Filling the 'Religion Gap'

People of faith who complain about the religion gap in commercial television news coverage often try to explain it by charging that people running national news organizations are not well-enough informed about religion to know how many good stories there are to be told; that they are too secular to understand the importance of religion in people's lives; or that they and advertisers are afraid of the controversy religion stories could invite. We have found on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly that none of these reasons holds up.

There are wonderful stories to be told, in abundance, and many of these stories seem made for television. We covered an African-American Muslim's first Hajj, and watched him join nearly a million other pilgrims as they slowly circled the Ka'aba. That is an unforgettable picture. Moreover, in that story and hundreds of others we have done, when people of faith talk about their deepest spiritual feelings, it makes powerful television.

Another lesson is that a person does not have to be religious to cover religion. But you do have to be open to the conviction shared by billions of believers that there is a dimension to reality beyond the material. When you look for this essence of religion stories, you usually end up with a powerful piece, and both religious and secular reporters can do this. Also, when you respect the spiritual yearnings of people and do stories that are fair and thorough, there is not much for viewers to complain about. People like tough-minded reporting.

I hope the existence of our program has demonstrated that religion is important and can be covered seriously on television. I also hope our experience encourages many other television organizations to do the same. It takes work, of course. But there is nothing to fear.

Bob Abernethy is the founder, host, and executive editor of PBS's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, which airs on more than 200 stations.

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