The All Party Parliamentary Group on Religion in the Media has called for a more religiously literate media environment.
In its recently published report, Learning to Listen, the Group says this is needed in order to counter the misrepresentation of religious people and beliefs that has become widespread across the British media.
The Group say journalists must be able to question freely and criticise religious beliefs but stress that everyone deserves a media which recognises the importance of religious belief and has the confidence to report on, interrogate, question and discuss it.
In the foreword, co-chairs Yasmin Qureshi MP and Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, say: ‘To live together well, it is beholden upon all of us to learn to listen to our fellow citizens and to do so with respect and curiosity before we move to judgement.
‘Learning not just what people think, but why they think it, is essential in bridging gaps, crossing social and cultural divides, and building a society that is richer, more harmonious and more confident in itself.
‘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.’
The report, backed by a cross-party group of MPs and peers, proposes seven central recommendations including provisions for group-based complaints on grounds of discrimination; full accounts of religion and belief workforce statistics to be published by media organisations; religious literacy training to be formally incorporated into professional media qualifications and journalists’ continuing professional development; and for journalists and programme-makers to aim to explore the ‘lived experience’ of religion as well as its doctrinal, ritual and ceremonial elements.
Addressing the steady growth in ‘clickbait’, the report recommends that newspapers take greater care with the pictures and headlines they choose to display, recognising that this is all the majority of viewers will see.
Furthermore, the report calls for the Government to look again at press regulation arguing that there is a need for greater public confidence that the press is meaningfully, independently regulated.
The report also puts forward a number of ‘proposed actions’ to significantly improve the public debate around religion. These include developing rounded, balanced depictions of religion and belief which avoid stereotyping and generalisation, taking care not to homogenise religious groups and avoiding basic factual mistakes and misleading terminology.
Other proposed actions call on public service broadcasters to explore how to use the full breadth of their output to increase religious literacy.
The report highlights that the onus is not solely on the media and that 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.
Yasmin Qureshi MP, chair of the APPG, said: “Religion plays an important role in the lives of many citizens, both here in the UK and in the world. Religious literacy is not therefore, something trivial. Rather, it an essential tool to enable our media to report on and reflect our society and the world, deepening our understanding of each other and events around us.”
Picture: A random selection of British daily newspapers. (Thinglass).