Ten points for journalists when writing on immigrants and refugees

by , under All categories, Enrique

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.

  1. Tony Garcia

    Dear Enrique, those Are a very good advices, now please tell us…

    ” 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.”

    How many members of the True Finns have you got in touch with? How much time have you spent with them?

    ” 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… ”

    Do you do this when writing about the True Finns?

    “There is no right or wrong so to speak. Our society is colored by many hues of gray. ”

    Does this also implies to the True Finns?

    “A culturally diverse society requires a great amount of civic knowledge, tolerance and acceptance from all of its members”

    Does this include the True Finns?

    • Enrique

      –How many members of the True Finns have you got in touch with? How much time have you spent with them?

      I know some people who said they will vote for the True Finns in the next election. That’s there right. I bump into a lot of the stuff that True Finns write on the net. There is one part of the True Finns voter I understand: He is pissed off about the situation and wants to punish the governing parties. Fair enough, but then you have one wing made up of right-wing extremists in the Finnish fashion that basically want Finland to tighten the screws on immigration. The Nuiva manifest points it out very clearly.

      If this wing of the True Finns ever get their way (or the whole party for a fact), the Halla-ahos of the True Finns are going to create a disaster for this country. In the first place, Finland will have to do a lot of work to get skilled labor to move here. Having an anti-immigrant stance filled with populist rhetoric will worsen matters. But the truth is that even if the True Finns form part of the next government, they will have to play by the rules. It would be opportunistic and naive to think that a party like the True Finns will force Finland to leave the EU and close its borders to the world. That would be economic hara-kiri.

    • Enrique

      –Do you do this when writing about the True Finns?

      Tony, when I write about the True Finns I am writing on a blog, which is pretty opinionated. I have the right to do this and take a stand as in an editorial or column. What I meant was if I were writing a news story. We have news stories on Migrant Tales that have a comment.

    • Enrique

      –“A culturally diverse society requires a great amount of civic knowledge, tolerance and acceptance from all of its members” Does this include the True Finns?

      If the True Finns can tone down their racism why not?

  2. JusticeDemon

    lol@Toby

    Can a journalist report that the world is round before interviewing people who do not believe this?

    Never let the fact that you clearly haven’t understood a blog contribution deter you from commenting. It gives us all a good laugh.

  3. JusticeDemon

    Tony the Toby is spitting out his silver spoon because we don’t tolerate intolerance, Ricky. Haven’t you heard that spoiled ignoramuses from Sao Paulo beach resorts are the font of all wisdom?

  4. William O'Gorman

    In order for democracy and the whole idea of freedom of speech to work, journalism forms the keystone for its stability. My concern comes from observing recent trends in Finland and the EU when it comes to reporting on stories and not obeying many of the points you mention in the post. Without balanced and fair reporting the mass demographic cannot be informed in a truly subjective form.

    What worries me for the future is the influence of those controlling the media and what their motives are…because it is most often powers above the journalist that dictate the writing structure. Has Finland seen a recent change in its media attitude towards immigration issues? I don’t know myself as I haven’t got a long term view (10 +years might be a good start) but if it has changed then why, what direction and to suit what objective?

    I was just thinking the other night (and I may be wrong) but how many documentaries or news stories do you hear about Islam or Muslim history outside the context of terrorism, on Finnish media? Just a thought…both have such rich and beautiful histories that are unfortunately being tarnished in the very recent past.

    I am sure that some will comment on my post with reference to terrible atrocities committed and how extreme religious organizations form a real and present threat but take my post not as an excuse for terrorism but as a way to maybe understand the larger picture?

    Who is feeding the fire?

    • Enrique

      Hi William, you raise a lot of good points. Journalism is the “keystone of stability” and a good checks and balances of the system. The media, however, has done a pretty poor job in my opinion as of late. Things started to go downhill at a very rapid pace just before the invasion of Iraq. The whole war and its causes were based more on fiction than anything else. Sadly, the media ate it all up. There were some independent voices like the New York Review of Books that openly questioned Bush’s motives.

      Unfortuantely in Finland the role of journalism in maintaining an atmosphere of suspicion towards immigrants and some groups is still very strong. Even Helsingin Sanomat does it. I would like to publish one day on Migrant Tales some of the headlines that the tabloids wrote in the early 1990s when the first Somalis came to Finland from Russia. Would you would see would shock you and shame a lot of people.

  5. Tony Garcia

    So, resuming…

    The answers for the question 1 is – none and zero. For the question 2 – no I don’t. And for the questions 3 and 4 is – no, it doesn’t.

    You forgot the most important advice…

    11. Do as I say but not as I do…

  6. JusticeDemon

    William

    Without balanced and fair reporting the mass demographic cannot be informed in a truly subjective form.

    Sounds impressive. What does it mean?

    The tabloid media sector in Finland is much the same as in the English-speaking world, i.e. market-driven and dumbed down to the standard that sells the most newsprint. The readership primarily expects to be entertained, and its prejudices cannot be challenged too obviously without risking lower sales.

    Public subsidies and exemption from VAT are important factors that tend to prevent the use of such media for semi-covert promotion of factional interests in Finland. This is not especially fertile ground for Rupert Murdoch.

    In the electronic media we recently had the Muslimielämää series on TV1, which provided plenty of food for thought.

  7. JusticeDemon

    This is fair comment, Ricky. As blog administrator you have an edit function. I’m sure some readers would be happy to call your attention to typographical and other problems privately if you showed more inclination to use this facility when requested.

    You could start by deleting the criminally offensive remark made by the Toby in response to your contribution of 6 January.

    • Enrique

      Hi JusticeDemon, that part you are speaking of has been deleted. If you have visited Zuzeeko’s blog he has a rule of conduct which you can find below:
      House Rules and Regulations, here On The Road To Success, PROHIBIT the following:

      1. Commentaries, photos and videos that are likely to offend, provoke or attack an individual or group of individuals.
      2. Foul or profane language.
      3. Sexually explicit or pornographic content (links, websites, pictures, videos, etc).
      4. Impersonation.
      5. Comments that advertise products and services.
      6. Racist, sexist, xenophobic or homophobic commentaries.
      7. Commentaries in any language other than English, French, Finnish or Swedish.
      8. Contributions that promote a political agenda.
      9. Comments that instigate violence, terrorism or any unlawful activity.
      10. Telephone numbers, addresses and other personal information.
      11. Defamatory or libelous comments.

      What do the others think? One of the worst examples that I believe should have been censored a long time ago was Tiwaz that had the bad habit of raging and using foul language. If a code of conduct would help to create greater dialogue why not?

      I would like to hear what the others say on the matter.

  8. Tony Garcia

    “I would like to hear what the other say on the matter.”

    I think what you are right, the best way to solve a problem is prevent people from talking about it. All of a sudden the problem is gone. It worked very well in Latin America during the 70’s, you must have been reading about it because during that time you were living the US blessed by the first amendment.

  9. Tony Garcia

    “1. Commentaries, photos and videos that are likely to offend, provoke or attack an individual or group of individuals.”

    “What you and the True Finns want is to retard and excluded immigrants and their children from society with the chains of suspicion and prejudice.”

    • Enrique

      Tony good point but I disagree. I think it would be better worded in the following manner: “1. Commentaries, photos and videos that are based on racism and likely to offend, provoke or attack an individual or group of individuals.”

      Certainly people can disagree with a political campaign or a stand.

      What would we define racism? Making generalizations about groups or individuals with the intent of showing that they are inferior to your own group.

  10. William O'Gorman

    A good rule is if you wouldn’t say it to a person face to face then don’t write it. But this is one of the problems with anonymous posting on a blog such as this.
    If someone wishes to write something obscene then they are losing the argument.

    They are defeated because of their inability to articulate their cause and if that is the case they have lost any power of discussion and debate in an adult conversation.

    Violence is the last resort of defeated mind- in this case violence is the use of obscene terms and offending descriptive references.

    • Enrique

      Hi William, I totall agree: If you can’t say it in public in a person’s face don’t say it.

  11. Tony Garcia

    “If someone wishes to write something obscene then they are losing the argument.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Unfortunately this is quite common here, when a point is too uncomfortable to be addressed some people here goes for personal attacks and name calling.

    “Violence is the last resort of defeated mind”

    Well said…

  12. Tony Garcia

    “Tony good point but I disagree.”

    And the news is? When have you ever agreed with me?

    But, as usual, if the person supports your agenda he/she is free to offend at will. I have to say the new wording fits perfect to the MO of this blog.

    However, interesting enough, based on your definition of racism (intent of showing that they are inferior to your own group) I have never written anything racist. Thanks for this clarification.

  13. Tony Garcia

    Actually, let me take this back, from the top of my head I remember two occasions with I wrote something offensive and untrue about Somalis, your gave me a warning, and I apologised straight ahead. I hope you remember that. I’m not perfect and have no problem admitting that. And neither is you, witch I believe you do agree, so, as I said yesterday, I hope when outside this blog you reflect about your general attitude toward Finns. Please remember, I’m not the only one saying that, Willie once said here that “you just see racism everywhere”.

    • Enrique

      Tony, thank you for mentioning this. The reason why I brought up the regulations is to encourage others to take part in the debate. Certainly debating such a passoinate subject like immigration will raise tempers. When I started this blog in mid-2007 the following year it was pretty clear that it was going to be a blog on immigration. People liked to take sides. Two bloggers in particular, DeTant Bloomhat and Tiwaz, used me as a punching bag for quite a while to discourage me. Even “Hannu” tried to scare me by sounding the charge of hundreds of Hommaforum bloggers to this site. Despite all these efforts Migrant Tales stood its ground.

      I want with the help of all the bloggers for Migrant Tales to be an example, a conducive forum, were we can debate immigration and minority issues in Finland. I hope the rest of you share the same thoughts.

  14. Tiwaz

    Certainly agree with you Enrique, but you can’t pretend to be innocent victim can you.

    How many times in early periods have we requested you to give some support for your claims?
    How many times YOUR postings have actually been borderline racist?

    Say, attack on hindu temple or what was it. You jumped the gun and declared it racist action.
    Or declaring Finns repeatedly racist without ANY evidence.

    Only one you have been able to present has been ANONYMOUS poll made to some somalis on the streets, asking if they feel like they have been victims of racism.

    This, in your view, is evidence of Finns being racist. When anyone with some critical thinking would notice that claims made by polled people were in no way confirmed.

  15. JusticeDemon

    Peddling your fascist drivel again, Tiwaz?

    We are still waiting for you to tell us the name of the symbol on this flag carried by your jackbooted friends in Helsinki and how much of their agenda you disagree with, you old Nazi.

    lol@Tiwaz

  16. Tiwaz

    And here you have case of immigrant racism in it’s finest Enrique!

    I find it rather sad case for you to speak about things like “equality” or “objectivity” and giving others pointers on good behavior when you only in any way moderate activities of those whom you disagree with.

    Alien in this blog has been spewing what is practically hatespeech, JusticeDemon likewise. She also constantly keeps making racist accusations. Not to mention using an alias.

    But only people you complain to regarding such things are those you disagree with.

    JD, looks like you cannot attack my arguments since you are so stuck up with trying ad hominems. Or do you have any evidence of my nazi connections?

    We could equally claim Enrique to be communist because he carries name made famous by Che.

    • Enrique

      –We could equally claim Enrique to be communist because he carries name made famous by Che.

      Was it Ernesto or Enrique Guevara? Hmmm.

      Moreover, have you ever looked at your threads from two years ago. Why don’t you bring some new points of views except for the same one: Immigrants are stupid, racists and loafers? If you’d change your discourse maybe more would listen. But there is a question: Tiwaz… What does that symbol mean and represent. For some of us it is a symbol straight from neo-Nazi groups in Finland to begin with.

  17. JusticeDemon

    lol@Tiwaz

    You have been rumbled as a neo-Nazi, Tiwaz.

    What is the name of the symbol shown on this flag waved by neo-Nazis in Helsinki? YOU KNOW THE ANSWER, BUT YOU ARE AFRAID TO SAY IT.

    How much of the agenda of those neo-Nazis do you disagree with? YOU KNOW THE ANSWER, BUT YOU ARE AFRAID TO SAY IT.

    I’m with Indiana.

  18. Tiwaz

    -“Moreover, have you ever looked at your threads from two years ago. Why don’t you bring some new points of views except for the same one: Immigrants are stupid, racists and loafers? If you’d change your discourse maybe more would listen. But there is a question: Tiwaz… What does that symbol mean and represent. For some of us it is a symbol straight from neo-Nazi groups in Finland to begin with.”

    Why have you not made any new points?

    You never have made any valid points at all! Your repeated whining “Finns are racist Finns are racist”.

    Even your fellow immigrants have told you are nuts and are seeing things.

    Maybe I will start presenting new points when YOU do the same. When YOU start in your blog taking little more open minded approach on immigration instead of:

    “It’s great. There are never problems with immigration and if there is, it’s fault of natives”.

    You essentially want everyone else BUT Finns to keep their culture.
    As for question, has been answered before. What something represents for you is irrelevant because for you even sign at TexMex restaurant screams racism.

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