The Level 3 Undergraduate module ‘Religion and Media’ (THEO3000) is taught by CRPL member Dr. Jasjit Singh. It examines the interrelationships between religions and the media, including how media portray and represent either ‘religion’ as a general concept, or discrete religious traditions. The module is open to students from both the School of Media and Communication and the School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science.
Jas has appeared in the media to discuss his research on numerous occasions. He has now decided to take the opportunity provided by the move to virtual learning to engage students with some of the media professionals he has worked with in the past.
BBC producer Rajeev Gupta engaged with students on the module to tell them something about the processes by which programmes on religion are produced. This included discussion of some of the complex issues surrounding the representation of different religious traditions in the media.
Approximately 40 students attended the online discussion with Rajeev Gupta and two students, Eden Parry and Ruth Purser, kindly agreed to write short blogs on their response to the event. As Jas puts it, “Given my own experience with the media and the importance of the media in framing knowledge and discourse around religion-related issues, this type of event provides students with further opportunity to understand the relationship between Religion and Public Life.”
On Monday 9th November, Rajeev Gupta, a BBC producer for the Radio 4 “Sunday” programme and series producer for the BBC World Service “Heart and Soul”, gave an hour of his time to talk to the THEO3000 Media and Religion students at the University of Leeds over a Teams video call, to discuss what it means to work in the religious side of radio and how he got to the position he has in the BBC today.
Mr Gupta did an excellent job talking to the many blank screens that faced him. He was upbeat and happy to talk to us about his job, and clearly well versed in his field and good at communicating this (something he explained was a good skill to have but not always one that was guaranteed when working in radio). He gave an informative and honest discussion of how he got into religious journalism, presenting and production, stating that he did not study journalism or media at University, but that a variety of circumstances and hard work brought him to where he is now. Mr Gupta offered advice on how to access the graduate schemes and training programmes on offer at the BBC and at other media outlets, with many of the students watching facing the nerves of graduating in the midst of a pandemic, with cuts and economic downfalls reducing jobs by the day. I believe many in the audience found his honesty very comforting.
Rajeev Gupta gave a new face to the BBC, so often associated with white middle-class men, and spoke of the discrimination those who don’t fit these categories can experience. But Mr Gupta’s openness about his struggle with embracing his identity in the workplace was refreshing. He spoke of how these differences that can feel negative have become something he has embraced and have in fact helped him in his reporting and producing career by allowing him to understand and access different areas of culture and society. On behalf of the students of the University Leeds, I would like to say thank you to Mr Gupta for coming in and to Dr Jasjit Singh, as the module leader, for organising the event.
Rajeev Gupta is the current producer of “Heart and Soul” for the BBC World Service, which looks at a range of current topics from religion and the US election, to how Diwali has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and has gone virtual. The programme looks beneath the surface and unpacks the headlines.
Rajeev explained how he started with a degree in Business and Politics, and through the BBC Journalism Trainee Scheme, worked his way through local radio in Manchester, to his current role as producer of “Heart and Soul”. He explained the process behind making radio programmes, including the different roles within radio and where inspiration for pieces comes from. He discussed the changing nature of reporting religion, including a shift away from values and beliefs-based reporting and towards a focus on how religions impact on people’s identity and worldview (experiences of lived religion). He also explained the large role producers have in controlling the output of a programme. This is especially an issue with regards to representative hiring and promotion to ensure a diverse range of voices and stories are heard.
A key theme which emerged from the discussion was the need for a “thirst for knowledge and learning”, to ask questions and learn more about and understand the viewpoint of others who do not share the same lived experiences and worldview as you, as a way to reduce ignorance. Through covering issues such as a lack of diversity within the media industry, the conversation concluded by looking towards the future of a new generation of people who have been brought up in a culture of open-mindedness, a focus on progression, and being vocal on issues important to them. This will hopefully lead and guide the media towards a more open and representative future.
Feature Image: Rajeev Gupta