Media & Faith: A Bible guide for journalists

Media & Faith: A Bible guide for journalists

The ABC has announced that Radio National will next year reinstate its religion and media programs, which will be essential listening around these parts, in addition to programs around food, pop culture and music (of interest to us, too) and an amalgamated arts and books show (we will never have reason to tune out), all part of the broadcaster's bid to attract younger listeners. 

A draft schedule for 2012 "proposes moving specialist programs such as the health, law, media, religion and ethics reports from 8.30am to 5.30pm after the abbreviated 5 o'clock PM broadcast and before a 6-8pm drive show," reports The Australian.

"RN should never chase a mass market audience," Radio National manager Mr Mason said in a note to staff. "We should remain true to our principles of being a major leader in Australian thinking, ideas and debate, playing an important role in the advancement of a civil, contemporary Australian society."

Back in 2008, when the Religion Report was axed, host Stephen Crittenden took to the airwaves saying the move would "condemn Radio National to even greater irrelevance... in an era when religion vies with economics as a determinant of everything that's going on in the world".

Prophetically, The Sydney Morning Herald's Tim Dick wrote in June this year, in an article titled 'Brainy bunch suffers in a dumbed-down world' that, "without dedicated programs to the media or religion, Radio National's schedule is incomplete, something we must hope ABC executives will rectify in their current review of the station."

Journalists, and media outlets, often have an uncomfortable relationship with reporting anything on faith. One of the editors of Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion joined a panel at RMIT in Melbourne recently to canvass the issue. Reporting on The Urban Conversation: God in the Daily News Cycle held at RMIT David Wilson reported for Christian newspaper Eternity:

"Yes, Journalists do have a blind spot when it comes to religion. But it’s not only Journalists who have it.  In Australian society it exists in the majority.  Basically, religion is just not understood.  There is a mega problem of ignorance of what religion is all about and how it influences everyday life."

Meanwhile, the Bible Society UK has put together a style guide for journalists in an effort to correct misunderstandings of the text. "Whether you're covering Creationism or Zionism, or want to know your apostle from your epistle, The Bible Style Guide is here to help you get started," it says.

Given Sunday's Sun-Herald front page headline, "God wasn't there for me: Einfeld", followed by the assertion that after two years in goal the former Federal Court judge had lost faith in God (a ambiguous take on his comment, "I lost God somewhere and I'm trying to find him again...  I felt that at the time I needed Him, He wasn't there") leading into an inspiring account of his desire to turn his mistake into an actionable positive, as well as this week's reflections on making sense of September 11 and contemplations of Labor's embattled government, it's a timely addition to any journalist's resources.

As James wrote in the good book, "If you need wisdom, ask... God, and He will give it to you." It's hard to write what's right when what's popular sells.

On that note, it was a beautiful surprise to open up The Sunday Mail (News Limited) to the Agenda section the weekend before last to see a moving image by Nathan Richter accompanying Daryl Passmore's thoughtful story on the tragedy that struck one family: eleven lives lost in a house fire, eight of them aged 18 and under, representing one of the worst fires in the state's modern history.

The strap line that accompanied the story was "Tragedy has served to strengthen belief in family ties and religion." Passmore opened with the line: "God moves in mysterious ways."

"Those gathered here have so many reasons to be overwhelmed with anger over their enormous loss," wrote Passmore. "And to question – not just the how, but the why. To question why a kind and loving God would allow this to happen. To question whether there even is a God. But they don't. This street, this scene of absolute horror, is wrapped in a spirit of gentle calm and peace."

Community elder Faimalota (John) Pale explained the harmony: "In spite of the pain, people were singing their praises to God. If anything holds these people together, it is their faith in God... They have tremendous faith and belief that He always knows what is best for us. We believe He has something good for us. For all of us with Christian faith – the suffering and pain that Jesus went through means our suffering and pain takes on meaning."

Girl With a Satchel