Participants at the IARJ conference on journalism and religion in Central and Eastern Europe

Journalists tackle challenges of religion beat in Central and Eastern Europe

Thirty religion journalists from around Central and Eastern Europe met in Warsaw for a conference on journalism and religion in the region organized by the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ).

Driving the news

As the IARJ reports, the June conference covered:

  • Journalistic treatment of religious and cultural minorities;
  • Coverage of migration, religion and politics;
  • Reporting on the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church, and on Orthodox Churches;
  • Counteracting hate speech and fake news.

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Go deeper

Speaking at the conference session on refugees, Islam and European and national politics, DEON Catholic journalist Karol Wilczyński said “since 2015 anti-Islamic and anti-refugee sentiments are on the rise in Poland”.

Wilczyński, founder of the Islamista blog, warned that “being ‘the voice for the voiceless’—meaning: Muslims and refugees—may still not be enough to report in an unbiased way and break the polarizing dichotomy between ‘for’ and ‘against’”.

For her part, Hungarian journalist with HVG Viktória Serdült said that “reporting on refugees and Islam in Hungary is reporting against the currents”.

“Such currents can be two-fold: first, it’s the lack of resources; secondly it’s Government control of the media. And as in most cases, the two are interconnected”, denounced Serdült.

The Hungarian journalist complained that “because of the lack of funding, the number of first-hand accounts of refugee issues, Islam and international politics, have decreased”.

She added that Government-controlled media offer reports “influenced by the anti-migration, anti-Islam and anti-European Union rhetoric of the governing party”.

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For the record

Like Wilczyński, journalist with the Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny Paweł Bravo also reflected on problems covering the religion beat in Poland.

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“Many things have changed in Poland over the last 30 years, but not the attitude of the Catholic Church towards journalists”, lamented Bravo in a panel on the challenges of reporting on the Vatican and the Catholic Church.

“The behaviour of Polish bishops towards journalists is frozen in the 1980s, they don’t even organize real press conferences, and they treat us as enemies”, denounced Bravo, adding that often he had to rely on personal contacts for stories.

Saulena Žiugždaitė of Lithuania said that in her work for the online daily Bernardinai she had also encountered a less than helpful attitude in the Church hierarchy.

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“The local Catholic Church expects us to be a part of its PR apparatus in the ideological war; it took time for both the hierarchy and lay readers to understand the nature of journalism”, admitted Žiugždaitė.

The Lithuanian journalist contrasted this attitude on the part of the Lithuanian bishops with the openness shown by Pope Francis.

“The era of Pope Francis opened a golden age for the Catholic media, encouraging journalists to do their job well and expressing a strong stand for transparency in the Church, particularly on issues of sexual abuse, abuse of power and financial transactions”, said Žiugždaitė.

Click to read the complete IARJ report on the Warsaw conference

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.
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