Communication is critical to the success of virtually all endeavours. Sharing your knowledge, experience and stories – through radio, television, newspapers, websites or social media – helps people understand what the faiths are doing and why.
This webinar on Media & Outreach, part of our series on the Faith Long-term Plans, featured useful tips and successful case studies. To watch the webinar, click below.
FaithInvest’s interim CEO Martin Palmer began by observing that the faiths are 'one of the most fascinating, diverse, local and international movements in the world and we, as faiths, often underestimate how powerful we are'.
FaithInvest's Head of Communications Susie Weldon, formerly a journalist for 20 years, said good communications would be critical for the success of the Faith Plans, 'both within your faith community and the wider world'. There are masses of communication tools and outlets that can be used, from both traditional print media to digital media, and don't forget your own internal media outlets, such as parish newsletters or even sermons.
When crafting a story, Susie mentioned the importance of interesting content and the element of timeliness. She said: “It’s no good trying to get someone interested in something that happened six months ago.” There needs to be a new or fresh angle and sense of novelty, and it’s also vital that faiths think about the visual element because today's media is 'image hungry'.
Susie also discussed the need to choose the right media outlets for the audience in question. Faiths should know their audience, and know who they’re trying to target: it's no good using a channel of communication that your audience doesn't interact with.
'It’s by communities for communities' – Daniel Perell
Daniel Perell, Representative to the United Nations for the Baha'i International Community, described the Baha’i approach to media as about helping to inspire and raise consciousness, and to advance the wellbeing of the Baha’i population.
With attractive stories and responsible reporting, hope can be conveyed through media engagement. In the Baha’i community, tools are used to allow communities to more easily communicate with one another and share information.
Daniel said: “It’s by communities for communities, and Bahai’is are able to make helpful contributions.”
He described a real sense of service in their communications internally and with wider media outlets. In terms of the media response to Covid, radio and speaker systems were employed, and this thoughtful use of simple tech was able to advance the social good.
To share information in the Baha’i community, the faithful use Baha’i World News Services. The Baha’i World online publication explores themes relevant to the community, and this is an in-depth but slower approach. Daniel referred to the Baha’i community as a “loyal readership”.
On a global level, the foundational elements are all similar, but there are diverse approaches within the community. Through information gathered and knowledge shared, this allows people to know what direction to go in.
There has been a recent uptake in film and also engagement with external media: Daniel said: “There is a limited audience for publicising our own activities, but by telling the stories of others, we help shape the media to be about service.
When defending parts of the Baha'i community that are under threat, 'our first goal is to understand the desires of the community we are defending. We want to work with governments and others behind the scenes before going public if injustice is taking place.'
'A fatwa provides certainty on how Islamic teaching can guide you on a particular subject' – Dr Fachruddin Majeri Mangunjaya
Dr Fachruddin Majeri Mangunjaya, Chairman of the Centre for Islamic Studies and lecturer at the Universitas Nasional (UNAS) Indonesia, shared his experience of using media to promote the 2014 fatwa on the illegal wildlife trade.
He began by explaining that fatwas are Islamic edicts or rulings on a point of Islamic law on any subject given by a recognised authority. They are examples of Islamic jurisprudence and show how Islam should be practiced. They are non-binding from a secular perspective but binding from a faith perspective.
Dr Fachruddin said that fatwas are usually requested by lay people or non governmental organisations, adding: 'A fatwa provides certainty on how Islamic teaching can guide you on an aspect you are asking about.'
The process involves several steps: first, asking for the fatwa, then assessment by a fatwa commission, verification by the commission, setting up of an ad-hoc group to study it in depth, and finally a commission plenary meeting, resulting in a fatwa being issued.
In 2013, one university, two environmental groups and Indonesia's Ministry of Environment and Forestry asked the Indonesian Ulema Council (the nation's top Muslim clerical body) to issue a fatwa on how to protect wildlife from an Islamic perspective.
The result was a fatwa issued in 2014 which states that killing, harming, assaulting, hunting endangered species are forbidden except for cases allowed under Sharia (self-defence etc.) and that illegal hunting and trading of endangered wildlife is haram (unlawful).
Information on the fatwa was launched nationally, in partnership with the government, and also garnered a huge amount of international media attention. This was the first illegal wildlife fatwa and, as such, made headlines around the world.
As well as launching the fatwa nationally and internationally, Dr Fachruddin said it was vital to make sure that local communities – those living closest to wildlife – also understood it. For that reason, part of their communications included a plan to disseminate the information to local communities.
This included creating training modules, guide books, posters and sermons , and training more than 800 imams. They set up websites, WhatsApp groups and used social media (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube) to link clerics, governments and environmental NGOs and to disseminate their message to local people.
'Telling our story is a way of inspiring others to take action' – Reba Elliott
Reba Elliott, Director of Special Projects for the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM), described how GCCM, which has a global presence and operates in more than 100 countries, uses social media extensively, posting every day in four languages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Reba said: “Telling our story is a way of inspiring others to take action.”
The GCCM plans content in advance and schedules it via its calendar of posts. However, it also has processes in place to enable it to responds to world events. Reba described these two systems (planned and responsive) as 'really helpful', adding: 'Our content will be ready to go, but If something new happens, we want to take advantage of the opportunity to have a conversation.'
There is a big focus on using images to catch people's attention. Social media is also used to promote other assets such as podcasts, webinars and blog posts, and to get the audience involved in the conversation. Reba said: 'One-on-one contact with the audience so important on social media.'
Every week or two, GCC also sends an email to its audience. With emails, the tone has to be right and the voice of the Movement must come through clearly. She said: 'This is a spirit-led movement and we’re not shy about our faith, or about communicating the urgency of the climate crisis.'
Tools such as WhatsApp and Telegram, which deliver messages straight to people's mobile phones, foster a very close sense of communication with followers because people are inclined to open them immediately and also forward them to their own networks. Because of this, dealing with all the responses that come back can be difficult, so having business accounts for these tools is useful because it can limit the huge volume of messages.
GCCM uses blogs and podcasts to celebrate the work of its partners. With 800 member organisations, GCC is keen to share good stories of exciting, inspiring work. These types of media outreach can be challenging because they require dedicated time to write or record. However: 'They’re such a wonderful way to share personal stories that people really respond to.'
With news, or strategic communications, so called because they focus on pieces of communication that build up to a larger strategy, relationships with journalists are very important and often start with a simple email. Reba discussed the importance of crafting press releases to appeal to journalists. What would interest a newspaper? Letters to the editor and writing opinion pieces for your newspaper also offer another avenue to get your message out.