News / 10.05.2012

Poor financial state of Europe’s media houses affects reporting on minority groups


Linus Atarah

The election results in Greece is the latest incidence where a previously little known right-wing extremist political party, Golden Dawn has just won 21 seats and promising to “get all the illegal immigrants out”. This comes quickly at the heels of the election results in France where Jean-Marie Mari Le Pen’s National Front, long known for its anti-immigrant stance made historical electoral gains.

The rise of populist right-wing political parties across much of Europe with anti-immigration as their main platform poses a great challenge to the media who have to walk a fine balance between accurately reporting on minorities without promoting xenophobia.

However, according to a study conducted by the Media Diversity Institute, central obstacles to good reporting on ethnic minorities and religion are the poor financial state of the media, large workload of reporters, lack of adequate knowledge of minority issues which stems from the lack of in-house training for journalists.

The study, Getting the Facts Right: Reporting Ethnicity and Religion was presented at a two-day conference of the European Federation of Journalists last weekend in Brussels.

The meeting also endorsed the study and its recommendations, which among others, calls on journalists unions and associations to organize training workshops for journalists on issues related to tolerance, religion, security policies, rights of minorities and reporting on vulnerable groups.

Journalists unions and association are also urged to develop guidelines on reporting on ethnicity, migration and religion.

In all of the nine countries (Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom) where the survey was conducted, but particularly acute in the new EU member states, the study found that the media are in poor financial shape and that has affected the ability to report properly on minority issues.

Due to the financial crisis, media houses also had to implement cost-cutting measures which left them with no resources to provide in-training for journalists to upgrade their knowledge in minority issues and related legislation in their countries.

Speaking at the conference, Council of Europe’s Commissioner of Human Rights Nils Muinieks, said journalists can be the “best of all possible worlds and the worst of all possible worlds” because the media can make discrimination and violence socially unacceptable, and yet can also be the platform for inciting racists stereotypes.

“Even in some cases, journalists can contribute to genocide”, he said, – with reference to the Rwanda where in 1994, radio stations inspired Hutus to massacre over 800 000 Tutsis.

Muinieks cautioned that reporting on minority issues in the wake of increasing xenophobia across Europe is going to be one of the biggest challenges facing the in the media in the coming years because, according to him, “immigrants are here to stay and there are going to be more of them”.

Yet he urged journalists the need to uphold freedom of expression and at the same time fight discrimination because the two are not mutually exclusive.

“The interaction between the right of freedom of expression and the right to be free from discrimination should not be seen as that between two competing rights but as being two complementing ones”, he said

He added: “Instead of asking what we can do to protect freedom of expression while fighting discrimination, we should be asking what can we do to fight discrimination through freedom of expression”.

Arne König President of the European Union of Journalists highlighted on the current crisis facing the media which impacts negatively on the quality of journalism, including the ability to provide proper coverage of minority issues..

König also raised concern over the deteriorating working conditions of journalists which similarly affects the quality of journalism. Most journalists in Italy and Germany, he said, are working either as freelancers or through agents who pay them by the hour or by the day. This state of affairs severs journalist from the media houses and they are therefore unable to discuss with each other about good quality journalism.

König also mentioned the broken bond between publishers and journalists which is equally damaging the quality of journalism.

According to him publishers do not give forum to journalists unions to have a good dialogue. They only concern themselves, he said, with the business aspects of their newspapers,

“We cannot implement good ideas when publishers have withdrawn from public debate”, he said.

The two-day conference adopted a resolution which among others calls on journalists unions and associations to enforce and promote ethical guidelines, and where necessary review their codes to take into account guidelines on reporting diversity. This would enable minority groups to be included in debates.

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