Got news: Pastor Youcef gets some ink

We have had some fascinating comments about my recent posts (here and here) noting the lack of mainstream media coverage of the Iranian proceedings against Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani -- who was accused of apostasy for converting to Christianity, even though he had never practiced Islam after coming of age. Some readers seemed to think that I was seeking special coverage for evangelical Christians, when anyone who has read this weblog very long knows that we have urged improved coverage of a wide array of religious minorities.

This would include, for example, minority groups within Islam and progressive Muslims in nations -- think Pakistan and Saudi Arabia -- in which their rights are at risk. One of the major themes of this weblog is that there is no one Islam, that it is a faith containing many different niches and approaches. Tragically, to defend many Muslims the press must often investigate the blasphemy laws and bloody teachings of other Muslims who want to kill them.

My posts on Nadarkhani have noted that, for months, his case has received little or no news coverage other than in "conservative" or religious media. I am sure there are exceptions to that, but I have not been able to find them.

In this case, defense of the old liberalism -- a key element of which is freedom of religion and conscience -- is often considered "conservative." We live in an age in which one is much more likely to find coverage of Iran's persecution of Baha'is in Christianity Today or, yes, Baptist Press than in most mainstream newspapers.

I'll continue to stress that terms such as "liberal" and "conservative" are increasingly irrelevant in discussions of global human rights issues, especially those involving religion.

And then there was this comment:

Michael says: September 29, 2011, at 8:55 am

I don’t recall Fox News reporting on the execution of three young men for homosexuality a couple of weeks ago. Or anyone at GetReligion thinking that that omission was poor journalism.

Well, my posts said nothing about Fox News -- other than the fact that Fox, at first, ran a mere editorial about the Nadarkhani case, instead of a hard news report. In other words, Fox was mentioned as part of the whole this-is-not-hard-news syndrome, not an example cited for praise.

In the end, Fox produced a news story at pretty much the same time as other mainstream outlets, which was when it became real -- in elite zip codes that means POLITICAL -- news in crucial newsrooms.

The bottom line: The White House press secretary said something. Oh dear, that means this story must be important (for a few minutes, at least).

Unless I have missed something, the one exception to this rule was, which offered a real, live news story that opened like this:

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the head of a network of Christian house churches in Iran, could be executed as soon as midnight Wednesday in Tehran for refusing to recant his religious beliefs and convert to Islam, said the chair of a commission that monitors religious freedom around the world.

A statement by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent advisory group appointed by the president and Congress, "expressed deep concern" for the man's fate.

After four days of an appeals trial for apostasy, Nadarkhani refused to recant his beliefs.

Leonard Leo, chair of the commission, said the pastor "is being asked to recant a faith he has always had. Once again, the Iranian regime has demonstrated that it practices hypocritical barbarian practices." Leo said that while the trial is closed to the press, the commission collects information from sources in Iran and around the world.

That particular commission is, of course, linked to the government. However, most journalists seem to view it with great skepticism, especially in comparison to the key voices at the State Department. In fact, news consumers would need to read the Washington Times (I should mention that editors there assigned one of my students to report that story) to find out that an anonymous U.S. Senator has placed a "hold" on funding for the commission, which means its critics may succeed in getting it shut down.

As for the latest hangings of gay men in Iran, similar actions by that government have received coverage in the past in both mainstream and niche publications. I know that I have written on the issue here at GetReligion (who can forget using one of the photos of these events), but I can't seem to find that earlier coverage in our blog's often funky search engine.

Based on my earlier work on that subject, it does seem to me that these latest hangings received less coverage in the mainstream (check this Google News search). However, I know that I read about the latest hangings in a mainstream source. Of course, I have seen little coverage -- ever -- examines these stories in the context of Iran's version of Sharia law and theocracy. The religion ghost remains there.

I guess we should say that -- tragically -- some journalists may consider these hangings an old story. I think that is viewpoint is wrong.

Meanwhile, there has been a report that Pastor Youcef may simply be locked away and not killed, with his death sentence overturned.

This report, of course, came from an alternative, "conservative" media source.

(Cue: audible sigh)

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