Religious Representation in the Media

Last week a report by the Faith and Belief Forum called for more opportunity for religious groups to be able to speak for themselves in the media to improve accuracy of representation. The report claims that media representations of religion are often simplistic, sensationalist and inaccurate, leading to religious stereotyping and labelling which can cause damage community cohesion and trust.

The report concludes that journalists and editors need to improve their religious literacy and engagement with faith groups; newsrooms should provide better access for religious and ethnic minority journalists; and religious organisations should be trained to share their own stories and understand how the media works.

I cannot comment in detail about the treatment of non-Christian religions, but it does seem that, at times, the media’s portrayal of religious beliefs and practices is over-simplified. If the main way in which non-religious people form their perceptions is based on a few media soundbites with a narrow sample of faith group leaders, misrepresentation is likely to follow. As well as a lack of accurate information, there is often no critique or analysis of what is said, perhaps for fear of falling foul of discrimination regulations.

Christianity is often represented in the media in terms of simple categories such as progressive, liberal, fundamentalist or traditional. Those interviewed in the media are mostly Anglican, and usually from the liberal wing of that denomination.

If you have the misfortune to listen to many episodes of Thought for the Day on Radio 4, as a Christian, you will feel yourself to be grossly under-represented as series of well-meaning but bland addresses call on us to be nice to one another, look after our planet and probably urge more left-wing policies on the government.

The exclusive claims of Christ and his radical call to discipleship are rarely, if ever, mentioned. With a few notable exceptions, representatives from Christian groupings outside of the Church of England are practically non-existent.

In TV dramas, Christians are usually depicted as repressed, dangerous zealots, or insipid but harmless figures of fun. Documentaries about Christians tend to focus on genuinely extreme individuals, or present the church as bigoted and intolerant. The only time mainstream Christian views are heard is usually when campaigning on a particular issue and they are all too easily dismissed as extremists.

A key part of my role at Affinity is to develop opportunities in both the Christian and secular media to speak up for evangelical views. The purpose of this is threefold: to model to others how to present a Christian worldview out in the “marketplace”; to present aspects of the Christian message to persuade people of the truth; and to give credibility to that message by trying to behave and debate in an engaging and reasonable manner.

The challenge is for more evangelical Christians to step forward at a local and national level to speak up for the orthodox evangelical faith. We have such a good story to tell – about Jesus, about how to live life, about how the Bible makes sense of our world. We have something to say on all the issues people face every day and as they contemplate the meaning of life.

Graham Nicholls is Director of Affinity


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