Journalists can help shape a more accurate perception of immigrants and any kind of minorities in their country. By daring to challenge the rule that only bad news sells and by adding all the background information to explain an event they report about.
“The rapist had an Eastern accent”. “Two gypsies shot each other on the street”. The mass media seem to explore the differences between the majority of the population from a country and minorities or immigrants from that country. Although not all of the newcomers commit crimes, the media tend to bring them all in the public opinion’s attention when one of them is suspected or accused of a crime.
Simon Inou, Chief Executive Officer of M-Media, an NGO dealing with the phenomenon of migration in the Austrian media, says that news in mainstream media is mainly focused on migrants who are victims or perpetrators. Who, summed up, might represent around two percent of the total migrant population. The other 98 percent doesn’t come up in the news.
Young people preparing for a career in journalism are thought in school about the criteria that make a news item: proximity, exception, conflict, unusual characteristics, the involvement of well-known people. That is why most of the time bad events make it to the pages of newspapers, on TV and radio and, of course, on the Internet.
“This is what we learn from American journalism: only negative news sells newspapers. And we don’t have the courage to change the rules”, Inou believes. This is one of the reasons mostly bad news about migrants in different countries always makes the newspaper headlines, shaping the bad perception of immigrants in the public opinion.
Migrants in the newsrooms
According to Inou, another representational aspect that can lead to the discrimination of immigrants is that journalists usually rely on the same sources to write a story. In many cases the journalist doesn’t report about the points of view of all the people involved. And most of the time the background information is missing. Journalists don’t try to put events in the wider social context and explain why something happened. That is why Inou believes it is important to have people with migrant backgrounds in the newsrooms. They can see the story from a different angle.
This is the focus of a project M-Media started in Austria in September 2007. Once a week, one of 25 journalists with a migrant background but living in Austria, write for the daily newspaper “Die Presse” (The Press). The youngest journalist of this team is sixteen and was born in Bosnia. In order to create a balance in the news about immigrants in Austria, people that are part of the immigrant communities report about the issues they feel relevant to themselves and to the entire Austrian society.