Monday, February 5, 2018

When Media Affects Aid

Photo of AGI:Rome 2018 participants at the office of Médecins Sans Frontières, 1/11/18. 

Photo taken by AGI:Rome 2018 participant during our visit to Médecins Sans Frontières, 1/11/18.
When Media Affects Aid 
by Nadia N. B. Hajjar, MIMS

Being able to experience the AGI: Rome immersion has allowed me to have a more profound understanding of humanitarian organizations and their efforts to better serve the migrant and refugee population in Rome, Italy. As a Migration Studies scholar, my educational background has been heavily focused on theory, policies, and history. What I believed was missing from my classroom education was the understanding of real life workings and issues service organizations have, which is what I believe to have gained through this program. The opportunity to meet with different organization, and more importantly, the ability to ask questions to service providers taught me what I could not learn from in the classroom. After returning to San Francisco, I have had the time to deeply reflect on the experiences and knowledge gained from the program.

Throughout the immersion, our group met with several representatives from organizations like the Jesuit Refugee Service and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. However, for me, the most informative and impactful meeting was with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Our presenters from MSF gave an overview of the different services and projects being done within Italy, focusing on medical and psychological aid. Our candid conversation explored the realities of what is happening with migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea with special focus on refugee reception and life lived outside of reception centers. One theme covered in our discussion turned to the search and rescue operations MSF led in the Mediterranean Sea, and the resulting negative press about them in Italy. More recently, the Italian media and public have been very critical of the search and rescue operation MSF led in order to rescue migrant boats in distress. Our MSF representative mentioned how the Italian media criminalized their humanitarian aid activity, and image by calling them “taxi drivers of traffickers.” This kind of narrative and publicity is harmful in many ways to the work of organizations like MSF. MSF recently went under investigation by the Italian government for fraudulent activity, which was supported by this narrative of criminality of humanitarian efforts.

Narratives of immigration, migration and refugee issues have a tendency of being negative, false, harmful, and most of the time xenophobic. Some examples of scholarly work relating to a discourse analysis of the media’s unfavorable rhetoric on migration and refugees can be found here and here. The media’s treatment and general opinion of migrants and refugees are similar in Italy and the United States. Immigrants in the US are subjected to a constant rhetoric of criminality, which has been exacerbated more recently during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election by the then-candidate Donald Trump. Likewise, the Italian media also criminalizes and dehumanizes this extremely vulnerable population, and examples of this can be seen here with African migrants and here with Muslim migrants.

Throughout our time in Italy, our conversations constantly reflected how many of the issues that service organizations are experiencing in Italy, are similarly happening in the United States. Perhaps this also means that our two countries can learn from each other in the pursuit of better treatment of these populations.

Recommended Further Reading:

Bednarek, Monika, & Caple, Helen. 2014. “Why do news values matter? Towards a new methodological framework for analyzing news discourse in Critical Discourse Analysis and beyond”. Discourse & Society, 25 (2), 135-158.

Cisneros, J. David. "Contaminated Communities: The Metaphor of "Immigrant as Pollutant" in Media Representations of Immigration." Rhetoric and Public Affairs 11, no. 4 (2008): 569-601.

Lamb, Christopher. 2017. “‘Religion-blindness’ of politicians preventing Church groups from doing more to help migrants.” La Stampa, November 8, 2017.

Leudar, Ivan, Jacqueline Hayes, Jiří Nekvapil, and Johanna Turner Baker. "Hostility Themes in Media, Community and Refugee Narratives." Discourse & Society 19, no. 2 (2008): 187-221.

Montali, Lorenzo, Paolo Riva, Alessandra Frigerio, and Silvia Mele. 2013. "The representation of migrants in the Italian press: A study on the Corriere della Sera (1992-2009)." Journal Of Language And Politics 12, no. 2: 226-250.