My journey through reporting refugees: an ABJ blog

When presented with this Reporting Refugees assessment earlier this semester I was forced to assess my ideology on refugees and their treatment in Australia. What I soon discovered was that I was not as educated on the subject as I thought I was and that I was really quite ignorant of their plight. All that was about to change.

I always knew this assessment was going to be difficult, but I now know how far I can push myself and what I am actually capable of. First however, allow me to take you through the process that led me to this discovery.

Once pairing up with Brock and searching for refugee talent online, we contacted the Migrant and Refugee Settlement Service (MARSS). The man on the other end, in great excitement and anticipation to help us bring this project to fruition, put us in touch with a Sudanese artist, Ajaang, who agreed to be part of our assessment. Ajaang moved to Australia four years ago after fleeing Sudan via a Kenyan refugee camp. Instantly, I thought “what perfect talent”.

A meeting was soon facilitated at the MARSS offices where we learnt about Ajaang’s experience as a refugee, saw his amazing artwork and learnt about his upcoming exhibition that was to be organized by MARSS.

We were amazed at how easy we had found the talent, what an amazing story Ajaang had and how eager he was to be interviewed. My first thought: “Wow! This is so easy! I can’t believe this is happening so quickly.” If only I touched wood.

Brock and I were eager to get the ball rolling so after weeks of contact with MARSS we were shocked to discover that our talent had not been cleared by the MARSS Manager, and that we did not in fact have the go-head to interview Ajaang and nor would we be given the go ahead.

You can imagine the anger (and loss of appetite) I succumbed to, only a month out from submission, when faced with the task of literally starting all over again.

With helpful hints and persuasive emails from Julie Posetti, our tutor, to the Manager from MARSS we were certain we would be able to salvage the interview we had with Ajaang, as he himself had given us permission. However it was to no avail: all contact was rejected and Brock and I were to start looking for new talent.

Back to the drawing board again, I contacted sources I had sought out before Ajaang came along hoping they would be of some help this time around. Unfortunately I was left hanging again and tearing strips out of my hair.

Then I came to the last option. I (although against certain ethics I’ve been taught) sought out a classmate whom I assumed was from Sudan. Luckily, she was not offended by my assumption and I soon discovered Yar was also a refugee that spent nearly a decade in a Sudanese refugee camp before moving to Australia at the age of 15. Finally our hard work had paid off and perhaps the karma gods were giving us something to work with for assessment.

With only a day’s notice, we were interviewing Yar, discovering her story and in conjunction, although many other students found it troublesome to get in contact with a UC representative, let alone interview one, we included grabs from the Manager of the Student Equity and Access Office, Laurie Boal. This factor alone has taught me how much can be done in a small time frame. Others had months to interview and edit footage. We had weeks and we still managed to get together a story that we were happy with.

After many late nights in the editing suits, our project was complete and although we had some trouble with audio quality, we were shortlisted by our tutor and again by the ABC. Through adversity, we came out on top and it was only because we fought for our project instead of accepting defeat and giving up.

The number one lesson I’ve learnt through this assessment is to ALWAYS obtain contact details (phone numbers, emails, addresses, blood types) from your talent AS SOON AS YOU MEET THEM. If I had done this with Ajaang, we may have been able to meet with him away from the harsh paternalism of a third-party organization.

More importantly however, I learnt not to give up. When faced with such a tough battle, I knew when it was time to move on and find another talent.

Trust your intuition. Journalists will get nowhere if they don’t go with their gut feeling and pursue a story they feel needs to be told. I wasn’t positive Yar was a refugee, but there was no harm in asking. My (although perhaps unethical) treatment of the situation led to a great interview which in turn led to our shortlisting for the ABC radio show.

On reflection, this project had me re-assessing my ideas on refugees and asylum seekers. Prior to this assessment, I hadn’t had any contact with refgees and asylum seekers. As described by Johnson et al (2009) the issue of “forced migration” was hotly debated and had become a “fertile ground for politics and ideology”.

I had formed my idea of their plight through politically charged media outlets that, according to Gale (2004) reflected upon politicians that took advantage of those uneducation with “politics of fear”, which could have proved dangerous going into this assessment. I feel the media has amazing control over how we perceive asylum seekers, as explained by Hay (2011) where Australia is presented as “being overrun” by asylum seekers. Hailing from a small-minded country town I was nervous of how I would react when faced with communication barriers.

 

I admit that I was of a more harsh opinion on this contentious issue than others in the class may have been. I now know that was just down to lack of education on the matter which resulted in ignorance. I am still against asylum seekers coming to Australia illegally purely for economic gain rather than from fleeing warfare and human rights abuses. This abuse of our human rights obligations can put a lot of stress on our economy as we house asylum seekers that have enough money (and safety) to come to Australia legally while those that seriously need help are looked past. Having said that, I have always been sympathetic to those that are seeking refuge from the terrors of warm famine and disease.

During the course of this project, I learn how amazingly terrible the plight of Kenyan refugees truly is. My talent, Yar, spent nearly a decade in dreadful conditions with no food, clean water or amenities until the UNHCR stepped in some time later. The struggle of those that fled the civil war in Sudan is unimaginable and it is only now I see how we must help those in similar situations. My perception now realizes how, as also supported by Lauder et al, how negatively the media portrays asylum seekers (2008: 2).

Because of this realization I feel the government needs to have a hard look at who is being given refugee and asylum seeker status. Is it given to those that really deserve it? I feel the government needs to ensure our resources aren’t being wasted on those that may not be as deserving, for instance, those that have enough money and the safety to come legally. I have friends that have migrated to Australia legally and they feel the same way. “Why did we have to wait when others get to jump the cue that could have waited just the same?” In all though, my view has been altered by meeting a refugee and I no longer rely on the one-sided nature of political discourse on the subject.

One of the biggest lessons I have learnt throughout however is the way in which I report on such a touchy subject. Reporting refugees has taught me to me more empathetic in my interviewing, the construction of my questions and my editing. As Holmes (2011) investigated into a Today Tonight investigative piece, it is paramount to reflect asylum seekers ethically and as true as possible. I have to assess the talent from their point of view: “how would I feel if I were being asked these questions? How would I want these issues to be addressed?” All in all this was a fantastic assessment that has taught me a plethora of lessons to take into the professional work force.

The learning continues…

 

SOURCES:

Gale, P (2004) The refugee crisis and fear: Populist politics and media discourse, Journal of Sociology, 40:321, retrieved from http://jos.sagepub.com.ezproxy1.canberra.edu.au/content/40/4/321.full.pdf+html

Hay, S (2011) Refugees in Australia, Retrieved from http://www.socialpolicyconnections.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/refugees-australia-sally-may-oct111.pdf on 28/11/2011.

Holmes, J (2011), Today Tonight: refugees from journalistic decency, published on The Drum and retrived from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-10-27/holmes-shaming-today-tonight/3603986

Johnson et al (2009) Critical Social Policy, Vol. 29 (2): 191-215, retrieved from http://www.sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav

Leudar I et al (2008) Hostility themes in media, community and refugee narratives, Discourse Society, 19:187

 


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