Can the media stop the tidal wave of migrant hate? #ijf15

by Herman Grech

photo via Wikimedia Commons

The year 2015 is on track to break the record for migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, humanitarian organisations have warned. Thousands of asylum seekers are jumping onto boats to flee wars and persecution countries like Syria, Iraq and Libya. Many are seeking a safe asylum, others want to be rescued from the clutches of poverty.

Italy’s search and rescue mission Mare Nostrum has come to an end and the EU’s purely border control Triton Mission has neither curbed the number of attempts to cross the sea, nor the fatalities along the way.

Nearly 500 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea in the first three months of 2015, nearly a tenfold increase compared to the same period last year.

The human drama at sea has triggered alarm bells among humanitarian organisations and NGOs, but the sentiment among many others is one of indifference or resentment. Many still put the asylum seeker in the same boat with the extremists. In other words, the victim is being targeted once again.

photo via Wikimedia Commons

Such sentiments are being exacerbated as the right-wing makes inroads in the political arena and migrants are blamed for economic ills all over Europe.

Politicians and the press are often blamed of being locked in a cycle of incendiary anti-immigrant rhetoric to fuel stereotypes. Who is to blame for the misinformation?

Each media house wants to sell (and sex up) its product, but it has a more important role to inform, educate and balance out populist sentiments. This means that certain delicate issues propel journalists to dabble in delicate territory akin to activism.

This is where NGOs and humanitarian organisations could come to provide essential information. NGOs are often on the front line, collecting the information on the ground to be relayed to the public.

What role do NGOs have in raising journalistic standards and ethics? To what extent should media houses control xenophobic and anti-migrant discourse on their online comments boards?

‘“Let them drown…” Activist journalism to counter anti-migrant discourse’ will tackle such questions at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia on Thursday, April 16.

The panel discussion will involve three speakers at the forefront of the migration debate. Maeve Patterson is head of media and communications at Amnesty International European Institutions Office. Mariateresa Sette is a media consultant for NGOs, including the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS). Herman Grech is head of media at Times of Malta