US and Muslim World Journalists Meet in Turkey for Conference On Covering Islam and Other Religions

Dec 122008

Select participants to pair up for joint reporting projects in Indonesia, Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United States in program sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Washington, D.C.– The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) is holding a conference Dec. 14-16 in Istanbul dedicated to improving how journalists in the United States and in predominantly Muslim countries cover Islam in particular and religion in general. The Faith in Media gathering, sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York, includes 20 reporters, producers and editors from 10 countries.

During the conference, experts from Turkey and elsewhere in the Muslim world will discuss issues such as the changing role of Islam in Turkey’s secular society, the facts about how Islam’s Holy Books treat issues such as the role of women and the meaning of jihad, and the role that religion plays in the United States, including in the recent presidential campaign.

Participants will also discuss problems in U.S. news reports on the Muslim world and Muslim-world coverage of the U.S. They will also explore ways to improve reporting of religion. Participants will visit mosques and churches in Istanbul.

The conference will be moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Anthony Shadid of The Washington Post and Amberin Zaman of The Economist.

After the conference, eight journalists – four from the United States and four from Muslim countries – will pair up for joint reporting projects. Each team traveled to the U.S. and a Muslim country to cover an issue of importance. The projects were chosen from 130 submissions.

The reporting projects were:

Morocco: Members of the Amazigh population, commonly known as Berbers, are rediscovering cultural traditions that have been suppressed because of their difference from mainstream Islam. Mustapha Ajbaili, a Moroccan journalist working for Islam Online, and Matthew Streib, contributor for the Religion News Service, explored the resurgence of Amazigh traditions in Morocco. They also will travell to the U.S., where the Amazigh Cultural Association works to raise awareness of the threatened culture and faith.

Indonesia: The Ahmadi Islamic sect has been widely persecuted for being “not Muslim enough” in Indonesia and for being “too Muslim” in the U.S. Jamila Trindle, a regular contributor to National Public Radio (NPR), and Andreas Harsono, contributor for the Jakarta-based Gatra magazine, will report on the Ahmadis’ struggle.

Saudi Arabia: After 9/11, Saudi schools were criticized for curricula and textbooks that may have encouraged terrorism against the U.S. and other Western countries. Asma Al Sharif, a Saudi contributor to Arab News and Reuters, and Kelly McEvers, a regular contributor to NPR, reported on what – if anything – has changed in Saudi schools since then. Al Sharif and McEvers will also report on Saudi-sponsored schools in the U.S.

Iran: Yasmin Ghahremani, a freelance reporter based in New York, and Iranian journalist Maryam Zolfaghar, who contributes to Etemaad newspaper, will report on social/religious issues that affect both the United States and Iran.

“This program will provide Americans with a deeper understanding of Islam at a time of great tension,” said ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan. “It will also enable the Muslim world to appreciate the deeply religious nature of many Americans. The goal is to break stereotypes that stoke ill will.”

ICFJ is also offering a six-week online course for U.S. and international journalists to examine religion coverage worldwide. The course will run from March 6 to April 17, 2009. Participants will also develop strategies for improving coverage. Award-winning journalist David Briggs will lead the course, which will be conducted in English and was open to 30 participants.

In 2005, Carnegie Corporation sponsored an ICFJ conference in the U.S. that brought together U.S. and Arab journalists to discuss how to improve coverage. That conference produced a manual called “Fighting Words: How Muslim and American Journalists Can Break Through to Better Coverage.” Published in English and Arabic, the manual has been widely distributed to journalists, news organizations, media associations and journalism schools throughout the United States and Arab countries.

The selection committee for the reporting projects included ICFJ Vice President of- Programs Patrick Butler; ICFJ Program Director Jerri Eddings; Al Rai Al Ram newspaper correspondent Hussain Abdul-Hussain; and The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting Executive Director Jon Sawyer.

The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), a non-profit, professional organization, promotes quality journalism worldwide in the belief that independent, vigorous media are crucial in improving the human condition. Since 1984, ICFJ has worked directly with more than 50,000 journalists from 176 countries. Aiming to raise the standards of journalism, ICFJ offers hands-on training workshops, seminars, fellowships and international exchanges to reporters and media managers around the globe.

Carnegie Corporation of New York was created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to promote “the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding.” For over 95 years the Corporation has carried out Carnegie’s vision of philanthropy by building on his two major concerns: international peace and advancing education and knowledge.