Prior to this assessment, I had little to no contact with asylum seekers or refugees due mostly to the fact that I grew up on a small coastal town.
My first real contact came when I first started looking at the issue of asylum seekers and refugees within Australia. I was shocked to hear that “boat arrivals still comprise less than half of Australia’s onshore asylum seekers.”
Most news articles make out that the majority of asylum seekers come via illegal boats, whereas most do in fact arrive by air.
This was the start of a broader understanding of refugees withinAustralia, which kept expanding as I started working on the project and getting to know my refugee.
Before this project, I was a definite fence-sitter in relation to asylum seekers/refugees within Australia. I was well aware of the issue and how big it has become, with my main thoughts being there should be a better way to handle the issue.
Obviously, it is easier said than done and although some solutions have been suggested, such as the Malaysiasolution, most have fundamental holes such as sending asylum seekers to a country that could not guarantee their rights.
ON ASSIGNMENT FOR REPORTING REFUGEES
Our story focused around Marial Kot, a refugee who had to flee Sudan, a country being ravaged by civil war, something I could never begin to imagine happening to myself. It really changed by perspective about everything I do in day to day life, and made me appreciate some of the horrible things people have to go through in life. The Reporting Refugees assignment definitely made me appreciate what refugees and asylum seekers as a whole have to go through in life and many don’t have a choice in seeking asylum.
In Marial’s case, he had no choice but to flee Sudan to start a new life in Australia, which is something often missed when the media is reporting on refugees. Most refugees and asylum seekers have no choice but to flee their country and attempt to enter another, and are often portrayed as the “bad guys” within the media when in fact they are merely looking to start their lives again.
UN Mission patrols the Sudanese border (United Nations Photo – Flickr cc)
Not trying to pick on any article in particular, but this one mentions negative points about refugees and doesn’t have any reference to where they came from or the struggles they had. Obviously this exact angle may not have fitted this particular story, but it is a common occurrence within all forms of media today.
The media is very powerful, and as described by McCombs (2004), has the power to control what people think and feel. This is why more care needs to be taken when reporting on sensitive issues such as refugees as to represent both sides of the story.
Personally, I believe Australia needs to sort out this issue with a collective effort, rather than proposing solutions and parties fighting against each other. This issue effects the nation more than most, so all political parties need to be on side with any proposed changes, whatever they may be.
The project has also made me realise how vulnerable and fragile some refugees can be, and most have no choice but to attempt to enter Australia through seeking asylum or refugee status.
I also discovered that although illegal immigrants are meant to meet legal requirements to enter Australia, every person has the right to seek asylum under the 1948 Unviversal declaration of human rights which I was unaware of until I began working on this project.
LESSONS FROM WORKING IN THE FIELD
Sensitivity was one of the major problems my reporting partner Huw Bonello and I encountered during our research project and some of the issues Marial brought up were very powerful.
The MEAA Code of Ethics states when doing a story, reporters must “respect private grief and personal privacy” which was tough during our particular story. Trying to find out the facts of his life and working out when to stop or when to keep pushing to find out the important issues was something that at times I struggled with.
The toughest part of the story was dealing with deaths in Marial’s family. He lost his father to war, a subject we found to be very hard to deal with because we wanted information about how he died, but also wanted to make sure Marial felt as comfortable as possible while talking to us.
The Code of Ethics was something always at the back of my mind when reporting on this story, more so than any I had done before, as it was a story that needed the facts to be 100% correct so we didn’t misrepresent Marial.
In the end, we consider ourselves incredibly lucky to have found someone like Marial who was so willing and open about everything he had been through. He was so helpful in everything we asked of him, and if there was an issue he didn’t want to discuss, he would politely say so and we moved on.
Another issue we had was in regards to the University. Marial works as a student adviser within the Uni, and this was our original angle to the story but they proved to be difficult and basically unhelpful to us as reporters, stating previous bad experiences with journalism students as the main reason behind their lack of willingness to help us out.
UC student works with ABC Canberra to put together stories.
This project has changed my view on reporting for any story, regardless of the type. One of the main things I will take from this project is the proper way of dealing with sensitive issues involved in stories. No matter how sensitive the issues are though, as a journalist you have to try and find the real story, even if you think some issues may be off limits.
Obviously, if the talent seems uncomfortable with any questions you have to realise and adjust the question or move on, but I think this project with all of the sensitive issues we encountered will put me in good stead for future stories of the same nature.
Overall, this reporting refugee project has expanded my horizons as a budding journalist and has given me a different perspective on journalism as a whole. We are journalists are put in positions to talk to people when they are most vulnerable and this is something not to be taking lightly. In regards to refugees and asylum seekers, it must be realised they are real people just looking for a chance to start a new life which is something missed a lot of the time by the media.
McCombs, M (2004), ‘Setting the agenda: the mass media and public opinion http://books.google.com.au/books?id=QhqeQfgxVu0C&pg=PA86&dq=agenda+setting+theory&hl=en&ei=IO7STpe-N 6OmQWO6NXLDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CEgQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=agenda%20setting%20theory&f=false [Viewed November 21 2011].
MEAA, 2011. Code of Ethics. [online] Available at: <http://www.alliance.org.au/documents/codeofethics.pdf> [Viewed 23 November 2011].
Phillips, J (2011) Asylum Seekers and Refugees: What are the facts? http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/bn/sp/AsylumFacts.pdf [ Viewed 22 November 2011].
AFP, (November 24, 2011) Australia sees surge in refugee boats, http://www.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne%2BNews/Malaysia/Story/A1Story20111124-312390.html [Viewed November 25 2011].
AFP, (November 23, 2011) Asylum-seekers sew lips together in Australia protest, http://news.asiaone.com/News/Latest%2BNews/Asia/Story/A1Story20111123-312193.html [Viewed November 25 2011]