A GROUP of African journalists from the region this week met at Kloofzicht Resort in Muldersdrift, north-west of Johannesburg, to discuss the issue of migration and immigrants in South Africa amid growing concern over how the media is playing a negative role in fuelling virulent xenophobia and stereotypes against undocumented migrants.
The journalists were drawn from Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and South Africa.
The five-day workshop, under the topic Changing the Narrative About Migrants in South Africa, was organised by Internews and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
USAID is an independent agency of the United States federal government that is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance.
Internews is an international media development organisation whose mission is to empower local media worldwide to give people information and news they need.
The workshop discussed the interesting, complex and often controversial issue of migration in the region; that is its history, patterns of movement and dynamics.
While media and journalists in general usually reflect society in which they operate, that is the good, the bad and the ugly, they are not passive agents of communication.
They have their own agency and agendas, and hence they are not only the public face of society, but shape society’s views, attitudes and culture; they can influence the social climate and change for the better or worse.
Stereotypes and phenomena like xenophobia, closely related to nativism and tribalism, are as much a social construct as they are a media issue.
Political and economic factors are also inherently intertwined with that toxicity.
The Southern African region, especially South Africa, has experienced all types of movements, including mixed and irregular migration, labour migration and displacement due to conflict and natural disasters.
There is also the intervention of colonialism, the lines of longitude and latitude which have shaped countries’ geography and history. African societies and people were divided in 1884 at the imperial Berlin Conference and that continues to have a huge impact in how they related to each other.
Journalists and experts of migration discussed the relationship between media discourses and experiences of belonging.
Some of the issues addressed by the workshop include a deeper understanding on objective and accurate reporting of migrants’ rights and amplifying voices; an in-depth understanding in covering migrant issues; skills to elevate the voices and stories of migrants in their coverage; and to share a database of expert voices on migration issues.
The workshop also covered conflict-sensitive journalism, principles of reporting on xenophobia, solutions-based journalism and networking modalities.
The modes of delivery included presentation, video clips, plenary discussions and exchanges, group discussions, case studies and featuring experts.
Internews South Africa country director Teldah Mawarire said the issue of migration is pertinent to people in the region.
“People in this region have been migrating since time immemorial for different reasons. Now with the Covid-19 pandemic it becomes even more important which has destroyed livelihoods, it is easy for people to blame others for their social and economic situations,” Mawarire said.
“So it was crucial to bring journalists from the region: every country is sending and receiving immigrants. We want journalists to embrace reporting that amplifies the voices of migrants. We also want to encourage journalists not to write negatively about immigrants, but also the good contributions that migrants make to host countries and communities.
“The workshop went well, it helped in knowledge building and attitude change. Journalists will now begin to appreciate the need for research, good robust journalism and ethics on migration and other issues.”
South African journalist Ngiphiwe (Mapi) Mhlangu, the project coordinator, said the workshop’s main takeaway is that disruptions in the media due to technological advances have left journalists without enough capacity to cover stories properly, including on migration.
“The disruption in the media means that editors are dealing with scarce resources which has led to low investment in investigative journalism, training and upskilling of journalists,” Mhlangu said.
“Unfortunately, we are now dealing with new and complex issues which would require new skills. It is upon each member of society who want to live in a just world and like social justice to assist the media to ensure we live in an informed society. For Africa to assist in the AU Agenda 2063 and the new free trade area agreement, journalists will have to attend to issues around the movement of goods and people within the African continent. So we hope this project has equipped those who attended with necessary skills to write positive stories about a united Africa and the future we envisage for all of us.”
Managing editor of Zimbabwe’s new investigative journalism project, The NewsHawks, Dumisani Muleya, said the workshop was enlightening and useful.
“The workshop gave journalists from the region an opportunity to meet and discuss critical issues around media discourses, migration and experiences of a sense of belonging. Media doesn’t only reflect society in which they operate, they also have their own agency and does agenda-setting, so it is important that journalists understand that while they have to be factual, truth-telling and robust in their reporting they must also be responsible and humane in their reporting; avoid fuelling hate and xenophobia in the name of giving a platform to different voices. Journalists have to allow all voices to be heard without filtering, but must not fan the flames of nativism, hate and xenophobia. We have seen some stories in the media in different countries in the region, of late mainly in South Africa, where journalists write crudely and nakedly xenophobic stories,” Muleya said.
“Journalists must not forget the experiences of Zimbabwe during Gukurahundi and Rwanda and other countries when it comes to ‘othering’ people, reckless reporting and fuelling hate, be it on nativist, ethnic and xenophobic grounds.
“Africans are the same people, historically and currently. The media is not projecting that reality properly; internally and continentally. Media must not play a negative role on stereotyping people, for instance on race, ethnicity, gender, religion and migration. That can easily be avoided by going back to basics of journalism: reporting in a professional, factual, impartial, truthful, responsible and humane way.- STAFF WRITER