By Enrique Tessieri
Ten good points to keep for journalists to keep in mind when writing on immigrants and refugees:
1. Study as much as you can the group you are going to write on. Reading up means getting in touch with people from that community and spending time with them. You would be surprised by how many new angles emerge. Being as objective as possible when writing a story on immigrants means throwing away or keeping at bay your suspicions and prejudice. In short it means for you to take that group’s views as well.
2. Since you are writing a news story it is your responsibility as a journalist to take both sides into account. The reader makes the conclusions. Stay clear from editorializing or trying to point out whose culture is better or right. Ask questions in earnest — not fuelled by your prejudice — concerning issues that are misunderstood by the general public. Transparency and honesty help build bridges between cultures. Secrecy causes rifts and is the water that feeds the weeds of suspicion.
3. Adaption in a society is a two-way street. There is no right or wrong so to speak. Our society is colored by many hues of gray. Even so, poor and sensationalistic journalism aims to turn these gray areas into black or white with simplistic arguments.
4. Don’t become lazy by sitting comfortably on your prejudice. If you bring up an issue like women’s rights and the use of the veil, you should also take into account our civil rights laws, which are, by the way, applicable to all people in our society. If you are going to limit civil rights then one must ask what the consequences will be on our democratic society. One of the favorite arguments of the far-right and anti-immigration groups is falsely claiming that a certain group is incompatible with our society’s values and therefore it is ok to bash them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
5. Don’t forget that writing is an effective weapon. Don’t overkill in a story. Far-right groups use bazookas to kill a fly.
6. Ask deeper questions than trying to maintain status-quo myths like “we are not racists” at the end of your article. One salient question you could keep in mind are the reasons behind racism. Which socio-economic group(s) benefits from it? What power structures does it maintain? Does history reveal why racism exists in Finland? Is it a product of fear?
7. Be especially careful of groups like the police, Supo and the Frontier Guards that claim that Finland is in danger of being overrun by “hordes of foreigners.” This is an old myth that has its roots in our history and difficult relations with Russia. It has helped these institutions to milk the state for generous funds.
8. Instead of being reactive towards immigration, look further: What place do immigrants, their children and grandchildren have in our society? Just by debating whether immigration is good or bad is losing sight of the big picture. Immigrants are here to stay and we must incorporate them into our society. Opportunity is more effective than racism in creating a well-functioning society made up of many cultures.
9. Racism is a chronic social illness that must be met head on by the media. Silence is its most faithful culprit. When writing about immigrants, think of them as “us” not as “them.” When public officials speak of a “terrorist threat” or some criminal activity a certain national committed, they should take special care not to label the whole group. The grand majority of immigrants and refugees that live in this country are law-abiding that want to do something with their lives.
10. A culturally diverse society requires a great amount of civic knowledge, tolerance and acceptance from all of its members. For our society to be based on social justice and acceptance, all of its members irrespective of their background must strive to respect each other. Respect means acceptance of their culture and identity.