After the terrorist attack at the Bataclan theatre in Paris in November 2015, US presidential hopeful Donald Trump remarked: “When you’re weak and ineffective, bad stuff does happen.”
Trump was taking a swipe at Europe’s immigration policy, conflating the refugees coming to Europe with extremists, and this narrative could be held responsible for sweeping him to the White House, it certainly formed much of the debate around Brexit, and the story bubbles on.
The refugee crisis is no longer leading news stories, but is it because anything has changed? A documentary, Another News Story follows the journey refugees take from Greece through the Balkans to western Europe, but also turns the camera on the journalists reporting on the story.
The film asks, to borrow Trump’s phrasing, who exactly is being “weak and ineffective” – is it the media failing to convey properly the complicated and multi-faceted situation, or is it the general public who are not concerned enough to want to fully understand the lives of people wanting to come to Europe?
We asked Another News Story’s director Orban Wallace where responsibility lies…
The Big Issue: How can the complex story of refugees be told by media outlets with limited time, resources and, potentially, interest?
Orban Wallace: Sadly because of the media cycle that exists at the moment, and because of our appetites and interest as consumers of news, once people get ‘refugee fatigue’ the stories stop being reported even though the situations still exist. The stories that are considered ‘newsworthy’ now have changed considerably in the past few decades and the amount of time given to a leading story has been cut by many minutes.
There is no black and white in our complex world
This often leads to a lack of intelligent and comprehensive coverage of a story unless longer form documentaries are made, and often these are not seen by the same amount of people who may watch the News at Ten, etc. There is a larger debate to be had around this as to how and why this has happened and who is to ‘blame’ – it is for a myriad of reasons. There is no black and white in our complex world!
Refugees travelling through Europe is not as big a story now – is that because there are less refugees, or less media coverage of the situation?
I would say that this is because there is less media coverage of the situation. If you are part of the many Facebook pages that exist to support refugees and report on what is happening it is clear that there are still many people stuck in very dire situations trying to escape or making their journeys.
At one point in the film you are following a group of refugees trying to cross a border. One asks you not to stop filming. Did media coverage enable refugees to enter into Europe through telling their stories?
I think having cameras around made many refugees feel safer, as they felt that if people were filming and documenting their journey the police etc. would be less likely to be aggressive or heavy-handed. On the one hand the media coverage at the time highlighted the plight of refugees and forced some of the governments into some limited action but the flip side of that is that because of the sensationalist way in which news is often reported it is also easy for governments to make headlines with their pledges but not be held to account later once interest and scrutiny has abated. Also the sensationalist approach much of the media takes towards ‘immigration and refugee stories’ means that this can spark an uneven, shallow and emotive debate that creates an environment in which governments are afraid to take action that may be seen as sympathetic to refugees and allowing ‘hordes or swarms’ of ‘potential terrorists’ into our countries.
How refugees are living their lives in their new homes is an important story to tell, but is it one possible for news media to tell?
There are so many stories to tell, both positive and negative, about refugees who have reached ‘safe countries’. Sometimes they are welcomed and helped by both institutions and individuals and sometimes they find it very difficult to find peace due to hostility, a lack of effort to welcome and help integration, the fact that they are no longer home, suffering due to the many terrible experiences they may have had. It is an incredibly complex global humanitarian situation and it would be good to see an acknowledgement of that by the media and an attempt to report meaningfully on this. There are wonderful stories to tell and tragic ones – as Bruno says in our film ‘all the best and all the worse of humanity is represented in this story’.