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What is the migrant crisis and how should the media report on it?

By Tahmina Begum

Aug 17, 2020

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The BBC and Sky News have recently been criticised by MPs, activists and much of the general public for their reportage of migrants attempting to cross the British Channel. The video that caused a response was of BBC reporter Simon Jones discussing how dangerous it was to be crossing the “choppy” sea on that particular day and that the camera crew had noticed the migrants rapidly trying to get rid of the excessive water in their already over-crowded boat with a plastic container.

Sky News also broadcasted a video of a group of ten people on a small dinghy with one person even shouting out “please no camera.” Watching the British reporting of the migrants fleeing from civil war, on the tumultuous tides, trying to hold on to whatever faith they have to fight for their lives, was like watching a real-life horror show. Yet, it’s anything but made-up TV. Here’s why the media seriously needs to reevaluate how it reports on the migrant crisis.

What is the migrant crisis?

The migrant crisis is the intense difficulty, trouble, or dangerous situation in the receiving state (the ‘destination country’) due to the movements of large groups of immigrants escaping from the conditions which negatively affected their situation. These can be because of security, economic, political or societal problems at the country of ‘departure’. The “crisis” situation is not due to the refugee numbers but the system’s failure to respond in an orderly way.

What is wrong with the recent footages of migrants filmed by the UK media?

What felt unsettling about watching this coverage was how our British reporters were able to film the scene and then turn off their cameras and just go home, leaving the people being filmed out at sea.

“This report was a stark illustration of the significant risks some people are prepared to take to reach the UK. Channel crossings is a topic of huge importance and we always endeavour to cover the story sensitively,” responded the BBC after many complained about the insensitivity behind the footage.

The BBC added: “In this instance, the Dover coastguards were aware of the boat before our crew spoke to them and at no point did they, or those in the boat, signal that a rescue operation was required. The coastguards instead alerted Border Force, who then safely picked up the occupants and took them to shore.”

Taking a slightly different approach, Sky News stated that migrants crossing the Channel were “a major news story following the government’s suggestion that it needs a military response, and we will continue to cover the story in a responsible and human way. Ali Fortescue’s reports have made it clear that the captain of the boat she is on calls the coastguards about every dinghy and stays with each boat to make sure it is safe as it comes to shore.”

As a journalist, sharing and publishing stories for almost a decade, I am familiar with all of the above, yet I still don’t understand. As much I have been trained to favour neutrality, to learn how not to be biased in reporting by stating clear facts without dramatisation—an increasingly important skill during the bend of social media and lightning of fake news—I never want to reach a point where I understand why the media can just film and leave migrants at sea.

The world has become so desensitised, enough that when reporting on how migrants who have been squeezing themselves on boats and cupping excess water out of their boat with plastic containers, the lines between reality and reality TV have become blurred.

It’s sad to say but watching migrants risk their lives makes good TV. What we need to question is how we’ve got to this point where we can see that and not offer any aid. People are dying at sea because the land is not as safe as the waves that are trying to envelop them any second now. People are dying at sea when they don’t need to be.

Perhaps I’m too emotional—too human and just not seeing things as they are. But what I see isn’t actually about the reporting, the reporters or even the news channel, it’s about selling people’s misery. Yes, we need a well-rounded view on the world but there should be directions towards changing what we see for the better, the choices we have to help as a society should be clear. This also circles back to who we’re voting into positions of power and the power they have to help.

My point? We need to reset. It’s not just important that we think about what it would be like if we were in that same situation, it is crucial we react with the care we should have had all along. We need to take a step back and realise these people are not numbers, nor burdens. They’re people, desperately floating on a plastic raft for their lives. Get emotional, get ‘too involved’, donate and help.

How can I donate and help refugees?

Donate to Help Refugees here.

Donate to Amnesty International UK here.

Donate to RestlessBeings here.