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18 nations were asked about media reporting on religion. Here’s what people said

HarrisX's CEO, who has been consulted in the past by PM Modi and Rahul Gandhi, spoke exclusively to ThePrint about the findings of the survey on faith and religion.

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Is the media reporting on faith, religion and spirituality fair? This has been the prime question before many all over the globe.

The Faith and Media Initiative (FAMI) wants to heal division in society by ensuring fair reporting of all matters related to religion and faith.

The group conducted a huge survey through HarrisX research company and released the findings at the Concordia Summit in New York. It aims at the media company to invest in coverage of religion and faiths.

Dritan Nesho, the CEO of survey and data company HarrisX and who has been consulted in the past by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, spoke exclusively to ThePrint.

Sheela Bhatt: How wide is this survey?

Dritan Nesho: The Faith and Media Index Study is a first- of-its-kind study because it focuses on the intersection of faith and religion and how the two are treated by the news media; We conducted close to 9,500 interviews in 18 countries in six continents around the world. The study was administered in the top six global languages including Hindi, English, Spanish, Chinese, French, Arabic, and it covers all of the world’s major religions.

It reflects the opinion of the men and women on the street in these 18 countries and compared them to the perspectives of the journalists in these countries.

The survey was online and was kept very private.

Even in China, which is a communist and secular country, the majority of the respondents said that they were spiritual or faithful. Not necessarily religious but spiritual and faithful and India emerged as a highly religious country with over 7 in 10 of the respondents saying that they were either spiritual, faithful or ascribed to a religion or a branch of that religion. Despite the policy of the country like China, the people within it have religion as a core element of their personal identity.

SB: Nigeria is 100% religious.

DN: It was a surprising finding that everyone said that they are either spiritual or faithful or religious. South Nigeria is deeply Christian and the North is deeply Islamic and there is a social understanding that faith is part of their DNA as a Nigerian. But there is a wide range from Nigeria, South Africa, United States, India which are the more religious countries in the study, to middle of the way countries like Mexico and Ecuador and Canada. Two countries that are more secular in their profile like the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain, there’s a very broad range of countries that fit within these groups. In the Middle East, specifically, we looked at Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, and both were middle of the way countries in terms of their religious profile with Egypt being more religious than the UAE.

SB: Through this survey, what kind of a portrait of this planet emerges?

DN: That’s an excellent question. The core thing that the survey says is that the media is seen as perpetuating stereotypes around faith and religion. 61% of the respondents on a global basis say that they have encountered stereotypes in the media about religion and there is a near universal consensus, 78% across the globe say that these stereotypes need to be addressed at the same level or even with more intensity as gender- and race-related stereotypes, which are core elements of diversity, equity and inclusion. So this study is remarkable in how consistent it is across different countries (with regard to) the concerns being raised around stereotypes and in the need and yearning being expressed to fight the stereotypes.

SB: What does the data reveal about India?

DN: I would say that India is very diverse as we all know, both in terms of its faith and religion and in terms of its composition as a country, and there is a remarkable unity and consistency in the answers within India. Both from the perspective of Hindus and from the perspective of Muslims in India and beyond. So, I think that the data paints a very interesting picture around the consensus among Indians that these are issues of public importance and the proper reflection of faith and religion and related issues should be addressed at the highest levels of news media.

SB: How unfair reporting affects the daily life of people all over the world?

DN: Well, 43% of respondents across the globe said that the current coverage of their faith fuels anxiety and concerns. Now it’s not a majority opinion but if four out of ten friends were telling you that they are feeling anxious about something, you surely would notice. So, this is a striking finding because that anxiety is then taken to their daily lives.

SB: What was the main pick of your study for you?

DN: There were two very surprising findings. The first is the degree to which problems in covering faith and religion are acknowledged within newsrooms. Journalists were very open that there were significant problems to doing this type of coverage of religion well.

The second surprising finding is the consistency of the data. Usually, in a global study, the findings are all over the place. There is not much of a trend or a motif that emerges that you don’t have to work hard at. In this case, it was the opposite. There is universal consensus that faith and religion is part of human identity, regardless of where you are. There is universal consensus that the media is not doing a good job at reflecting a person’s faith and religion on a regular basis and in fact it’s perpetuating stereotypes rather than fighting them – 61% said that. And there is universal consensus that this needs to be addressed right now. But the finding is constructive in the sense that it points to several solutions on how to do that.

SB: Like?

DN: Better spokespersons from religious organisations, more acknowledgement of faith and religion in regular reporting even when it’s about society or politics or some other angle and so on and so forth. So it’s a study that shows a set of challenges but also a path forward on how to address those challenges. The newsroom needs an editor for religions. People think generalists are afraid to get faith and religion wrong, this is what the journalists also said.

SB: Isn’t this study the conservative people’s voice? The radical people dislike a liberal journalist’s reporting.

DN: But when you look at the proportion of conservatives versus liberals versus moderates or independence in each of these countries and define it in a local context, the findings that we are seeing in this study transcend those ideological divisions because they are the majority in consensus findings. You can’t say that 78% of the world is conservative that’s why they want to fight the stereotypes, or 60% is conservative that’s why they are battling it. So it goes beyond political affiliation, it goes beyond ideology into the realm of the consensus of the political spectrum, across the ideological spectrum that there needs to be a better job (of reporting religion-related matters). So, I’m happy to share with you the specific breakdowns. In the United States, for example, we know very well that conservatives are about 40%, moderates are about 30% and liberals are about 30%, but the findings are significantly higher.

There is a  global consensus that the media needs to improve coverage of religions.

Sheela Bhatt is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @sheela2010.

(Edited by Prashant)

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