A ringing of a ceremonial silver gong touched off the 2017 global conference of the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) in Jakarta, Indonesia. In past years, IARJ conferences have convened in Italy, England, Brazil, Argentina and Ghana. This Asian-focused conference works toward one of the IARJ’s founding goals: hosting these wide-ranging gatherings for peer-to-peer professional development on every major continent. Because of the Asian focus of this conference, a majority of participants this time come from across Asia. They are joining journalists from many other regions, including Australia/Oceania and representatives from Africa, Europe and the Americas.
Watch the IARJ website for additional stories and updates—including possible live streaming toward the conclusion of the conference. The conference opened on the morning of Tuesday October 17, Jakarta time, and will run through Thursday October 19. (Jakarta’s time zone is “GMT plus 7 hours.” Internet viewers in the Americas, for example, will find that’s a day-for-night time difference.)
The reverberations of the opening gong represented a salute to Asian culture in a welcoming ceremony co-hosted by IARJ Executive Director Endy Bayuni, who is based in Indonesia as the Editor-in-Chief of the influential Jakarta Post newspaper. He was joined in extending greetings to the participants by IARJ Board Chairman Douglas Todd of Canada and from the U.S.-based David Briggs, a co-founder of the IARJ who is representing the Association for Religion Data Archives (ARDA) at this conference.
“We thank all who helped to make this conference a reality,” Bayuni told the crowd, then highlighted the assistance of the conference’s co-sponsors: the Embassy of Denmark in Indonesia, the Asia Foundation Indonesia, the Tifa Foundation Indonesia and CBMM, a minerals company in Brazil. The IARJ jointly organized this event with the Union of Journalists for Diversity (Sejuk) and the Nusantara Multimedia University (UMN), both of which are based in Indonesia.
“Reporting on religion is important not only in Indonesia but is also important in the whole world,” the Danish ambassador to Indonesia told the conferees.
Later in the first morning of the conference, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi gave an overview of her country’s efforts to promote interfaith dialogue—and a sincere appeal to journalists to help spread the word about positive examples of diverse communities working together.
“Harmony must be nurtured,” she told the crowd. In fact, an effort to promote harmony within Indonesia’s diverse communities is essential to the nation’s future. “Harmony is a must; otherwise, Indonesia cannot survive,” she said.
The opening day modeled the goal of gracious acceptance of cultural differences. An Indonesian folk-dance troupe performed. Rituals of hospitality also are hallmarks of traditional Indonesian culture—as well as many other Asian cultures—and the conference opening included a ceremonial exchange of gifts among the event’s organizers and co-sponsors.
Then, the attendees quickly turned to discussing the many controversies and conflicts journalists face on a daily basis. The first major session was a panel of veteran journalists working across Asia, talking about “Best Practices in Reporting in Troubled Zones.” Set in a theater-style classroom, participants listened to the panelists and also passed a microphone to engage in dialogue.