on some of these issues and champion people who do this work already’.”

While the research may have sprung from a group with its roots in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the group represented “almost every plurality of geography and religious viewpoint”, he added. 

“Our effort is not to replace or supplant anything but to lift up and support things that are going on,” he said. “We really want to be a friend of faith and a friend of great journalism and friends of people doing more to make the conversation real. A robust discussion of how they relate to each other is not just timely but timeless.”


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