Media need to account for religion in society if they wish to remain truly secular, said the journalists at a discussion hosted by the Convergence Institute of Media Management & Information Technology (COMMITS) in Bangalore. The dialog, which the Media Project co-sponsored with COMMITS to highlight the launch of Blind Spot: when journalists don't get religion, brought together Western and Indian journalists to examine how Indian media deal with religion.
Western journalists, and Blind Spot contributors, Roberta Green Ahmanson, Terry Mattingly and Arne Fjeldstad challenged Indian journalists to pursue religious angles in their reporting. They drew on case studies in Blind Spot to show just how often religion is at the root of important events and how often media ignore religion in a misguided effort to stay neutral.
They argued that Indian media don't do enough to bring the religious elements into the news.
But the Western and Indian journalists did see things differently.
Indian journalist Imran Qureshi praised Indian media's practice of not reporting the religious identity of people committing violent acts. This is an example of journalistic restraint, he said.
Other Indian journalists pointed out that being too frank about religion in their reporting puts them at risk of physical harm. There just aren't adequate legal protections for journalists who want to report on religion in India, said writer and columnist Ramachandra Guha. He feared that an angry public might lash out at him or his colleagues and no one would stop them.
While the Western and Indian journalists agreed that media and religion make a "heady cocktail," they didn't fully agree about just what to do next. Guha hinted that, with all the uncertainties for Indian journalists, it might be enough that Indian media aren't aggressively atheist or pro-fundamentalist.
Blind Spot's editors, meanwhile, insisted that when media anywhere in the world are passive about religion, it won't go far enough in getting the story. Whether the story is the assassination of Indira Gandhi or the Mumbai massacres, religion will always be a key to understanding these tragedies.
The Blind Spot contributors also visited Manila and Delhi on their three-city book-launch tour.
-- Media Project staff compiled this story from Bangalore media reports.