‘We need real journalism in the church’

That’s the headline on a column this week in UCA News, the Asian church news service which has been our longtime partner and friend. And while some may assume the column is for Catholic Press Month (which we celebrate in February here in the States), it’s actually an insightful, albeit coincidental, look at how contrasting styles of journalism can be a lesson for how Catholic journalists should approach their work.

Written by Maryknoll Father William Grimm, editor-in-chief of Katorikku Shimbun, Japan’s Catholic weekly, the column uses a Japanese example of how one recent story was covered there and applies it to how we should be reporting on the church.

Unfortunately, he notes, “there has been a proliferation of Catholic ‘news sources’ that do not follow” professional standards of timeliness, attribution, accuracy, balance and verification. “Bias, distortion, refusal to cover the ‘bad news,’ lack of balance, deference to officials and failure to verify are common,” he writes.

He credits CNS and UCA News for holding to such professional standards. But why should that matter? His answer:

One reason is that if the church is incapable or unwilling to report on its life and activities with transparency, others will step in. However, leaving honest reporting of the church to outside media leaves us open to misunderstanding and even sensationalism. It is hard to refute charges of “cover-up” when, in fact, Catholic journalism either consciously or inadvertently fails to present a full picture of the church, “warts and all.”

The full column is worth reading, not just by Catholic journalists but by anyone who wonders why we report the bad news and the Good News and why we strive for, as Father Grimm says, “trustworthy professional Catholic journalism (that presents) the true face of the church to the world and each other.”

Journalist tells of life in Pakistan after Bhutto

A supporter of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party, cries during a protest in Islamabad Dec. 28. (CNS/Reuters)For a first-person account of what it feels like to live under the threat of violence in Pakistan these days, check out this account by Kamran Chaudhry, Pakistan bureau chief for the Asian church news agency UCA News. Chaudry writes of a bomb explosion outside the high court, the death of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the effects of the crisis on the country.

PHOTO: A supporter of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party, cries during a protest in Islamabad Dec. 28. (CNS/Reuters)

More evidence of Bibles in China

Bibles in Chinese are seen in the back of the Catholic cathedral in Nanjing, China, in this 2007 file photo. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)Remember the buzz last month that Bibles were being banned at the Olympics in Beijing next summer?

Like many rumors, this one had an air of believability, especially to people who may not be current on the state of religion in China. As we said last month, Bibles freely circulate in China, despite that regime’s other controls on religion.

I was reminded of this little dust-up by a story we picked up earlier this week from our partners in Asia, UCA News, which reported on a popular Bible Diary that quickly sold out and went to a second printing. There’s even a link where the items can be downloaded.

We’ve often said we’re not above tooting our own horns. Here comes another: For an excellent look at the state of the Catholic Church in China, read our series from earlier this year.

PHOTO: Bibles in Chinese are seen in the back of the Catholic cathedral in Nanjing, China, in this 2007 file photo. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Bibles banned in China at Olympics? Well, not really.

The phone calls began this morning, first from a congressman’s office, and then another, and then from the U.S. State Department — all wanting to see what we had written about Bibles being banned from the Olympic Village in Beijing next summer.

And quicker than you can say Madalyn Murray O’Hair (for those of you old enough to remember that rumor), it turned out not to be true. But just like the story that atheist O’Hair had asked the FCC to ban all religious broadcasting on TV, this rumor raised a ruckus that may be hard to set straight.

The alarm bells on Capitol Hill were first set off by an item in The New York Sun and elsewhere on the Internet. Most if not all said the story came from Catholic News Service.

This part of the story is simply a case of mistaken identity: a story actually was published by the Catholic News Agency, not CNS.

But the rest of the story is even more baffling, since even a cursory look at the files of multiple media outlets would show that Bibles freely circulate in China — despite that regime’s other controls on religion — and that many churches in China, including the Catholic Church, are gearing up to provide religious services at the Beijing Olympics.

According to CNS international editor Barb Fraze, who visited China last March, the Bible has been available there for decades. For instance, nearly 58 million Bibles were published in China between 1988 and 2007 by the Nanjing Amity Printing Co. Ltd. She also gave me other examples of Bible use in China, such as a report in the Asian church news agency UCA News that Shanghai Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Xing Wenzhi suggested Chinese Catholics might want to send Bibles as presents to non-Catholic friends and relatives to mark the 500th anniversary in 2005 of the birth of St. Francis Xavier.

But the rumor already has taken on a life of its own, bringing condemnations from well-meaning but misinformed people unaware of how the church there really operates.

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