Over the past four months the journey of this ‘reporting refugees’ themed assessment has unfolded and had opened up a multitude of thinking points along the way. Points broken into two main areas – the ways in which stories are approached, particularly the sensitivity surrounding them, which is what this blog is about and the learning involved with creating a long from feature piece of journalism. In Grace’s and my case, TV long form journalism.
With our choice of storyline and telling the story of MLA Steve Doszpot, who came to Australia as a refugee from Hungary half a lifetime ago, we managed to escape many of the issues other pairs would have confronted in their dealings with refugees, who’s scars from the atrocities they faced are still clear memories. In a way its the true test of sensitivity: reporting a minority, multicultural parties and dealing with physical and emotional instability.
The lack of sensitivity is shown in various ways through the article by McKay, Thomas and Blood: ‘Anyone of these boat people could be a terrorist for all we know’ Media representations and public perceptions of ‘boat people’ arrivals in Australia http://tinyurl.com/7tat3ld. The article explores the incident of SIEV 36 a boat which exploded off Australia’s northwest coast – and where a substantial part of the subsequent media coverage blamed the asylum seekers themselves for the plight. It explores whether the media supports the policies of the previous Howard Government, whether or not the press promulgates opinions, contributing to the national opinion about refugees and whether journalists doing a service by abiding by ethical standards and self regulation.
Prior to commencement of this project my relationships and dealings with refugees had been minimal. There have been very few occasions of note where I have actually met contemporary refugees and refugees coming from the Middle East, Asia or Africa. I believe there is a certain stigma or attached with the notion of being a contemporary refugee, particularly fueled by the current political debate surrounding the issue.
Often a lot of the media doesn’t help either, as explained by Hanson-Easey and Augoustinos in their article: Complaining about Humanitarian Refugees: The role of sympathy in the design of complaints on Talk-back Radio http://tinyurl.com/7zez4ro. They explain that as a duo the caller and the host orientate the opinion only from pre-concieved opinions about refugees. They argue that as social actors the protagonists have pre-formulated meditated meanings and construe their opinions for the rest of the listeners.
So certainly there is solid evidence that the media can manipulate points of view regarding refugees, which would affect the opinions of those who have had little or no contact with refugees prior.
The meaning of the word refugee has changed over time, not hindering the fact that refugees have been coming to Australia, probably since our first settlement and in varying frequencies since then. I’ve always held the view that refugees become so, only because they wish to build a better life for themselves. They escape unfavorable conditions, often persecution to build better lives and there isn’t anything wrong with that. Detention centres are only a smokescreen to the issue, only there to satisfy the conservative vote that something is being done. I believe as a nation we can increase our numbers, if they they want to work and live, let them in by all means. But build a life and work like everyone else. Integrate, learn English, have the right to earn a living. However, people coming to Australia as refugees from other places shouldn’t immediately be entitled to government assistance.
On Assignment for #reportingrefugees:
During the course of the project I have learnt that asylum seekers and refugees have essentially faced the same problems over time. Studying the story of Steve Doszpot who came to Australia in the 50s had a similar story to many of the ‘contemporary’ refugees who tell their stories today. I would guess that the stark difference would be that the Doszpot family were held in a camp overseas, while many of the recent refugees tell stories of being held in dention in Australia. It seemed that the young Steve Doszpot was oblivious to the issues of what was going on around him at the time, however, he did understand the stress his parents were going through in trying to get themselves and and young children to a safer place.
I suppose something you do learn doing a project like this is that asylum seekers and refugees are simply people like you and I. They have stories, wants, needs and desires. Often you get detached from this notion, again, going back to the influence of the media in determining public opinion.
Malloch and Stanley in their article: The detention of Asylum seekers in he UK: Representing Risk, managing the dangerous http://tinyurl.com/6u34v6x explains that confusingly the policies that are directed at asylum seekers are created with the aim of satisfying a separate group of the population altogether. they explain theat the media continues to play a pivotal role; using terms like ‘illegals’, ‘undeserving’ and ‘risk’. Back to an Australian context, its strange to consider that a number of people coming here as refugees each year, barely enough to fill the MCG could be considered a ‘risk’ to society.
Honestly, this assignment hasn’t changed my opinions on refugees/asylum seekers at all. I believe we should take in more genuine refugees and they should be release in to the community immediately. Australia was built by immigrants. When you look at the population concentrations in other parts of the world, its obvious that any argument suggesting that population increases aren’t sustainable here is rubbish.
Lessons from the field:
When asking how the project helped in the teaching about how asylum seekers issues should be reported, again, in reporting the story of Steve Doszpot we were able to escape much of the rawness and direct sensitivity that needs to be shown when discussing these things and reporting them for what they are. Two points however. Firstly that a keen and empathetic ear is required. When hearing terrible stories about persecution and the rebuilding of lives, you have to remain completely human and neutral. It goes for all journalism, but particularly in these cases you can’t go in with any preconceived opinions. Secondly, to be aware that some people have terrible stories but aren’t willing to talk about them. Remaining sensitive is the key.
The article: Complicated Grief and Its Relationship to Mental Health and Well-Being Among Bosnian Refugees After Resettlement in the United States: Implications for Practice, Policy, and Research http://tinyurl.com/7673mt6 by Craig, Sossou, Schnak an Essex says sheds light on the issues refugees face and what journalists need to look out for before delving into the area. Issues including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression amongst a host of other conditions.
When I’m next assigned a story focusing on refugees, the important thing is to remember to be empathetic. To understand exactly what people have gone through and to respect their stories, before succumbing to view of the populist and negative media. Hodes’s piece on psychiatric disorders in refugees Three Key issues for Young Refugees Mental Health http://tinyurl.com/7673mt6 is an essential piece of reading for understanding the deeper issues surrounding a refugees mindset.
This assignment has been a journey of learning and how journalism is starting to change to report these issues properly, rather than subscribing to what much of the conservative population wants to hear. Its great that young journalist are able to study these issues in depth whilst still at university.