Each the native and nationwide press may enhance protection of the faith

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The important role local newspapers and radio play in promoting a better understanding of the Faith was highlighted in a newly published parliamentary report.

I say amen to it.

"Learning to Listen", published by the all-party group on religion in the media, underscores the positive role that local and regional media play in "balanced, nuanced and informative reporting on religion". It is part of a comprehensive review of “religious competence” in the press and radio.

The report contrasts this sensitive basic coverage with the frequent coverage of faith in the national press.

As someone trained to be a local newspaper reporter and who has worked with the media to cover matters of faith for more than 45 years, I fully agree with the praise of the report.

But I know from talking to editors and religious leaders that there is still a gap that needs to be bridged. Often times, local journalists are unaware of the rich source of news and coverage that resides in local faith communities.

And the pastors, rabbis, imams and other religious leaders are either wary of their local media or they do not know that the local newspaper or radio station would be happy to hear from them.

Once churches and other faith communities have established connections with their local media, positive, informed coverage is often achieved.

In the 98-page Learning To Listen report, the House of Lords group of MPs and Members said: “We have heard compelling evidence that local media continues to present religions in a more balanced, nuanced and informative manner than the national media.

"The coverage of local religious festivals, community events, and local charities can portray the living reality of religious practices and experiences in ways that are very difficult for national journalism to achieve.

"Local and religious journalists are also more likely to develop the long-term relationships that are so important in accurately portraying a particular community."

MPs also praised the role of the local BBC radio in reporting the Faith, saying that "regional broadcasting plays an important role in the display of everyday faith. It has the ability to introduce new perspectives while providing a common narrative create."

"It's an area where religious programs continue to be valued and prioritized."

The report highlights the Sunday breakfast-based belief and ethics programs broadcast by local BBC radio stations, commenting, "When good local religious programs are prioritized, they can be engaging, inquiring and entertaining." It particularly praised the role the stations are playing in reporting questions of faith during the pandemic.

One of the features of the local BBC radio during the lockdown was a weekly Christian service that aired at 8 a.m. every Sunday. These are often innovative services, including one with a championship football team.

The parliamentary report also describes the challenges for local reporting. The advertising has been sucked out of regional and local newspapers by the social media giants, and the BBC's local radio is under pressure as the company's license-based funding is under attack.

In response to these challenges, the report concludes: "This loss of coverage of local public interest is deeply worrying. Not only does local journalism play an important social and democratic role, we have received compelling evidence that it does valuable function in the representation of religion and worldview fulfilled in an accessible and balanced way. "

The report contains a number of recommendations to achieve more informed coverage of religion in the media. These recommendations include:

  • Journalists and programmers should aim to explore the "lived experience" of religion and its doctrinal, ritual and ceremonial elements.
  • Religious literacy training should be formally incorporated into professional media qualifications and professional development of journalists.
  • The religious programming hours currently required by the BBC should be protected in future reviews.
  • The remit of public service broadcasters should be reformulated to include the purpose of promoting religious literacy, and all public service broadcasters should examine how they can use the full breadth of their production to improve religious literacy.

Rev. Peter Crumpler is a Church of England priest at St. Albans, Herts, and former CofE Communications Director. He is the author of "Responding to the Post Truth" (Grove Books)

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