Religion has its flaws! Has it a right to be heard in the public space?

Barney Zwartz was profoundly instrumental in the formation of the Australian Media Engagement Project. Over a bottle of red wine, he coined the question, “Do you want me to be an excellent journalist, or a propagandist for your stories?” That question framed the character of our engagement with journalists.

Now as a commentator in the Herald Sun, he tacitly makes a play for ‘religion’ to have a voice in the ‘public space’. His article is responding to fellow commentator, Tom Elliott, who a week earlier wrote an article, titled “Believe it or not, religion is flawed”.

I congratulate the Herald Sun for creating a small opening for this huge cultural debate. If it unfolds, it should be welcomed by everybody.

Its overdue and vital, i.e. if Australian society is to become more unified, harmonious, fairer, with a greater sense of community well-being, and sustainable levels of shared prosperity.

However, I have two concerns about media coverage should this debate unfold.

First, journalists generally seem only superficially equipped to understand the nuances of religion, and the deep elements of truth that religious adherents possess, and enact within our society. Therefore, Australian journalism may not be able to effectively describe the reality of Australian society, which will be impacted by this huge cultural debate; if it unfolds. And, this is what their ethics say is a most responsible journalistic role.

Second, the voices of intelligent theologians have shown themselves inept with mainstream and social media communication. Yet, they need to effectively communicate:

  1. What their goal for Australian society is!
  2. How the process by which this goal will be achieved by Australians, actually works!
  3. An intelligible explanation of “God” (the structures, if you like) that hold all these things together.

Theologians who are committed to our Australian society need to do this in languages that thoughtful Australians understand, and to which we might respond.

Even so, let the debate begin! In earnest!

About Bob Simpson

Bob is project manager of The Australian Media Engagement Project (AMEP). He believes that ethical and independent journalists are vital to the continuing freedom of Australian citizens. You could argue that In recent decades media organisations have subtly subverted journalism to their own private commercial interests, and away from an integrated sense of fairness, well being and shared prosperity in Australian society, especially for the disempowered. AMEP aims to change general media narratives towards greater fairness, well being and shared prosperity in Australia.
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2 Responses to Religion has its flaws! Has it a right to be heard in the public space?

  1. Mark Breyley says:

    Thanks Bob! I too am concerned about the type of media coverage that most people see, where the 30 second interview or three-paragraph bulletin simply grabs the sensational angle or headlines the sinister action. Behind the headline, who is asking the questions about significance, relationship and social change? When do we put the exceptional story into context with current stats on how often these things occur or how much they really cost our society? Where is the insight about what life circumstance led someone to act in the radical or dangerous way that made them into a headline? Why is a person in a news story “labelled” with their race or religion, without reporting whether or how that was significant to their action or their situation? Surely a childhood of abuse, distorted values and bad behavioural modelling is far more influential towards an act of crime and even terror, than which country they came from or how they perceive God. Let’s get some perspective, please!
    Let’s ask the questions that help our society to grow in understanding and in wellbeing, that expand our understanding of why people do things differently. This level of debate helps break down the mistaken assumption that because someone is different to me, they must want to take something from me.
    When we actually get to know someone of another culture, belief system or ethnicity, we discover they are much more like us than we imagined, and have the same struggles as we do (or perhaps worse). Despite all this, they want to join with us in making our community better. Every one of the boatpeople, Muslims, Africans, Asians, Christians and religious refugees that I know personally has a strong commitment to building a better community for everyone. Every one of them has the same abhorrence that I feel when a young life is wasted by drugs and alcohol, or vulnerable people are crushed by “tough government”, or an act of violence is lauded in the name of religion. Let’s have these views published by journalists who bring us a balanced perspective on the whole picture of our society, not just the radical or extreme bits. As a society we need to normalise good values again, instead of normalising bad behaviour. Let this debate begin!

  2. Bob Simpson says:

    So Mark, how could people like you and me help journalists break the power of their media organisation’s agenda, which manifests “the sensational angle or headlines the sinister action”? How do we encourage independent journalists to explain the context of their story, and ask questions about significance, relationship and social change?

    There is a group in the United States, “Solutions Journalism Network” that might be instructive in this regard. They are encouraging journalists to report on solutions within the problem, rather than just reporting on the problem. Worth a view!

    Thanks for your thoughts.

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