‘Mixed messages: Media coverage of migration and fatalities’, by Aidan White and Ann Singleton, was originally published as a chapter in ‘Fatal Journeys – Volume 3 – PART 1 – Improving Data on Missing Migrants’. Copyright: IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre GMDAC 2017. Re-published with permission.
Journalists doing their job: Excellence in telling the migration story
In spite of the political, economic, industrial and cultural challenges that serve to diminish the capacity for quality journalism these days, there is no shortage of inspiring examples of journalists trying, and succeeding, to improve the flow of useful and reliable information about the migration and refugee crisis.
One journalist who had a front row seat in the drama of the European migration crisis is Patrick Kingsley, who produced award-winning journalism in his period as the first Migration Correspondent for the Guardian. His book, The New Odyssey (Guardian Books, 2016), is an account of his reporting and travels through 17 countries along the migrant trail, meeting hundreds of refugees making epic journeys to reach Europe. His reporting for The Guardian focused on the migrants and their story – why they keep coming and how they do it. The paper’s editors gave him time and space to report on all aspects of the story. His reporting led to him receiving the British Press Awards foreign journalist of the year award in 2015.
But reporting is not without ethical challenges and legal complications as broadcast journalist Fredrik Önnevall found in 2014 when he was filming a documentary about the response of European nationalist parties to the migration crisis. During the assignment, he met a 15-year-old Syrian refugee in Greece. He and his team decided to help the boy get to Sweden. The film they produced on the boy’s journey was broadcast on Swedish television to widespread acclaim, but he was then prosecuted for people smuggling.(50)
His action prompted a fierce national debate within journalism about the role of journalists in reporting – are they participants in the story or solely observers? – but Önnevall was defiant: “I regret absolutely nothing. I know what we did and I would have done the same today,” he told Swedish television. “How can I regret helping a terrified boy begging for my help?” he said.
Lawyers called for an acquittal on the grounds that he acted out of compassion and concern for the boy’s fate. But judges in Malmö found him guilty in February 2017 of smuggling and gave him a suspended sentence. The journalist said he would appeal against the ruling.
Despite the controversial anti-migrant rhetoric of United States President Donald Trump, many journalists are taking the Government to task over its migration policies. The Buzzfeed report “America’s Quite Crackdown on Indian Immigrants”, for instance, on how the Government of the United States has moved quietly and aggressively to prevent undocumented Indians from entering the country, many of them Sikhs fleeing political oppression or economic collapse at home, led to an award for reporters David Noriega and John Templon from the French-American Foundation in 2016.
And awards, too, have gone to the journalists who were among the first to collect statistical information on migrant fatalities. A consortium of journalists from 15 European countries set up the Migrants’ Files, which first published results in 2014. Counting casualties is one of the only ways to assess the effectively hold governments to account for their policies, they argued and many media used their data. The European Press Prize Innovation Award in 2015 went to the team behind The Migrants’ Files: Surveying migrants’ deaths at Europe’s door: Nicolas KayserBril, Jacopo Ottaviani, Sylke Gruhnwald, Jean-Marc Manach, Jens Finnäs, Daniele Grasso, Ekaterina Stavroula, Alessio Cimarelli, Andrea Nelson Mauro and Alice Kohli.
Groundbreaking journalism is also found in the south, of course, as noted in the surveys and studies mentioned in this report and also in countries which are exporting workers. Adil Sakhawat, for instance, a journalist from The Dhaka Tribune won in the National-level Print category for his story, “Where women are the breadwinners”. He was one of ten Bangladeshi journalists recognized for their coverage of the country’s migration sector in 2016.(51)
And the quality of migration reporting on television, particularly from leading global networks such as CNN, the BBC and Al Jazeera English, as well as scores of national and regional public broadcasters, confirms that although the migration story is complex and subject to intense scrutiny and undue influence from governments and unscrupulous politics, it provides opportunities for journalism to shine. The growth in the provision of media awards, for instance, is evidence not only that policymakers see the importance of promoting high standards, but that there is much journalism on the subject worthy of praise and recognition.
(50) As reported in the Guardian, see: www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/09/swedish-journalist-convicted-of-smuggling-forhelping-syrian-boy-migrate
(51) As reported in the Dhaka Tribune, see www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2017/04/13/brac-migration-media-award-2016-goes- 10-journos/