News / 24.06.2013

The media should not “ghettoise” multicultural issues

Linus Atarah

During the recent urban rioting in Stockholm, the media constantly emphasised the fact that the rioting youth were immigrants or of immigrant background. But as one of the residents, complained, that was racism and dishonour towards the young people who were expressing their grievances.

“So much effort was spent in making distinction between people. Why not simply refer to them as young people and adults?” she asked.

Similar concern has been raised by Michael Hutchinson-Reis, a journalist who points out that instead of always putting immigrants under the microscope, it is time for the camera to be turned around and examine the mainstream from the perspective of immigrants.

Why for instance, he asks, that anytime immigrants are interviewed on television, they are usually portrayed as miserable “creatures” complaining from their kitchen tables about the Finnish cold weather and hardships, without giving them equal chance for them to also provide their view of Finnish people?

At a three-day Nordic Freelance seminar in Masala, Finland last week, Hutchinson-Reis, said the so-called multicultural issues shouldn’t be “ghettoised” because to a large extent all stories are multicultural; it depends on the way one looks at it.

Instead, there is a need for journalists to have specific cross cultural competence and ethics in order to effectively convey reality in an accurate manner to their audience.

“An increasingly globalized media market will demand that we [journalists] work internationally in a multi-lingual and cultural market and in a diversity of physical and social environments” he said.

In such an environment, he says, “an intercultural skill is required by professional journalists to enable them produce and present material which informs and helps develop knowledge and conforms as far as possible to what is the known reality and is communicated to an audience in a truthful and accurate way”.

Professional journalism, he says, also needs “anti-oppressive practice” so that when journalists go out to make a story they don’t do it on any stereotypical basis related to identity, culture and language.

How many people in Finland, for instance know that Finns are actually more likely to die from intentional homicide, i.e., murder than in Somalia? But according to statistics from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) the murder rate in Finland in 2008 was 2.5 per 100 000 of the population while in Somalia it was 1.5 per 100 000 of the population. The trend remained the same in 2010, according to the same statistics.

However, such new often goes unreported because many journalists already have a preconceived idea of different people and places, often lacking a new angle of viewing reality, says Hutchinson-Reis

An anti-oppressive practice also means the media should highlight the structures which undermine equality and entrench poverty and social exclusion. So for instance, when journalists go to the developing countries they should be exposing the causes of the disparity of wealth and power between the North and South and not helping to reinforce it, he says.

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