Name: Endy Bayuni
Title: Senior Editor
Publication/news media: The Jakarta Post
Length of time reporting on religion: More than 10 years
How did you end up covering religion?
I am not a religion journalist, but I have reported extensively on interfaith relations in Indonesia. Although I am no longer reporting news in my capacity as senior editor, I write columns on issues of freedom of religion and interfaith relations, primarily but not exclusively in Indonesia.
One of the toughest challenges facing an emerging democracy in multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies like Indonesia is the relationship between communities of different faiths. As I write columns about democracy, inevitably my work frequently takes me to the issue of freedom of religion/interfaith relations in Indonesia, including, unfortunately, the communal conflicts and the persecution of religious minorities that happen recurrently in Indonesia.
What is the main philosophy that guides you when you go out to cover stories about religion?
I am a Muslim so I am guided by what Islam teaches me: That there shall be no compunction in matters of faith; that faith is a matter of personal choice and (therefore) that freedom of religion should be respected and protected by society and by the state. No one should be persecuted because of his or her belief.
What is the key issue affecting your region when it comes to religion?
For people of different faiths to coexist peacefully in Indonesia.
Although Indonesia is predominantly Muslim (accounting for 88 percent of the 240 million population), the archipelagic nation has pockets where other religions (mainly Christianity/Catholicism, Buddhism and Hinduism) are the dominant religion or represented in larger numbers. There are also faiths or spiritual beliefs that have evolved indigenously over hundreds of years that should be recognized and accepted. Indonesia was founded on the basis of the diversity of its people in terms of race, ethnicity, tradition and custom, and religion. This diversity is enriching our society and our nation, but when poorly managed, the differences (including but not exclusively in religions) can lead to frictions, tensions and full-blown conflicts.
What challenges have you faced as a religion reporter?
The biggest challenge is my own lack of understanding about my own religion and about other religions, particularly my lack of knowledge in understanding the emotions and sentiments people have about their religions that often lead them to commit violence in the name of their faiths.
Why do you think religion reporting is so important?
Even in this modern era, most people still build or run their lives around the observation of religious rituals, and even with the global onslaught secularism/atheism on the back of modernism, many people still hold on to their beliefs, if not more so. I know many (if not most) journalists are not steeped in their own faiths, because of the nature of our profession that teaches us to be skeptical (sometimes of our own beliefs), but this is no excuse for not reporting religion properly, thoroughly and fairly, the way we would with other subjects. Given the sensitivity of the issue, journalists should report religion with even the greatest care.
I have seen a lot of reckless religion reporting, in Indonesia and around the world, that the media has became part of the problem in triggering tensions and conflicts between people of different faiths. The media in any society can and should be part of the solution.
How can we, as a community of journalists, improve reporting on religion?
We can do a lot of things. We can start small by just exchanging our respective experiences in how we overcome the challenges. Different countries/regions have different problems and challenges, but surely there are things we can learn from one another. Later on, we can set up benchmarks on what we consider to be best practices in reporting religion, and we can also conduct joint training programs in religion journalism.
How do you think we can encourage news media to place more importance on religious coverage?
The key is with the proprietors/editors-in-chief of the news media because they decide on editorial policies whether or not to make religion reporting important. We should convince them that their media institutions have a big responsibility in the protection of freedom of religion for everyone, and in making sure that people of different faiths in their respective regions lead a peaceful coexistence. We should also convince them that good journalism, including in reporting religion, builds their credibility, and therefore good for their business and their bottom line.
Can covering religion only be done in a sensationalist way? How do we keep it accurate and interesting?
Journalism thrives on conflicts, that’s the nature of our profession. We are (or should be) at our best in covering stories of tensions, conflicts, and wars, and the consequences these have on the lives of the people. The media that are only concerned with circulations or ratings would be tempted or be pressured to sensationalize such stories. But the audience is much smarter, especially now since they get their stories from all kind of sources thanks to the Internet. Engaging in sensational stories will only hurt the credibility of the journalists and their media.
One way of keeping stories on religion interesting is by focusing on the people. The audience can make the connection better if the stories revolve around real people, instead of around the religious leaders and their dogma. Stories of religious tensions, conflicts and wars, would have greater impact on the audience if we focus on the consequences on the lives of ordinary people.
How do you think new media and the spread of information today via the Internet impacts your work and the stories that you cover?
For one, the mainstream media no longer has the field to itself in disseminating news and information. Citizen journalists, including bloggers, are doing the same job, while most are probably amateurish and do not observe the principles of good journalism and professional codes of ethics, some of these citizen journalists do a much better job than we do.
I always believe that credibility is the chief currency in this profession/industry, and that is something you build over time and nurture the public trust in you and what you do. This hasn’t changed with the arrival of the new media. If anything, the fierce competitive news environment makes it even more imperative that journalists apply those principles of good journalism and observe the code of ethics/conducts.
What do you hope to get out of being a member of the IARJ?
Primarily networking and exchanging information and experience with those who share the same concern about the way we cover/report on religion and interfaith relations. If there is one thing we share in common, it is that we want to make the world a better place to live for everyone, whatever religion (including secularism/atheism) they believe in.