Religion and The Press Discussed At German-Ukrainian Workshop

21.02.2002, 15:33

Coverage of religious news by mass media, education of religious journalists and other important issues were discussed during a two-week workshop “Religion and the Press: The Impact of the Press on The Church.” Held in Kyiv at the beginning of February 2002, it was conducted by the Academy of the Ukrainian Press, the Academy of the Bavarian Press (Germany) and other Western institutions. Klara Gudzyk of the newspaper “The Day” wrote a column on the subject, which appeared on 9 February 2002 The text follows.
Immunity and License? By Klara Gudzyk, “The Day” Last week the Academy of the Ukrainian Press (AUP), founded recently with the assistance of Germany’s Academy of the Bavarian Press and other Western institutions, held a two-week workshop titled Religion and the Press. The Impact of the Press on Church. The workshop was attended by journalists of Kyiv’s religious and lay publications as well as by German journalist Brigitte Pich from the Bamberg’s Catholic newspaper, Heinrichsblatt. The AUP (president Valery Ivanov, executive director Brigitte Schulze) was established precisely to enable Western, including German, journalists to share their experience with Ukrainian colleagues. I cannot say whether this kind of exchange can do any good for our political journalists. Yet, the experience of Germany could be quite instructive for those who deal with, so to speak, the earthly problems of church, if only because interdenominational peace reigns there, with the two largest Catholic and Lutheran churches actively cooperating shoulder to shoulder in solving social problems. The Religion and the Press seminar proved very successful because it compelled the journalists to think over the problems the solution of which will provide the answer to the question of whether society gains or loses from our work. The coverage of Ukraine’s church life is currently a hard nut to crack. To start with, it is quite a new media subject, for in the Soviet period all you could do was condemn the “sinister policy of the Vatican,” popularize scientific atheism, and decry the nonconformity of “sectarian fanatics” or Uniates. The necessary “education” was furnished in institutes and departments of journalism. The lack of knowledge in this field makes itself felt even today, with some journalists still mixing up clerical ranks, Christian denominations, the sacraments, rites, the meaning of religious holidays, etc. – not to mention theological problems (How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? – Ed.). Owing to this, a journalist has sometimes to fully rely on what he/she is told in or near a church. This is a not terribly reliable source of information, given both the low erudition of the Ukrainian clergy and flock, and the traditional Byzantine diplomacy of some clergymen. Another fundamental difficulty is that the subject of the Ukrainian church once out of the catacombs was immediately intertwined with politics, however hard church politicians might try to deny it. I cannot assert flatly that the Orthodox schism in the early 1990s was the only cause of this politicization. I think not. For we live today in a society where practically everything is abnormally politicized. This is also the case in the church, especially the Orthodox and Greek Catholic. Not to make empty worded statements, I will point out the deference shown to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP), the church with the largest potential electorate, by certain politicians. Moreover, the Communist Party of Ukraine, a long-time suitor of the UOC MP and Oleksandr Moroz, leader of the Socialist Party, have also recently declared his “love” for precisely this Orthodox denomination. As to church politicians, they make wide use of this to enlist financial, legislative, ideological and political support – or at least promises – from prospective people’s deputies and sometimes even try their own luck at running for legislative seats (not always successfully, to tell the truth). How can we, media people, separate the wheat from the chaff here? So far only one church, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic, has shown determination not to turn the temples of God into vote-canvassing boards. Conversely, some quite high-ranking UOC MP representatives have made televised statements of a diametrically opposite nature. It is common knowledge that lay politicians (of an alien camp, naturally) sometimes get a bad deal from journalists. And what about church politicians? For instance, Kirill (Gundiayev), a prominent Moscow politician, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, recently visited Kyiv. The Ukrainian press either printed eulogies or kept a diplomatic silence. Meanwhile, some Western media characterized this visit as “intrigues, business, posing as the future patriarch... And not a single church problem solved.” Do we have the right to make public such observations? There is another thorny, perhaps even ethical, problem closely linked to the previous one. Should lay journalists and, if so, to what extent criticize the behavior, public statements, and church policies of individual clerics and clerical institutions (synods, conferences, councils, etc.) and how? Given the involvement of the clergy in politics, this is obviously unavoidable. Above criticism are only the hermits who fully exclude themselves from public life. Is it not the professional duty of lay journalists to disclose the truth and thus contribute to the purification of church and hence society? Can the cassock make an individual untouchable, irrespective of his conduct, like another talisman, a Communist Party card, not so long ago did? One way or another, we now face an almost firmly established unwritten rule to hush up the most odious actions and utterances of clerics, especially Orthodox bishops. This presents quite a serious dilemma. For the church-run media only “profess” the freedom of complimentary speech with respect to their own church or denomination. As to covering the activities of other churches, everything depends here on the overall culture of the given church. In Ukraine, the overwhelming majority of religious publications take rather a diplomatic and polite attitude toward the affairs of other confessions, irrespective of the actual state of their relations. Exception to this are the so-called Orthodox journalists who have a virtual license to kill when it comes to so- called schismatics or Muscovites. For them, the dirtier the epithets, the better. AUP Executive Director Brigitte Schulze said in this connection, “Professionalism knows no confession!” It is, however, common knowledge that other people’s problems always seem simpler than one’s own. Source: