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Communication on immigrants and refugees, between solidarity and fear

At an event held in Rome, communication on immigration and refugees has been studied, which oscillates between solidarity with the phenomenon and its positive aspects, and fear of the possible negative consequences.

Manuel Sanchez and Antonino Piccione-March 5, 2021-Reading time: 5 minutes
migrant communication

The event is promoted by the Committee "Information, Migrants and Refugees"The event, organized by the Faculty of Communication of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, the ISCOM Association and the NGO Harambee Africa International, was held on Tuesday, January 19. It is a day of study and professional training for journalists, a new opportunity to focus on media issues and contribute to more serious information that respects human dignity.

It was held via streaming, with a special focus on ethics and professional deontology. It is the second edition of the Conference of January 31, 2019, and has been attended by more than 50 people including academics, reporters, heads of humanitarian organizations and representatives of ecclesial and educational institutions. 

"To show the real and deep motivations for which so many people leave their countries in search of a better future is one of the tasks of clear, serious and objective information". With these words, Cardinal Augusto Paolo Lojudice, Archbishop of Siena and member of the Congregation for Bishops, addressed his opening greeting, recalling the importance of countering ideological narratives with "the precision of a healthy and intelligent communication that allows us to look to the future." 

Putting the person at the center

Fabio Baggio, undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, reflected on this, for whom the shortcomings of the current information panorama are, in particular: "the easy generalization, the use of inappropriate terms (illegal immigrants, illegal, extra-communitarian) and hasty analyses". The Holy Father, in his latest encyclical Fratelli tuttiHe warns against "local narcissism", concerned with creating defensive walls, and invites us to dialogue with all people "because other cultures are not enemies to be defended against, but a different reflection of the inexhaustible richness of human life". 

Among the problematic aspects of the reporting of the migratory phenomenon, the mere and sterile dissemination of figures and data by most of the media ("cold statistics") stands out, neglecting the people and their stories, each with an extraordinary identity and experience. Such is the case of three refugees, Kurdish Nabaz Kamilthe Congolese Myrra Muteba, y Malian Moussawhose testimonies accompanied the debate, moderated by Donatella Parisi, head of communication at Centro Astalli, on the social construction and perception of immigration. 

In the face of hostile campaigns and sovereigntist propaganda, it is necessary to give voice to an Italy "that is not seen, that is not known," observed Mario Marazziti, of the Comunità di Sant'Egidio, author of the book Porte Aperte (Open doors). "A country that has already started to rebuild itself, precisely around the arrival of refugees who arrived safe and sound thanks to the Humanitarian Corridors": ordinary people, who work to welcome these people and to integrate them, at their own expense, devoting time, money and human resources. This is a key to talk about "Italians" and how to build a more solidary territory.

The importance of narrating the phenomenon in its complexity

Aldo Skoda, professor of Theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University, spoke about the teachings of Gordon Allport, an eminent American psychologist, with a view to promoting communication aimed at overcoming the negative view of others, which is full of stereotypes and prejudices.

Skoda summarized the teachings of the American psychologist in the following points: "Emphasize the equality of migrants and natives, both capable of dialogue between equals; the importance of cooperative interaction, with the narration of examples of co-construction of society in which migrants and refugees have a role as protagonists, not only as users; and clear social and institutional support that highlights the reality for what it is, fleeing from easy assistentialism". 

The problem, as revealed by Fabrizio Battistelli, Professor of Sociology at the University of La Sapienza, is that "the negative aspects are always more newsworthy than the positive aspects, so there is an easy tendency to give the most scandalous news; to attract attention they focus more on the alarming aspect, even when it does not exist. The media thus go so far as to transform the "risk" of immigration into a real "threat" that makes no mention whatsoever of the benefits derived from migration. It is therefore necessary to report the phenomenon in its complexity, highlighting the advantages and disadvantages. This is the mission of politicians and the media, offering a non-instrumental communication, which does not seek only to gather audience and votes".

Listening to others

For Father Camillo Ripamonti, president of Centro Astalli, a correct perception of the migratory phenomenon cannot do without "cultivating mutual trust between immigrants and natives and promoting a culture of encounter, with the aim of listening to others, of putting oneself in their place": "to know in order to understand"-as Pope Francis says. 

"Thousands of students have the opportunity every year to listen - thanks to the meetings promoted by Centro Astalli - to the direct testimonies of men and women who have lived the experience of exile or who are faithful to religions different from our own." Focusing on young people and Italian schools to lay the foundations for a society in which ethnic, linguistic and religious diversities are considered an asset and not an obstacle to our future, is considered an important starting point in this regard.

The lexicon of the migratory phenomenon

The final reflection of the meeting focused on the language and ethics of the journalistic profession, topics introduced by journalist Irene Savio, co-author of the book "The Journalist's Profession". My name is refugee (Reports, 2016). With the support of the Observatory of Pavia, the Association Letter from Rome has explored the lexicon of the migratory phenomenon from 2013 to 2020. Its president, Valerio Cataldi, spoke about it: "In 2013 the symbolic word was "Lampedusa", theater of shipwrecks and reception; in 2014 "Mare nostrum", the rescue operation at sea of immigrants in the Sicilian Channel; and, in 2015, the day after the death of little Alan Kurdi, "Europe", as a European response to the arrival of immigrants and refugees".

"In 2016, the framework in which the phenomenon of migration is narrated begins to change: it is the "walls" the key word and in 2017 the "Ong", on which suspicions and accusations of "developing search and rescue operations at sea with an economic objective" are poured. In 2018 the key word is "Salvini" and in the following year it is still "Salvini", coupled with that of "Carola" (migration has become a topic of political encounter and disagreement). The key word in 2020 is "virus", in a scenario of health alarm where the presence of immigrants is associated with possible contagions".

They continue to be present - it has emphasized Paolo 
Lambruschi, editor-in-chief of the Avvenire newspaper - "some of the words that have highlighted the phenomenon of migration: emergency, invasion, disembarkation, ghettos, confines. All these words serve a journalism that is not very careful - where it is essential to continue to study and deepen - that does not care to understand or to make people understand well, ignoring the global nature of the phenomenon, without investigating, for example, on the new drivers of migration, managed by terrorists beyond the Mediterranean and the Balkan route. And leaving aside development projects and humanitarian missions".

It is necessary, also on the part of the media, to put pressure on Europe to promote legal channels of access, with the agreement of all member countries, in order to "put an end to human trafficking, a plague that knows no pause, by dealing rationally with the problem of economic migrants".

The authorManuel Sanchez and Antonino Piccione

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