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REFUGEES: UNDER SCRUTINY

TALKING POINT By M. M. Afrah©

                         PART THREE

Reading some Western newspapers reminds me all the wrong things I did, including becoming a journalist in the first place, and voting with my own feet, leaving behind everything I owned, including my dignity.

Journalists representing international news organizations in Somalia risk their lives to get their stories out. In countries where there is a relative stability they worry of being arrested or fired if they offend political bigwigs. But in Somalia and number of countries ruled by autocratic regimes (or warlords in the case of Somalia), they dance with death or kidnapping.

Journalists in the advanced countries find themselves on the cutting edge of unfolding events, playing a key role in stabilizing democracy. People are constantly looking up to the media to provide information on critical issues and processes. That role makes it imperative for them to be above ethnicity, sectarianism, one’s skin colour and personal interest.

Journalists, by the nature of their work, are either respected or despised, loved or hated, feared or threatened. Because they touch lives so often and affect the way other people are perceived, they are sought after as often as they are avoided.

I guess “Bias” is the most overworked word in the English language. I am not exactly sure who started using it first against whom, but it describes the conservative media moguls in North America. Unfortunately, most of what they had written in their editorials about immigrants and refugees are unprintable on this website.

One of the ironies of history is that these same media moguls have completely forgotten that they themselves are the children and grandchildren of refugees and immigrants who arrived in Ellis Island in New York with only the clothes on their backs. It is these immigrants and refugees who made America what it is today, the richest and most powerful country in the world today.

                            THE FIFTH ESTATE

Alan Clarke in his book “Why I Hold Journalists in Low Regard,” published by Penguin Books, said: “What’s the press? Sometimes it preens itself on a courtesy title …The Fifth Estate. But once personalized, the press can be seen as no more, surely, than a bunch of journalists. Fellows with, in the main, squalid and unfulfilling lives, insecure in their careers, and suffering a considerable degree of dependence on alcohol and narcotics.”

Unpopular as these opinions may sound, it proves the general distrust and contempt with which journalists are held locally, particularly by the voiceless newcomers who fled their burning homesteads.

                DIVIDING THE WORLD IN UNEQUAL TWO PARTS

The most subtle and pernicious discourses are those that divide the world into two unequal parts that is, “we” and “they”.

“We” represent the white dominant culture or the culture of the organization (the newsroom, TV station, school, museum, law enforcement agency); “they” represent the  “other”, possessing different (undesirable) set of values, beliefs and norms. “They” are dangerous, a threat to our way of life; they make unreasonable demands. 

Individuals who participated at a series of discussion groups for Goldfarb Consultants in big cities in Canada said visible minorities are treated like foreigners by newspapers, and a large majority is upset at newspapers for linking race and religion with suspects in crime reports.

One participant, whose great grandfather had immigrated to Canada, said, “When a story does not say that the crime suspect is black, you cheer.” Added a second participant: “And if you don’t mention the race, we assume they are white.”

The focus group included Chinese, South Asian, Black Muslims, (including a Somali-Canadian), mixed minority and white participants.

Haroon Siddiqui, The Toronto Star’s editorial page editor (Emeritus) said, the first step is for newspapers to start treating minorities as “first class Canadians that they are.”

“They are not foreigners, they are not outsiders. They are not them. They are us. They’re helping to pay our salaries, they’re buying our products. They’re first class tax-paying Canadians, and they should be treated like that,” Mr. Saddiqui said.’

While virtually all the participants said the newspapers represent good value for money, they had a few words of advice for publishers.

                                 CONCLUSION

Newspapers “need to address the issue of discrimination, stereotyping, crime reporting with racial or religious linkages and fair portrayal of various visible communities,” the study found.

Terrorism reporting was a sore point, and the participants recommend that the print and electronic media review their terrorist coverage policies and open a dialogue with readers about it. For example, they “should refrain from linking Islam with terrorism, because the acts of few men does not represent Islam which itself means PEACE.”

We in the media have to learn to tell the truth, even if it hurts, period. The media need to take hard look at the use of language and images before rushing to the mike and the printing press.

By M. M. Afrah©

Email: afrah95@hotmail.com

 


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