Yazeed Kamaldien is a journalist, photographer and documentary filmmaker from Cape Town, South Africa. He has a degree in journalism from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, a post-graduate diploma in media management from Rhodes University and a master’s degree in international peace-building from Hartford International University in the United States.
Yazeed’s journalistic work has been published in newspapers, magazines and websites in various countries. He has held photographic exhibitions about his time spent in Sudan and Yemen and has also participated in group photo exhibitions. He reported from various conflict zones and locally in Cape Town for radio and TV stations.
He has independently produced three short documentary films. He spoke to us about reporting religion.
Yazeed is also a founding member of the International Association of Religion Journalists.
What motivated you to specialize in reporting on religion?
I am interested in how society works and religion plays a major role in that. I write about a range of topics, including human rights, politics, culture. Adding religion to my focus areas came out of personal interest in wanting to know more about how religion functions in society and the interconnectedness or intersectionality of it and, for example, peace-building and democracy.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about religion in the media?
The media tends to report on religion in a manner in which only problematises it. The conversation tends to be only about the extremist elements. There could be more balance in the mainstream press, showing where religion is also used for good. Not to say that one is looking for public relations type articles. But there are many missed opportunities for good journalism because religion is mostly perceived as a problem in the mainstream media.
How do you balance objectivity with sensitivity when reporting on religious issues?
Religion reporting is not a holy ground. It is still treated as journalism and the same ethics and principles apply. When you walk into a story about religion your reporting does not suddenly change.
What challenges have you faced while covering religious conflicts or sensitive topics?
People often think that because you are of the same faith that you are not allowed and would not dare to ask tough questions. Religion reporting is still journalism. You have to still maintain your independence as a journalist and ensure that people know that, irrespective of whether you share the same faith.
What are the most important skills for a journalist reporting on religion, in your opinion?
An open mind and heart is vital. Religion often is seen as a negative influence in our society because of the manner in which it has been misused to divide people or create conflict. But there are many people who live harmoniously with each other despite their different religions. Walk into every story with an unbiased standpoint as this will also help you to ask the right questions that would enhance your reporting and writing. If you do not ask questions you will not be well informed and that will show up in your journalism.
How do you stay up-to-date with the latest religious developments and trends?
Talk to people. Ensure you have regular contact with role-players in your field. Attend events. Go out and look at what’s happening in the real world, not only what is being shared and posted online.
What role do you believe the media plays in shaping public perception of religions and religious practices?
The media — established mainstream outlets, social media, blogs and websites — influences many people’s opinions about the world around us. This is evident in the manner in which extremist views and right-wing groups have grown through the use of media. The media is often the first or even only source of contact that people have with those who are not like them. If reporting is intentionally biased and stirs hatred it could influence people to view others negatively. We need a media that is independent and committed to ethical reporting.
What advice would you give to aspiring journalists who wish to specialize in reporting on religion?
Like anything else, get to know your subject through talking to experts in the field and attending events about it. If your focus is interfaith, become familiar with different religions. You do not have to be an expert in everything, but it is important to have a basic understanding of religions and which experts to call. Understand also the different nuances of denominations with a religion because the faith neigbourhood is filled with diversity. Understand the standpoint of the different denominations too.