Media Portrayals of Religion: Solutions

Canada is a diverse and multicultural nation, but a major criticism that can be leveled at Canadian media’s treatment of religion is that it does not reflect this diversity. Lack of representation is, for some religions, as considerable an issue as misrepresentation is for others. Media recognition of Canada’s ‘religious mosaic’ and increased coverage of underrepresented religions is the first step towards accurate media portrayal.

Michael Wakelin of the BBC offers several suggestions to combat religious stereotyping in the media [1]. Although Wakelin’s suggestions are directed at Christians and reporters on Christianity, they are nonetheless applicable to all religions:

  • Religious committees should find engaging individuals from a diverse variety of religious backgrounds to communicate with mass media outlets in a way that is energetic, dynamic, and credible.
  • Religious committees should inform themselves regarding developments in new media technology and find ways to address potential generation gaps using these forms of new media.
  • Team members of religious media networks or those who work with religion and the media (such as journalists) should have educational credentials and an interest in religious studies, even if they are not ‘believers’ themselves.
  • The Internet should be used to provide additional information to viewers or listeners of religious programming, primarily due to low cost and widespread use.

Another component of media literacy, in addition to being able to identify media stereotypes, involves the understanding of why these stereotypes exist in the first place. In the case of religion, these reasons can be as diverse as Canada itself. While religion may be misrepresented for political reasons, it can just as easily be misrepresented for commercial reasons or through general ignorance. Religious stereotypes, like any other stereotype, are not truly representative of members of these religions. Understanding the reasons why these stereotypes are constructed provides a more complete view of why media addresses religion in these ways.

In addition to these strategies, it is also important for media to treat religion with open-mindedness and acceptance. The Ottawa Citizen runs a weekly column called “Ask the Religion Experts”, where members of diverse religious groups offer insights on issues pertinent to various religious communities. By acknowledging that there is no one ‘correct’ religious view and by acknowledging all religions – including a lack of religion – as being equally valid, media can begin to promote inclusivity and religious tolerance.


[1] Bailey, M. (2010). Media,religion and culture: an interview with Michael Wakelin. Journal of Media Practice, 11(2), 185-189.