Conference Agenda

Sunday, December 14, 2008

6:30 p.m.
Reception and Opening Program
Welcome remarks by Joyce Barnathan, ICFJ President
Keynote address by Anthony Shadid, The Washington Post

Monday, December 15, 2008

9:00 - 9:30 a.m.
FIGHTING WORDS: A Conference and its Impact

In December 2005, Arab and U.S. journalists met in Wisconsin at a conference sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York and organized by ICFJ under the title “Bridging the Gap: Misunderstandings and Misinformation in the Arab and U.S. Media.” At the conference, participants discussed problems in the coverage of one another’s culture, religion and politics, and how coverage could be improved. The outcome of the conference was the manual “Fighting Words: How Arab and American Journalists Can Break Through to Better Coverage.” Published in Arabic and English, it was distributed in newsrooms, media centers and universities across the United States and the Arab world. The “Faith in Media” gathering is an outgrowth of the earlier conference, broadening the reach beyond Arab countries to the whole Muslim World and focusing on coverage of Islam and other religions in particular.

Former Chicago Tribune reporter Stephen Franklin, who attended the conference, will give a brief review of that gathering and the manual it produced, and discuss their impact.

9:30-10:45 a.m.
CLASH OF BELIEFS: The Turkish Case

Turkey presents a fascinating case study of the clash between secularism and Islamism. As the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has grown stronger, Turks have debated the role of religion in government and their daily lives. How has this controversy evolved, and what does it mean for governments in other predominantly Muslim countries? How has Turkey's secular Islam, rooted in the founding of the modern Turkish Republic, adjusted to the growth of Islamic-leaning parties? How have the media covered the debate?

Speakers: Emre Akoz, Sabah newspaper
Faik Bulut, Turkish journalist and author

10:45-11:00 a.m.

11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Small Group Discussions

Participants will break in pre-assigned groups to discuss the topics below. Each group will discuss its issue with the goal of developing recommendations for how journalists can improve their coverage of religion issues. Each group will select a rapporteur to relay the group’s conclusions to the broader gathering the following day.

Small Group 1:
Covering Your Own Religion: What are the pitfalls of covering the religion that you yourself practice? Can you cover that religion without bias? How would you approach a story that could be perceived as critical of your own religion? Are the standards different in the United States and other secular countries than they are in countries where Islam is the official religion and laws prohibit the criticism of Islam?

Leaders: Abd Al Hakeem Hilal, Al-Masdar
Chris Quinn, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Small Group 2
Religious Minorities in the Muslim World: How should media in Muslim countries cover religious minorities, whether they are Muslim minorities (such as Ahmadis in Indonesia or Alevis in Turkey) or minorities of other religions (such as Coptic Christians in Egypt)? Are minority religions treated fairly? What role has the media played in fomenting or preventing persecution of religious minorities?

Leaders: Ari Goldman, Columbia University
Andreas Harsono, Indonesian Journalist/Author

Small Group 3
Religion As A Beat: Should religion be a separate beat in newsrooms, or should it be integrated in the day-to-day coverage of all stories? Does having someone dedicated to covering religion stories help a news organization provide its audience with authoritative coverage? Or does it lead to religion stories becoming limited to one person or section of the news organization?

Leaders: Debra Mason, Religion Newswriters Association
Barış Soydan, Sabbah

Small Group 4
Offending Religion: Respect for religion sometimes conflicts with freedom of expression and the public’s right to know. Is religion an appropriate subject for parody or satire (as in the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad or the Nigerian newspaper columnist who joked about the Prophet choosing among beauty pageant contestants for a wife)? How should instances of disrespect of religion in the media be dealt with? Are there comparable instances of this clash in U.S. media, and how are they dealt with differently?

Leaders: Antonio Bernhardt, Fox News
Khaled Hamza, Ikhwan Web

1:00-3:00 p.m.
Working Lunch

Eight of the participants in the “Faith in Media” conference have been chosen to embark upon joint reporting projects (pairing U.S. journalists with Muslim-World journalists) after the Istanbul gathering. The pairs will briefly discuss their projects, and ICFJ Vice President Patrick Butler will lead a brainstorming session soliciting ideas from all conference participants to improve the reporting projects.

3:00-4:00 p.m.
WHAT DO THE HOLY BOOKS REALLY SAY? Analyzing Controversies in Islam

The most contentious issues in Islam inevitably come back to what the faith’s holiest scripts say about the role of women, the treatment of those who are not subscribers to the faith, and whether violence is justified. Does the Quran really say, for example, that women should be veiled? Does the Hadith? What does the Quran say about Jihad and how should its meaning be interpreted? How can journalists judge varying interpretations by different imams and scholars?

Speaker: Yusuf Kaplan, Yeni Safak

4:00-4:15 p.m.

4:15-5:45 p.m.
COVERING THE “OTHER”: How Can U.S. Journalists Improve Their Portrayal of Muslim Countries, and Vice Versa?

What are the main misconceptions in Western media’s coverage of Islam and the countries where it is practiced? Has coverage improved after 9/11 or has it deteriorated? Meanwhile, how well do media outlets in the Muslim world understand and cover the United States? Is the U.S. being portrayed fairly, or is anti-Americanism overtaking media outlets in Muslim countries?

Speakers: Emre Akoz, Sabah newspaper
Maria Ebrahimji, CNN
Stephen Franklin , Chicago Tribune
Moderator: Anthony Shadid, The Washington Post

5:45-6:00 p.m.

6:00-7:30 p.m.
ISLAM ON THE WEB: Religion in the Digital Age

In the past decade or so, reporting on Islam has found a new niche on the Web. From sites such as to religious bloggers, the Web is home to a plethora of sources that analyze the different aspects of Islamic theology and practice. How has this trend changed our understanding of Islam? Are Islamic-oriented websites and publications reporting independently and impartially on Islam? Should they? Do web sites have more freedom to report on Islam?

Speakers: Mustapha Ajbaili, Islam Online
Khaled Hamza, Ikhwan Web

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

8:30-10:30 a.m.
Plenary Session

Rapporteurs will summarize the discussions and conclusions of the small-group meetings from the previous day, followed by group discussion of the topics.

10:30-10:45 a.m. Break

10:45-11:45 a.m.
GOD AND COUNTRY: The Role of Religion in the United States

Many visitors from Muslim countries are surprised to find that the United States is a strongly religious country, with faith playing a large role in everything from politics to popular culture. Religion played a major role in the most recent U.S. presidential election, from rumors that Barack Obama is secretly Muslim to John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin in courting the religious right. How do issues of religion in public life in the United States compare to similar issues in Muslim countries?

Speakers: David Briggs, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Ari Goldman Columbia University
Matthew Streib, Freelance Journalist
Moderator: Joyce Barnathan, ICFJ

11:45 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Conclusion and wrap up by Moderators Anthony Shadid

12:00-1:00 p.m.

1:00 p.m.
Participants depart for Haghia Sophia

8:00 p.m.
Dinner and closing remarks by ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

10:00 a.m.
Optional visit to Sabah Newspaper

This event is sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York.