Journalists are on the front line, and need our prayers

Tomorrow, in church, it is possible that people across Britain will pray for the media. But this cannot be assumed. Because even though the Church and Media Network has designated this Sunday the "Day of Prayer for the Media", #Pray4Media, journalists are well aware that people aren't too fond of them. We can perhaps be forgiven, or at least understood, for fearing we are as likely to be "prayed" into the "other" place as into the arms of God.

There is no question that ours is a profession of sinners. Over many decades, our failings have been well-documented in numerous commissions, public inquiries, libel lawsuits and, more recently, criminal investigations.

There is no mention of journalists in the Bible, except in the King James version, where a passage in Luke states that tax collector Zacchaeus could not see Jesus because of the "press". I've always believed we are among the most blessed, though, because we are among the most reviled.

As recent cases have shown, innocent and professional journalists have been pursued through the courts at great personal cost, only to have nothing proven against them at all. They have found their reputations placed on the line simply in the course of doing their job. Abroad, lives are even more literally on the front line. There is no let-up in shooting the messenger.

This year the network has asked that prayers be focused on praying for media professionals working in dangerous circumstances in the Middle East and other conflict zones.

In 2014, 61 journalists were killed in the course of doing their duty. Of these, 27 were actually murdered, four in Somalia, three each in Syria, Paraguay and Pakistan, two in India, Mexico and Brazil and one each in Guinea, Ukraine, South Africa, Libya, Yemen and Bangladesh. Only this week, Christian Today reported on a third blogger hacked to death for promoting atheism. A further 23 died in 2014 in crossfire or combat and 11 died while carrying out a dangerous assignment.

Syria is the most deadly country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, with 81 journalists killed since 1982, many of them murdered, and unknown numbers of journalists still missing.

I've never been a war reporter but have occasionally visited war zones on assignment. One of my most frightening life experiences was in Bosnia during the conflict there, but that was through being in a particular place at a particular time, and not because anyone was trying to target me personally as a journalist. Writing about religion has its own challenges but in terms of dangers, whether to life or reputation, it does not compare to the demands a reporter faces on the crime and investigations beat, or the dangers a foreign correspondent faces in covering war and terror. There are some incredible journalists out there, on The Times, Telegraph, Daily Mail, Independent, Mirror, Guardian, Sun, Express, working on all our newspapers to report the truth. Few outside the profession can grasp what it is really like. These people are heroes.

The danger of having a default position of hostility to the media, which is one I've seen in many, including Christian, circles, is that it can add to the difficulties that journalists already face in doing their job. It raises the temperature of an already fevered climate to the point where it becomes suddenly acceptable to curtail freedom of speech in the name of protectionism. Special interest groups – the rich, powerful, criminal and the religious – may all wish for less scrutiny of their deeds and misdeeds, but any steps towards curtailment must be resisted. We need journalists who remain free to be fearless in writing about crime, corruption, war and terror, and these journalists need our prayers. But we should also pray for the people, the "laity", who read, watch and listen to what journalists produce. We must pray that this laity stops confusing the messenger with the message. Thus can hostilities begin to cease, and the vital foundations of the forth estate be fortified, not destroyed.

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