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Defend Media Freedom Conference: Religion and the Media

you you yep well good afternoon excellencies ladies and gentlemen and welcome to this afternoon's panel which is focusing on two very important issues one it is obvious we're at the media freedom event so we will be focusing on media freedom but it's linked and it's important linked to the issue of religious freedom or belief as well now this is an area which is very close to my heart amongst my various responsibilities as minused Minister of State at the British Foreign Office I'm the Minister for Human Rights but since last year indeed about a year ago exactly the Prime Minister decided to also give me the additional responsibilities as the prime minister's envoi on freedom of religion or belief and our pandas here that we have introduced very shortly have a range of experiences perspectives that they will share with us on how these two important issues these two fundamentals of Human Rights come together and I want this more than just the usual kind of intractable debate that normally takes place about where free speech ends and hate speech begins but rather I want it to focus and this is as much to the panel but also to our audience as well to be about the difficulty on reporting on these issues when you look around the world today the challenges that not just religious minorities but people of all faiths and beliefs and those of non-face in just standing up and being able to report what the situation is in a given country poses its own challenges across the world when you look at the issue of freedom of religion or belief there is now greater level of government attention indeed across the pond next week the United States under the stewardship of Michael Pompeo and ambassador Sam Brownback who is the ambassador for freedom of religion for the United States will be hosting their second international ministerial on the issue of freedom of religion and belief or belief and there will be attendance from very foreign ministers as we've had here and other countries who are now specifically appointing as we have in the United Kingdom someone who has primary responsibility for the government in leading on this important issue turning to our distinguished panel if I may and we are joined by Asif Akhil he has taken personal risks to report on the case of hacia Bibi and I'm sure that will come up in our conversation no one I'm sure needs a reminder but this was this incredible lady who endured many years of imprisonment why because of her faith and the use and it says these blasphemy laws I mean I I as a British Minister fully acknowledge the fact that many of these blasphemy laws many many years ago were a legacy that were left over by us the British in the days of the Empire but the fact is what was set off and set up initially to protect have been used as an abusive instrument and I'm sure we'll hear from Asif and others on this we're also joined by Vinod the Josie who's overcome great struggles the North has on the fact that to get reports published in one of our largest democracy the largest democracy in the world India that do not align themselves with the religious narrative the challenges of course are not just limited to Asia there are also right here in Europe and the challenges are different but they still exist despite more than 70% of Europe's population describing themselves as Christian there appears to be a dwindling appreciation of religious perspectives and more secular perspectives in this countries which have certainly enacted laws in this respect and it'd be useful to get an insight from our panelists on some of these countries and what can be done in these areas these are liberal democracies established democracies and one of the things which we've recently launched was an independent review ourselves of Christian persecution around the world that may well also figure in some of our discussions here they therefore I'm also delighted to be joined by millets passage who does invaluable work through media diversity Institute to raise awareness of negative stereotypes of religion and minority groups welcome we're also joined by a Julia Bicknell who's CEO of world watch monitor who I'm sure Julia through some of your contribution not putting words in your mouth I hope we'll be able to tell us of how she through her own work has also established a really important space to report on issues relating to religion or belief and we're also joined by dr. Paolo Ruffini from the de Castries for communications in the Holy See I had a very interesting discussion with our trip Gallagher I've been working very closely with him on these important issues and I pay tribute to the work that's being done in many parts of the world by the Holy See and actually promoting the issue of freedom of religion or belief for all not just for your denomination or religion and finally to my right is someone I'm sure known to many of you is of course dr. Ahmed Shaheed I've known Ameth a long time so those of you probably said why is he pouring water for the minister actually we know each other well enough so it was just I was getting up-to-date on what my running order was but Ameth does some incredible work on this whole issue of freedom or religion or belief we've had many public discourses but also importantly private discussions on what is happening around the world what more can we be doing collectively collaborative as an international community more challenges we need to address from a United Kingdom perspective and we look forward to Ahmed's perspective in his role particularly as the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and of course the responsibility to give a voice to religious perspective does not rely solely with journalist there is a incredible and important role for civil society more generally but there is an important role for governments to play in this respect as well and from my perspective during my time as a Minister of State at the Foreign Office I've seen the importance of standing up for the rights of others I'm reminded by the fact that the UN not so long ago after coming out of a debate on anti-semitism I was approached by a reporter who said to me Lord Ahmed Minister you're very strong as a voice and a great advocate to stand strong against anti-semitism despite the fact that you're a Muslim I corrected him I said the premise of your question is wrong it is because I am Muslim it's because I am more faith and belief that I stand up for the rights of others and that your excellencies ladies and gentlemen that surely the test whatever field you serve in whatever job you do whether it's in government civil society an NGO a journalist or whatever specter of life you are in the strongest test of your humanity the strongest test of your ability to really be a strong advocate for freedom of religion or belief and that means standing up for those who are of no belief is when you actually stand up not for yourself or for your community or for your own religion or faith or belief is when you stand up for the rights and beliefs of others there are incredible harrowing testimonies we can recount in the world today whether you're talking of the tragic suffering of the reinga community in Burma whether as I saw myself when I visited Mosul in Iraq the harrowing testimonies of the dehumanization of the Yazidis and in my role as special envoy on freedom of religion I rarely meet with leaders of different faith communities believe communities and share survivors who are incredible people who have survived religious persecution who have been victimized have been tortured and yes many family members of theirs have been killed and they showed the courage and conviction to tell their story to ensure that voice is heard even if that voice has been silenced by others therefore it's important that when we look at media freedom we tackle this important issue there are good news stories too often it's only the negative and we need to look that when we talk about the challenges between fates we also acknowledge recognize and celebrate the great diversity and strength of religious communities that come together I'm proud of the fact that here in the UK we joined together the celebration of MIT's fur day with South Korea day to actually bring together two communities the Jewish and Muslim community to celebrate service charity and service to humanity the incredible contribution of the British Muslim community 130 million pounds donated to during the month of Ramadan alone and also the incredible service provided by Jewish leaders like rabbi Miriam Berger so it's securing a safe space whether it's through our church groups our mosque groups our Gurdwara as our mum there's our synagogues come together and the real strength of our communities is when we act together their challenges are immense and I'm going to set the ball rolling if I may perhaps I talked about those who are in the field directly and who themselves have to endure great challenge because of who they are and what they seek to report and in this respect I'm going to turn both to Asif and Vinoth first of all ask if they'd like to turn to you you know you had great challenges the issue of RC o bebe has been something which has gripped the world I know myself having visited Pakistan about the challenges which Pakistan continues to face in terms of religious communities who are suppressed simply because of their belief but you were there firsthand what's your perspective whom can I give a brief presentation on it you might yeah something's going to pop up I think hopefully he will need to use this this is where there's that moment of hesitation hoping that technology will kick in there we go Thanks okay so the the I am based in Lahore in Pakistan and I come from Christian community and I'm covering minorities Christians and Hindus and others for the last like 10 years that's how and there's a reason why I chose to report on the latest minorities and I want to present some context of the country and then I'll share how and what is the untold story about religious minorities when we not just in Pakistan but also across the globe why it is more challenging why it is religion but there's much deeper than this I think just skinhead I think the big green button okay this okay okay so except the country of Israel Pakistan is the only country in the world which is founded on religious identity because of the inherent religious characteristic of the state when the country was being carved out in the Indian subcontinent in 1947 the founding father mr. Mohammed Ali Jinnah said that the religious minorities were a challenging question for drafting the Constitution but thankfully the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees fundamental human rights to every citizen including religious minorities I personally am NOT disturbed by the Islamic identity of the country as long as it does not hurt who are non Muslim citizens though the country is ruled almost big yeah thanks now the country is ruled almost half of the time by the military since its its independence the judicial system and the political representation are rooted in the British era common law and democracy all the same because it is still not very old democracy has yet to take roots in Pakistan there are a few there are few legal passwords to give the country and Islamic identity because it is believed by those who run the country that because of the geographically and linguistically so much differences among the regions that in Pakistan so religion is the only identity that can bring them all together that is the reason at the same time such lives asleep multivator laws bring non-muslims in sharp contrast because when Baggesen has religious identity and citizenship is linked with it then what is the status of non-muslims living in Pakistan I also want to share about the Pakistani media you can divide it into three one that there is a small minority of people who can read in English and they use English media the English media is comparatively critical then we have a large number of will do publications and TV channels and they are somewhat from Center to right and then there are third newspapers mostly few channels that are in local regional languages they are more into preserving their linguistic identity band national issues our media is mostly run by business tycoons than journalists so they are more into ratings and more into Google hits and other thing then they are really into covering the issues and having first allegiance to people and and and the standards like transparency and impartiality and an allegiance to truth and telling the people the story behind the surface having said this I would say that there is more need even if those who are on are called liberal media there is need that they be trained in in transparency unbiased reporting and impartiality fairness religious minorities are nowhere in the political structure there is there are reserved seats for minorities filled without voting and not true representation of them despite being 3% of the 210 million population they are nowhere in the power structure coming myself from the Christian community this is exactly what brought me in the reporting in 2007 when I was working as the sub editor in a local national English newspaper Pakistan's foreign minister shah mahmud Qureshi he decently sari magazines Foreign Minister Sharma mood Qureshi visited the UK last month and dismissed the accusation of Christian persecution in Pakistan claiming there were only individual incidents and comparing it to the knife crime in the UK I tend to agree with Qureshi because there are no laws that particularly target the Christian community but then there is the untold story according to the Pew Research Center only 16% of Pakistanis have a favorable view for Christians then anyone who is poor in Pakistan is vulnerable Christians are the poorest of the poor in Pakistan even among all the latest minorities they are the poorest a large number of them are socially systematically forced into sanitary work considered dirty denigrating and paying not even peanuts many of them don't own a house and live illegally on the government land from where they are anytime thrown out by the government according to 2014 data no blasphemy charges have ever been filed against your Aryans or Sikhs then there are only 21 cases of blasphemy against Hindus who are the largest religious minority in Pakistan but against Christians there are more than 200 blasphemy cases so what Qureshi said could be a true when it comes to the legal horizon but when we see it on the social and economic and political side we see that Christians are facing something systemic and there are three reasons one reason is that they are poor and illiterate which makes them more vulnerable second many of them come from a downtrodden so-called untouchable caste and considered filthy and dirty and the third reason is that people generally in Pakistan associate Christians with the West the West which is no more proudly Christian but these poor Christians are made a scapegoat to take revenge on the West so Christians are mostly given coverage in Pakistani media when it is related to the blasphemy laws because it has a political dimension but their miserable life there are no representation in the power structure so not even our English media which is comparatively critical is giving them consideration or given them coverage so I think there's need for more empirical data and then its need for factual stories on religious minorities balanced and fair coverage that goes deeper into the issue than just our own biases or just discussing about religion it should consider other factors and there should be an effort to minimize the challenges faced by religious minorities in Pakistan in country's thank you thank you very much and I think that was a very stark but upfront picture of what the situation is and I think a good example that just because the laws of the land may not discriminate it's not just what you say it's what you do and clearly the evidence is markedly different and north if I could come to you India we celebrate India in a very big way it has great strengths it's the major democracy and unlike bucks on it wasn't set up on the basis of religion it was a country which even today can boast not just so many different languages and different communities but people of different faiths yet you found when you've been reporting on the challenges at certain parts of India's faces some real resistance and pushback maps you can reflect on that absolutely I think I also have a presentation I'll stand up and then use that here can we have the presentation yes you say these square diapers and multiple religions and castes groups what the census called the Hindus clubbed together the higher upper case sections in the society in the caste hierarchy plus the backward classes and the so-called Untouchables the Dalits the tribal people but there is a huge historical tension between the community is there as well and then you have Muslims which comes to about 14% of Indian population which in terms of number is the total population of UK France and Italy and then you have the Christian population which is about 2.3 which is about half the size of the UK and then you have the six Jane's but this other religions born out of the subcontinent itself so in terms of the democracy this is a continent and you can't have more diversity than that you probably will have all regions in the subcontinent what does the Constitution say the Constitution as automatically pointed out there was a promise so to speak I grew up in our southernmost state in India Canada which is was for its religious and also for the social indexes I remember reading in school textbooks the promise of you know the brown man's enlightened world and you know you can also achieve scientific temper the growth and you know making sort of India very prosperous country and so forth so the Constitution also reflects part of those values and it promises secular values freedom of religion is a fundamental right in India guaranteed by different articles every citizen of India can practice and not just practice but also promote their religion and the new bill number of Supreme Court judgments guaranteeing that but in the increasingly in practice this is not the case violations and violations which is of the nature of targeted killings and in the last five years alone the four hundred percent rise in the targeted killings on Muslims and Christians and I just show you some of the videos which have come up in the last a few few months and years which have which will probably are self explanatory of the kind of attacks that ordinary people on the street face this is just she's asked specifically is a Muslim and then his killed he he died three days after in hospital this is just two weeks ago in Central India and this is another where this man was he kept beef in his fridge in his refrigerator but it turned out to be that it was not beef it was mutton and this is really very close to Delhi city capital itself so he was lynched and then you have these are two Muslim cases in the recent past this I'll take you through sorry okay this is a couple of years ago in an Indian state in the east of the country Orissa where Christians were attacked nearly hundred Christians were killed and thirty thousand people are displaced lots of churches vandalized this is religious targeted killings again soon after attention where Hindu worship Hindu followers of the particular organization was attacked and some 30 people were killed but in reaction about 2,000 Muslims were killed and hundred thousand people houses destroyed people stayed in over 100 camps for several months and in some cases and this happened and the West Indian state which is quite known as one of the prosperous states in terms of its economic growth and also more famous because that's the home state of the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi and this happened when he was a chief minister this in 1999 a famous case of an Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young boys were killed Graham Staines was in Orissa the state where for 30 years he was running a leprosy Hospital and this is a hundred year old hospital and two of his young boys were visiting three of them were actually killed in the van that they were travelling and the man that you just saw there that he was the state in charge of the organisation and then the carer member who was later tried and convicted for the murder and that man is right now I'll just play that video again so that that man is a minister and in Lodi cabinet swearing-in just last month this was this is the minister now so you can see the Prime Minister saluting him and he's in the cabinet now this is another set of attacks which happened again in Modi state bush-rat this gentleman here swami a seaman and he purse away in one of the main people behind it you can again see the prime minister with him at that point when he was sort of his career was racing he was in jail for the cases then later he was accused in multiple terrorism cases one including the train which there was a sort of the former prime minister very one of the former Prime Minister's announced at the peace train between India and Pakistan samsara train which there was a terrorist attack and nearly sixty people were killed so now if he was tried for the early of violence in tongue against Christians probably he wouldn't have been part of this right now again you will see him walking around walking free because the cases you have some of those journalists of pointedly documented how the government agencies allow themselves to be defeated in the court and then this gentleman war free this is 1984 this predates this is probably the height of the Congress Party's rule in some sense this is Indra Gandhi's soon after Indira Gandhi's assassination members from the Sikh community were targeted and over two thousand seven hundred six were killed workers of Congress party and also members of the RSS the Hindu right-wing cultural group they had played their own in the killings of the six now what do we get out of this I think there are lots of studies academic non-academic journalistic studies also shows that these attacks are not spontaneous you know and and there is a systematic plan to this and they're not organic they're all the stated hatred is systematically cultivated and in the process against the minority you actually consolidate the majority votes and that for a politician is very helpful because you build a constituency with the hatred or the fear of the other and then you stay in power and the making of the Hindu vote so to speak there wasn't Hindu vote in that sense since historically but in the last thirty years you can see consistently the percentage what is coming and that's been built on the assumption of fear and hatred against the community now how far does these roots go this routes for of intolerance I would take it to the founding fathers of this organization I mean the big umbrella organization is the Russia so I say with sunk and the texts that they rely mostly to advance into is written by a gentleman by name Sawako and in one occasion he said this is a 1920s in Germany the movement of the Germans is the national movement but that of the Jews is a communal one historically you see many of these leaders in the 1920s and 1930s on the side of Hitler and Mussolini in another speech he said a nation is formed by a majority living there in what did the Jews do in Germany they being in minority were driven out from Germany and this love for fascism with another decay by 1930s is more evident good calm Alka who then became the chief of RSS for 33 years saying race pride at its highest is achieved by purging the country of the Semitic races the Jews was a good lesson for us in understand which is India to learn and profit by and he later said Muslims may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation claiming I think deserving no privileges far less any preferential treatment not even citizens rights and two future Prime Minister's were groomed under this gentleman so you understand how it's spilling over to the political realm and love is also you can also see moon che who is the dissident for him to Mahasabha for 10 years personally establishing contacts with Mussolini and visiting Italy in 1930s early 1930s and he in his diary he has glowingly said how he set up influence sitting of the RSS in the form of vanilla and a longer the C fascist organizations which is based on the age group the boys between 8 and 14 and the boys about 14 and the sort of militia training and so forth so how do the how now it's about 95 years a structured program and then which sort of a smaller voice in the making movement well during the partition is now really much larger voice and handsome power and how do they work and RSS camouflages itself as a cultural mothership the Cultural Organization attacks to the mothership it has about 65 affiliated organizations which works on different different categories for example there is one for judges and lawyers so even the current Supreme Court judges our former Supreme Court judges some of them grew and trained in this organization and they regularly attend the functions of these organizations so and now we come to media in the interests of time perhaps yeah so in media you see primetime anchors media honors reporters increasingly showing a certain kind of affinity out of 7 media honors five of them pretty close to the RSS they have liver affiliations and editors and phantom angles are trained in this organization and diversity is a huge problem again what might occur to our foreign audiences or foreign person as a brown-skinned probably has the cast complexity about 90% of the jobs in India are handled by top 15 percent of the cast and about 85% is either taken by the 10% of other people so diversity is a huge problem so you often see partiality and that is reflected in the video coverage for example the death of the boy gentleman in Delhi border in the biggest newspaper which is in Delhi doesn't even get triggered in in the front page but a tech person an Internet person killed in the West of course is a very prominent news on the front page of course it should be on the front page but then you have somebody killed lynched right in front of the in the capital city and it's not news ad for us some of us who cover in depth long stories this story took for example two years for one of my reporters he she interviewed Swami c-minor inside jail and over nine hours of confessions and and historical confessions how he has personally been groomed and how he got approval from none other than the top leadership of the RSS for the tourism activities completely ignored by the investigative agencies and the courts and the man walked free so there is a lot probably one can thought maybe the political and the cultural landscape in India is changing very fast and that's what is giving roots to violence all the minorities thank you you know III think very some brain from insights into the challenges I think equally I suppose one thing that particularly one of the focus there is that that individual is now thankfully going through the justice system as well and one would hope that whatever karma the crimes that have been committed that he is held accountable for if I could bring in a few of our other panelists on this first of all if I could turn to you minutes on you you've done the whole though to work on diversity and ensuring that there's a focus brought on the whole issue of diversity of faith which was a final point just raised in the Nords presentation you've just seen that presentation I've seen it for the first time as I'm sure most of us have and it really hits quite hard yet there are undertones to that which has a historic legacy but why is it that when I often and I speak as a personal faith but you know the strongest test of yourself is how you stand up for others why is it that people feel that their most vulnerable they attack those who are different to them in this case those of a different faith I mean what is it that is there a driver behind this and you know it can can reflect them that's – but what is for me fascinating over the since yesterday we keep talking about freedom of media and general is being attacked and harassed and killed you know when doing actually what their job is our job is you know to keep governments accountable on the other hand with freedom of media or comes responsibility when journalists report on vulnerable groups in this case religion they can do whatever they like and I'm talking about European particularly and they do it on the you know freedom of media in Europe we have seen this rising tide of anti-semitism we've seen a phobia yeah so again in a way the the principle there is the same there the negative stereotypes come to the floor and news somehow then to justify the most kind of horrendous acts against absolutely when we interviewed more than 100 well 200 journalists how they are reporting on religion everyone said you know they are dedicated to the values of objectivity unbiased reporting inclusion but at the same time they all agree that media produce negative stereotypes I am going of course to blaming journalists but I'm blaming primarily those who have much more power and those are the government and the politicians because as I'm back from Serbia where we say fish stinks from the head boundaries so if politicians can be this nasty discourse what health Journal can do either what Anna Politkovskaya will say here to provide information whatever we think about the information or to try to put it in some context unfortunately managing is too weak or media owners too weak to really do something about how media report I can go on and on but I just want to say one thing what is important somehow all we who operate in this field we either work with one side with journalists or we work with civil society organizations dealing with human rights or representing vulnerable groups minorities or academia we strongly strongly push for a a multi stakeholders approach we cannot do things separately we can fight for freedom of media but if we don't fight for Responsible media we are left with Daily Mail the latest study by a British Muslim Council which was published this week shows that 78 percent of the content of Daily Mail is very anti-muslim so there is something which can be done but done through a multi stakeholders approach and one more thing we have our master course called diversity in the media we set up and develop together with the University of Westminster here one of the modules is reporting religion unfortunately it's not very popular module and if we are talking about students coming from all around the world and you know I'm not that surprised because I can see that even serious conferences or serious organizations for instance perugia international journalism festival when we offered them at this topic for this year's festival first time in more than 20 years of MDR history we were rejected when I asked you see has anyone already proposed to discuss this issues at the conference I got the answer but I don't think anyone would be interesting the topic that came from the top people from there so there is either people are worried concerned scared that we are promoting some religion or they think they don't know how to do it and recently when we talk to lots of us one of the columnists can ask he who is a presence of reporters without borders how is that done in France where most of the genisis his as a secular so how to deal with this sensitive issue complex issue in this very sensitive political environment it seems that journalists have been not really well equipped how to deal with it so this is where I would stop for a second but I'd like Julie I know it's an interesting point there because I begs the question is it because of lack of knowledge lack of ignorance fear probably lack of training as well and I think there is scope but Julie if you pick up on this point because when both are thieves and vandals if you take Christianity for example and I you know we've just on this review you know it was famously said by a former prime minister you know we don't do God in government this government the UK government absolutely do and I've talked about other religious and boys being appointed so perhaps this challenge about a lack of focus that governments are waking up to this but why is it that for example in India we heard and in Pakistan the issue of Christianity and its role of somehow being a Western instrument you know let's not forget you know Jesus was from the east as I keep reminding people you know he didn't come from Germany France or the UK he was from the Middle East so that needs to be put down there's a fact and you've done a lot of work in this space why did what what do you think is the reasoning behind this yes so just a little bit of background I was a BBC journalist maybe on mainly on the world service for over thirty years and yet I found that myself sitting in Bush house the home you know of global news some of those incidents that have been odd talked about I was even unaware because of that particular time I was focused on Africa and even though I'm a news John and I listened to the news from the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night I just wasn't hearing these incidents and it was it was actually having lived in Pakistan for a year lived in Vietnam for six months and spent a lot of time in Africa that I realized a lot of the things that go on were just not getting into the main news agenda now I also think that there was a sort of a general idea back in the 80s and 90s that essentially religion was dying you know religion had gone away anyone of any substance academically or you know you you you didn't believe in that sort of religion stuff anymore and actually we found in the last 20 years religion is more and more of a driving factor in the global news headlines that you hear every day and yet you're not understanding you're not getting the context and I think that's partly because we journalists and I speak as one of these journalists we're terrified of getting it wrong you know if you get the religion wrong you could potentially start third world war and you're very conscious of that and so you don't want to get it wrong so rather fits especially if it's not your own you know religion from your own family background so instead of make wanting to get it wrong you would rather ignore the religious angle and so and and also there is this thing that as Melissa said you know there's often this fear that if you start talking about religion of course it's all about proselytism it's all about you know trying to persuade the person listening or reading of that particular religious worldview and so I think there's also that kind of slight antipathy towards learning about what is happening in religion globally it's interesting you say that because you know when we hear of the term investigative justjan to get to the core of the challenged core of the problem is exactly that that there are some who suggest political correctness has prevented the talk or challenge to some of these new stories and as you rightly said many of us saw some of those things for the first time yeah but what what is to say from a Western perspective here we pride ourselves that you know journalist as Jeremy has said Chris Jeff said in the Planetree sessions you know we're setting ourselves up as politicians with that very fraternity who are often biggest critics of ourselves yet we're doing so because we fundamentally believe it to be the right thing what prevents a journalist from a Western liberal open democracy for really challenging those norms and I think a lot of it is not because again I'm speaking very generally and of course they're all they're always exceptions I think if you don't hold a very private faith yourself it's very hard to then put yourself in the mindset of someone in another continent in another culture in another religion for whom that is a deeply personal experience if you're not coming out of that it's very very hard to then understand what the nuance is and I think I'm sorry to say but I do think religion has been one of the areas of coverage that has suffered a lot from cuts you know we all know that the media have there's been huge cutbacks in foreign news reporting and in specialist reporting and I do you think religion has been something that I'm sorry to say but I think it's true newsrooms have often said well anyone can do you know anyone can cover religion I mean it's not you know that difficult is it but actually it's incredibly difficult and it takes a lot of understanding the the subtleties and the nuances I mean I for instance I didn't really understand what apostasy was until I actually went to that to a conference in Rome where a Catholic priest explained what it means to change your religion from Islam it means you betray everything you are like a traitor to your family your your heritage your language your culture your history everything and and I didn't understand that because where I come from the sort of Western Christian liberal tradition we're free to change our religion it's not yes of course you know people might not totally understand you will agree with you but it's not a betrayal of everything that your your country your culture holds most sacred so I think it's a whole you know a number of factors but that's among some of the some of the reasons so you just want you to come back with the Julia with everything she says apart from whether we keep any any leaves a few men's religious beliefs I would really disagree because I myself grew up in a culture where we were taught religious opium for muscles so I had to go quite a long way to actually get into well I've been suppressed in many ways as a woman or you know not being devoted communist or whatever so I can understand from a perspective of someone who's been in each of us has been minority in one or the other way from not being tall enough or not being you know big enough or it's not speaking English English High British posh way whatever so this is where I'm coming from and you know and I had to leave my country for not being allowed to practice journalists and good journalism so I think that's where we have to understand how it is to be in other shoes and that's where MDI comes from human rights and everyone is different and the fact and and someone who knows me here probably is sick and tired of me saying is everyone has prejudice I do you do so it's it's deeply you know devoted in ourselves is difficult to get rid of it but it can be managed and that's another perspective I'm coming from now and that's a very important point and those prejudices then fuel perceptions dr. Afeni if I could bring you in on this point as well because we've heard from our two journalists who've reported courage on issues which are quite challenging on the domestic scene but here the Catholic Church in terms of yes does go out and talk about the church talks about God talks about the message in which any faith community does around the world and let's also acknowledge the fact the Catholic Church and there is a raft of other faith communities in developing parts of the world who do an incredible service in providing schools and providing hospitals and other essential services yet sometimes the backdrop of that is the real challenge on how religion is perceived what's your perspective from what you've heard and also from the work you do in the field first of all let me try to explain what is my job and in the Roman Curia and and try to answer to this question that is a difficult one because the Catholic Church is spread all over the world and that's to to be understood all over the world with the languages and the culture of all the world even if I am lay married person I was asked to Pope to to have that Ministry of communication of the church that is the Tweedy's means to guide the media of Vatican but to deal with all the journalists of all all over the world there are different countries so that is why I try to say just a moment before to try to speak their own language and the first thing I would say that that what after the conciliar of the last second the coachella patacon of the condo it must be very clear that that what the Catholic Church is saying that freedom of press and freedom of religion comes together and and and there is no a way of split one gram from from the other and one thing we are trying to make very clear that we have to distinguish in Catholic in Christian and also another religion to distinguish by fanatic fundamentalism and we also have also also Christian and have had and religions there was asked is a deviation from religions and and and there is and there are the religions and the other things that would I would say that all the journalists must be carick Jonas in my case and we are trying to say it is that way we must be aware that even with words we can build a way that is fanatic and and this way of being it drift or drive to a lock of freedom of place it is against the freedom of the press you you you you start saying I'm defending my identity and you at the end as you said you are standing up for the freedom of the press but you're standing yeah just to defend your own identity building it against the other identity I didn't I brought something to quote because sometimes there are some misunderstanding also on Magisterium of the church and if this is something that's only Pope Francis is saying well I've just and then I stopped and then maybe we can we can say something after a quote by st. John Paul the second after the Twin Towers attack and very interesting on this he said the message of the 2002 for the world day of peace I said terrorism's is often at the outcome of the fanatic fundamentalism which Springs from the conviction that one owns vision of truth must be forced upon everyone else instead even when the fruit has been reached and this can happen only in a limited and imperfect way he could never be imposed to try to impose another by violent means what we consider to be the truth he's an offence against human dignity and ultimately an offense against God whose image the person beer so this is after after touristy attack that is st. John Paul the second and Pope Francis said something very close to this to this in the declaration of Brotherhood justice year with after yet my mother and I think that that is an important point because there are many faith leaders while playing a quite pivotal in a central role and you know it could be argued as well that the examples that we've seen Illustrated we go to the pinnacle and the absolute fundamentals of the text of any religion it actually teaches the same what we often see these actions are through I wouldn't even call it misinterpretation but perversion of religion which results in these quite despicable acts and Hammond I know you as Special Rapporteur has been have been looking at this both on the intellectual bathe that drives issues of extreme and there's extremism with rim within religion and the actions that we see not just here but we see around the world you can look at conflicts of the world immediately that comes to mind is Burma you know many who took a step back from the West Buddhism you know it's a faith which is reflective it's peaceful etcetera yeah you saw example to my mind and I say this as a Muslim now I don't blame Buddhism at his tenants this is a perversion of an action of extremists who don't aren't actually on the tenets of Buddhism yet we see religion time and time again being used to somehow justify not just the usurping of the rights of others not just the persecution of others but the actual killing and maiming of others if you look at the know what media headlines we are always seeing how the didn't seem to care in updating in some form on the other but in truth you know religion is a force for good and if you look at the history you find both sides of this where religion has been driver for peace love and harmony the same time integrated in violence as well and that ax comes often from what I call the political use of religion when we marry politics and religion there is always trouble and and that's I think one of the root causes of what's going on the other root causes and at the present time we talk about it as a defensive mechanism where is it time to incite both well when you get when you bring religion into politics it's always about using religion for exclusive purposes against some somebody else almost always and that's when the trouble begins when you go from when you make collagen a part of public you know when you make laws and policies based on religion you end up excluding people who don't know the religion openly and that is acting at the heart of this I didn't report for the human last year two years back in fact on state religion now it doesn't say but the state should or should not have a religion UK has checked religion so does Saudi Arabia and Iran but the differences are quite but kostik that being in the case of UK we don't make laws here based religion Iran is busy doing that and that's when the trouble starts I think one of the problems is that and on Julia's point you know one of the reasons is we are in a very difficult space very loud noisy and difficult space when media and rhythm come together it can be a consumer can be a heavy metal Jam as well and the result lies in understanding how these two rights actually blend together they're already crash they actually can be the continuum if we frame the rights together for many Linda's freedom is a license to do what they believe their religions to get them to do and it's can be anything but that's what part feel original belief says it's about enjoying and in a way that does not harm the other people so it's not about appropriating you know it's not about using religion for as a privilege but as a way to understand everybody has same rights now a question you know for this for this panel like the subheading of the subheading of this panel the untold story the key lies in being able to tell the untold story but this can be quite a challenge so I've been saying we need to focus on four literacies one is religious literacy how do we actually understand religion and for the minister channel because they have or this the official religion but the authorities say here's erosion is one coercion then you have the expert version but scholars and others might tell you but the reality is the lived religion how do we individuals actually experience and practice religion do we judge people by the scripture by the by the expert or by what they actually do the current so did we focus on that and that can be difficult too because over time to exchange an example being your reference to the apostasy but I will recall that when the UN declared its to discharge some seventy years ago it was the Muslims Church was defended against some of the states Pakistan and in fact was defending the need to have freedom of choice because the Pakistani Foreign Minister said of Muslims also apologized therefore we need that right but nothing's have shifted so try to make sense of all these you know Chinese is very important and then the next is literacy of the normative framework understanding where does once freedom of belief begins and ends and I mean where does it interact with expression to understand these two actually are mutually reinforcing and and if you didn't do that we don't even be able to enjoy both these fights the third is media literacy very important for the general public because very often in this day and age in their day of digital technologies we offered by information how do we distinguish the Guardian from the onion for example you know really assess much is a more accurate report on and the final one is digital digital literacy to really make sense of social media to know what to look for to to know how to how to get out of the fake news now bubbles to come out of filter bubbles and also for the states how to regulate them you point about multi-stakeholder governance is crucial we can't ask tech companies to go in you know checked on content we have to have a multi-stakeholder somehow we have we govern this and that brings us back to how do we actually use the tools we have developed over time to address this question of incitement to violence and hatred understand otherwise and the gold standard here is a rabbit refraction it says that when we face incitement for faith-based leaders benefits incitement don't count in sight but engage in positive counter speech so we expect you to stand up as I said stand up and actually defend those who have been targeted and engage in positive speech we only criminalize at a very high threshold when there is an incitement to imminent violence the question is does this work today it works only if we can have all voices or voices hard in the media if those who are targeted who those are most vulnerable and expect marginalize if they can't have their voices heard in the media then this counter speech doesn't really work all that well I think it's also time we look back at the guidance we have the principles we have and see how we can make them fit proper fit for purpose in this day of digital technologies thank you very much before I open it up to the floor and this final point you said about digital literacy a point for both the northern asif do you think the evolution of digital media in terms of the ability now of an individual of people becoming more empowered through mobile phone technology has made it easier to report the kind of issues that you've highlighted in your presentations also I think it's more complex 10 and then we think first I think that social media has made everyone a journalist so everyone is broadcast it's a good thing or a bad thing it has both way it is both face a point for example you look at Turkey the social media was able to stop the coup taking place but at the same time when I look in Pakistan even the even my community Christian community they are sometimes they don't verify and they're spreading news about persecution or other thing without verifying it so the misinformation yeah so that control over information from state and and even the media houses actually has been taken away so there is more misinformation than information so and thirdly I think the social media has also become so powerful that the media houses even do not have the monopoly over information or the state has monopoly over information they whatever it comes that that whatever suits to a person so this is creating more bubbles than bringing people together I think interesting point the note what's your take on that I think it's it's sort of a mix baggage because digitally it's it's it's it's a tool and technology that everyone has so the victims and the perpetrators both have it so if you want to spread rumor and get somebody lynched and that's something increasingly what's happening in some sense most of the video that I showed we have taken by people who are actually doing that acts of violence and committing the film himself filming it and probably there is a similar political incentive or a social incentive that they get or just probably it's also just a scare there are communities away in a certain area so it I think but in general is and what is happening is there is a certain kind of control that even big companies for example Facebook which is supposed to be sort of a neutral player in many sense experiences their Facebook stops us from legitimate well reported and investigated well faction well I mean weighted stories from spreading I mean these are stories of course there is a high political question to it the more the difficulties are you know I had to explain it all the way up to the Facebook us headquarters to get sort of a sort of ban of certain kind to working media know that the ten days for a news story is really really good news cycles we've done absolutely digital literacy like any new technology we get scared but we believe it will kill the previous technology when TV appeared you know already is going to died in hazard ID so we just need to learn how to use it in a responsible way much more hate speech all studies we've we've been aware of older than ourselves show that there is much more content which is derogatory which is totally against the freedom of principle freedom of expression and as you know governments are now struggling France Germany Britain what to do with the with the social media platforms that's one thing the other yesterday at the MENA panel there was like what exactly is a journalist well this is 21st century journalism is not an emulsion news media not gatekeepers things are coming from social media we have to live in that and learn how to live with it so the most important is for journalists maybe not religion literacy definitely better human rights literacy journalists do not know very often basic like you know we had the debate in our office recently why we don't explain what is freedom of expression said well if you don't know that doesn't mean that the world doesn't know it was defined in 1948 so just basic things really when talking about it's a redefining required of definitions of the old because the world has moved on to a certain extent what do you say that I don't think a redefining just see how it works in giving more than context absolutely okay I'm going to well it looks like we sparked a lot of interest so that's always good if we could have I'll start from the back there that gentleman seems particularly eager yes yes sir so it should be a microphone coming your way Thank You mr. chairman I am Surya Prakash I'm chairman and Prasad Party which the Broadcasting Corporation of India okay I've just heard and seen this presentation of India and I'm here with two other very senior journalists from the country mr. Johan Das Gupta who's a member of parliament and mr. concern Gupta who's a very eminent journalist take very strong exception to this presentation on India if this audience were to leave this hall today with that kind of image of India I will tell you democracy across the world will be very serious jeopardy we are the largest democracy in the world and the most vibrant democracy in the world 600 million we have hundred million electors six hundred million of whom have just voted in the parliament elections two months ago we are a very diverse the most diverse society in the world as you are aware mr. chairman and that diversity is not social or economic it is political there are over 20 political parties which govern our nation in the States and at the federal level it is not just one party and let me tell you there are very major factual inaccuracies in that report and they need to be corrected and contested the 1984 Reds as a journalist in the Indian Express I have covered those rights and this is about religion and media and let me tell you it's the most free and vibrant media in India which has covered every social across again and every social friction in the country like in the u.s. you have those race riots in fredrich's and so on which is covered by American media does that make America and non democracy or a racist nation this has to be understood this kind of times in the videos in a forum like this there are a few people in this world who are uncomfortable with the electoral ditions taken by the 600 million voters of India and are using forums like this pander and push their own political and agendas I seriously protest there are very major inaccuracies there and all that was shown on the screen was a work of the Indian media the Indian media is very sensitive to issues pertaining to the minorities and everything that happens there is reported widely in this I in our country and across the world and therefore to say that the media is one-sided or this doctrine is absolutely false this is religion on the media the Indian media is very sensitive to minorities whether linguistic or religious I want all these points to be please noted the first roll sir thank you and I think you know I said in my own comments as well that those in India is the largest democracy as you brought the articulated and equally that those who have committed such apps because of the strength of the justice system should be held accountable I know India my heritage is Indian and if I may sir because there's you know so I think in the forum like this and you rightly have the right to reply and I would say it's the strength of all of us here collectively and India's reflective of that that when such presentations or whatever with the basis on which it was made it's equally that every country every person every individual and community has a right to challenge and we have problems here in the United Kingdom that communities are targeted aunty some my own party at the moment this issue was obvious amma phobia in the labour party there are issues of anti-semitism but there may be pockets but they are there the right to challenge exists and we of course respect and regard the strength of Indian democracy and the fundamentals on which Indian democracy is based and I don't think that if it did come across in that way certainly I don't think that was in essence but their point of religious persecution I know is well understood sir so thank you for the point but also thank you for the point that you've Illustrated that the systems of governance are robust and the media is part and parcel of their democratic fundamentals thank you if I could I'm going to unfortunate my own time may be limited I may need to take who's going to take my chair is someone gonna replace I think otherwise we might need to let's just try and finish this because I only got ten minutes left if I could take someone from the front please yes sir Deborah thank you very much indeed my name is Aidan white I'm the president of the ethical journalism Network I really would like to get the discussion back to the question of the relationship between religion and media rather than the specific specific specific issues related to one country I'm disappointed in the panel because I think the panel hasn't addressed the questions of the problems that face media there has been very little discussion about blasphemy laws and the impact that blasphemy little blasphemy laws have on the capacity of journalists to be able to report freely I'd like to hear from the Special Rapporteur you outlined five things you didn't mention blasphemy laws you didn't mention the need to press Gawker so in the intro let me take that shall I pose that to the I have another question for our colleague from Rome yeah I mean it's all very well to talk about you know what needs to be done in media and so on but the amazing secrecy that was imposed by the Roman Catholic Church on media efforts to talk about child abuse around the world raises an really important question about the risk responsibility of religious leaders to recognize their public responsibility to give information I'm not and I think that we have to at one point a chair which i think is important journalists and media don't sit in their newsrooms he's not about working out how to offend religious minorities editor's don't wake up in the morning and think what can I do today to sort of make life difficult for Muslims or make life difficult for Jews or for Christians and so on it is religious leaders and political leaders who generate the hate speech and the division that unfortunately media have a responsibility to publish that's that's one of the difficulties that we have people say outrageous things we have to go around trying to report them the difficulty is how do we report them in context how do we ensure that these outrageous statements do not generate violence okay in the interest of time let me pose because you post two very important questions may I have your introduction you are sir my name is Aidan I'm the founder and the president of the ethical Jones network in Pakistan okay I just want to make him a package son I mean as far as blasphemous content in Pakistan it is not possible it's not possible as a journalist I really love going now when I went into Pakistan they said you can talk about anything you want you can talk about politics you talk about human rights and so on but don't mention the word blasphemy or religion because actually you'll get into trouble actually you'll put yourself and your physical good health at risk you know yeah you know and you make that point well it was interesting on the point made of in with India as well by myself for full disclosure as they say I'm a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community the of course is that the issue of blasphemy in Pakistan for my particular community and we talked about state civil persecution is a very different perspective and the community in this protest as a Muslim community in India enjoys wide freedom so I think it's an interesting perspective I'm gonna put the issue of blasphemy right to the panel very quickly yes absolutely it is a major challenge problem for journalists I've had reports and I've written about this as well about bloggers reporters has been cut down in streets in Bangladesh and I don't country the Maldives in Pakistan of course in large numbers elsewhere in the world but they serve in prison or other be killed that's a major challenge and reporting freely and openly in these countries I'll call for the repeal of all blasphemy laws everywhere not just because they attack because it affects human rights very serious fashion so I fully agree with what you have said I I think there is a very valid question there and I think I speak for everyone here on the panel I'm going to unfortunately the challenge of my time I have to dive out but sue breeze is one of our senior officials will take the chair you make a very valid point there and I think I speak for the whole panel we'd all recognize quite specifically the trakone Ian's application or blasphemy laws it's a valid challenge and it's something that I know as a government and I'm sure those of the journalists fraternity regularly report on but your point sir that there are specific countries where you say it's everything's fine in as long as you don't do this this and this that frankly isn't media freedom and it's not religious freedom either my apologies to the whole audience and to the pan why I'm being summoned out right now but I just on my behalf I perhaps different with you so I actually think it's been a very insightful and in-depth discussion different perspectives it's not that we have to agree with everyone on every perspective but I think it's been robust and I think as has been said before this is the start of a discussion and certainly as the freedom of religion and boy for the United Kingdom I very much welcome a continuation of these discussions when we pick up on these specific issues as well but on my behalf I wanted to thank the panel and Sue will continue but thank you very much so can can I respond to the comment and question sir I'm covering religious minorities for at least 10 years and I'm confident I can confidently say that probably no one in Pakistan else has covered the blasphemy issues than me I'm lighting almost in every major English newspaper in Pakistan and I'm also writing for world watch monitor published from UK and and the US if you my name you will find reports from saying you will find reports from Punjab and and other almost all provinces I have covered the blasphemy issue the problem is there is so much discussion about Pakistan's blasphemy laws that we forget that there are other religious or other other aspects of life of religious minorities related to it and I started with this that Pakistan is founded with the religious identity which is why they have several laws but mainly it's a Commonwealth country its law is common law and I also think that religious blasphemy issue is probably more related with armies and the Shiites because Pakistan's law clearly talk about them not about religious minorities so by in Pakistan actually the billet blasphemy issue has gone deeper not just the issue of religious minorities but within Muslims they are who is Muslim and who is thought that's the question but at the same time I would say in Pakistan at face you will see religion but not not an everyday type of of states function so that's why I covered religion and in such a way that it's it's given a balanced and fair representation on the overall issues of religious minorities we've got just two two and a half minutes left and I'm afraid we do need to finish on time because there's another session after this can I just take two questions from the front from two ladies who've been waiting a long time thank you she's been waiting from the beginning there yeah thank you very much I'm the first media research fellow at the Kirby Lange Institute in Cambridge before that I ran an organization called laugh at O media for 12 years which specialized in religious literacy in journalism I had a Muslim trustee I had a Sikh editor that one of my top writers was based in Mecca he was an Arab in Mecca I am myself a Christian to be a Christian in journalism does not mean that you are pushing an agenda what it means is your agenda is justice and that is historic journalism I journalism emerged out of the fight for truth during the Reformation and we are having a new Reformation a digital revolution and everything is to play for at the moment I just like to pick up Melissa's point about the religion of journalists which is secularism we can no longer rest on the lazy secularist thinking that has it that therefore you're fat all religions what we need is a sense as I say of Justice not neutrality we segue from secularism into neutrality you cannot be neutral about the Holocaust you cannot be neutral therefore about any injustice what you can do is get better stories this is a conference about journalism not about religion we want better stories as journalism you can only do that with religious literate mindsets and either for advocate proper training for journalists in religious literacy there is nothing like it in this country I would love to speak to anybody who's got some cash in their back pocket who would want to start this work that I have given my whole professional life – thank you ladies and gentlemen my name is Caroline I'm a journalist working with CNN in the Middle East I'm a Christian Arab so I'm taking off my hat as a journalist I'm just sharing this with you as a Christian Arab that means that's where it started as you just mentioned at the beginning unfortunately there are two different incidents I will touch upon them very quickly one when without mentioning the name I was visiting as part of a group the US and visiting the largest church in the world and the head of that church when he saw me he said where are you coming from I said I'm coming from Jordan he said oh how nice since when you've converted and that's the leader of the largest church in the world on the other hand there are some also Muslim countries who do not know that there are some also Christians and whatever this they know about Christians they consider them immediately they're Westerners but not really from the roots having said that the media especially social media and and and this is what you've just mentioned the social media now is is being abused not not used by some people who are really focusing on that matter the lack of knowledge of the leaders of the to face in our part of the world and they're using it like this and this is the reason why journalists in Jordan three years ago was killed by a teacher supposedly who read something about Christianity and Islam he's Muslim fundamentalist he killed a journalist who was going on his way to court because people were rioting against him on the social media accusing him of attacking Islam he was Christian they killed him in the middle of the street in front of the court and this topic was was just like passing through took some headlines and that's it so what I'm saying is the lack of knowledge of the leaders who are running these churches and mosques are not reflected on what's happening and unfortunately 70% of the population in the arab world are under the age of 30 so these this 70% are really misinformed and they're using the media against the people thank you thank you very much that was a fascinating discussion thank you very much you know respond quickly I think we'll have a discussion afterwards so thank you very much all of you for coming as you can see it's very much a heated issue a polarizing issue it's is a difficult issue to report on and that's why we wanted to do this session because it's an area that's not often explored so I really hope that it'll be a discussion that will be ongoing and please do come and talk to our panelists now but be aware that the room needs to be cleaned and reset for the next session thank you very much

Otis Rodgers



  1. Beau Arroyo Posted on July 12, 2019 at 11:21 pm

    bunch of shills
    the epitome of clown world

  2. C2K Posted on July 12, 2019 at 11:21 pm

    The conference for pushing fake news

  3. jontibloom Posted on July 12, 2019 at 11:21 pm

    Please can I have a list of the Permitted subjects which can be asked without fear of prosecution at the Media Freedom Conference

  4. David F Posted on July 12, 2019 at 11:21 pm