Nicolás Lorite García is a full-time professor at the Department of Publicity, Public Relations and Audio-visual Communication, and Director of the Migration and Communication (MIGRACOM) observatory and research group at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB).
He has conducted several research projects on media coverage of migration and diversity from the applied audio-visual research and research-action perspectives. In this context is particular relevant his participation in the Spanish Ministry of the Economy (MINECO) (CSO2012-35771) project A multimodal study on how diversity is represented in Spanish publicity campaigns and the intercultural effects in Mediterranean cities in times of crisis, and Publicity, propaganda, otherness and citizenship: trans-methodological strategies in analysing diversity in the context of social and economic change in Brazil and Spain, funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education and CAPES-Brazil.
He has worked as a professor and researcher in various universities in Europe and the Americas: UQAM in Montreal (Canada), TEC in Monterrey (Mexico) and UNISINOS, UFRGS and UFRN in Brazil with several publications on how migration and diversity are addressed in communication and information media. He is member of the Round Table on Audio-visual Diversity of the Audio-visual Council of Catalonia (CAC).
How would you define how migrant populations are represented in Spanish media?
If we were to carry out a study of how we treat migration, I think we would see a continued focus on recent arrivals, especially in certain cases, like in the summer of 2019 with Open Arms. With migration, the media focuses on certain types of arrivals and on the spectacle around them more than on finding good solutions. We always receive data on the rafts, on those who arrive and those who die. This was one of the two key issues addressed in our first study in 1996, where we were already talking about the bipolar way in which we treat migration. The first issue addressed was about migrants who are already here and the second was the news of the raft arrivals, with photos of migrants taken from a distance.
My impression is that little attention is still being given to the more inclusive side, while the other, more sensationalist stories of raft arrivals make a greater impact. However, the most significant issue here is the continued focus on these kinds of migration, while 95% are still arriving by plane. If what interests the public most is that they are arriving here, journalism must focus on that. I think more attention needs to be paid to emigration from the countries of origin and to our public policies regarding the entire inclusion process.
Why do these arrivals make news, and why do they show such impelling images?
Because they are generally associated with “drama”, the drama of arrival. It is the hardships they face to arrive here, almost like an epic or a fiction film, with all the accompanying statistics: the number of pregnant women, children, survivors, etc. Here we have to consider educating the public in looking for other kinds of news, and having journalists change their approach on the issue, despite the day-after-day sensationalism.
Are there any similarities with the refugee crisis that started between 2015 and 2017?
Despite attempts to distinguish this situation from that of migration, they are represented as the same thing: people who come from far away to invade us. This is when some far-right policy proposals started appearing, arguing that if they want to invade us, they have to be driven out. It all comes down from film dynamic – the bad guys vs. good guys.
The lack of quality journalism is a shame. We need journalists who get down to the source, information from the countries these people are departing from, and the causes of migration. By working on these causes, we could gain a more in-depth understanding that we lack from here. But media coverage is very superficial, which does nothing to help migration processes and their incorporation as a normal dynamic in host countries.
The experiences in neighbourhoods are less “epic” than those shown in the media.
People from different origins who move into our neighbourhoods develop new, normalised daily dynamics that differ from those of the more homogenous population, bringing new life to them. This is what journalists must be able to interpret and work on in depth by asking “How are these people being included?” and “How are the new normalised dynamics between different cultures and identities being played out?”. We must look at how we analyse the coverage of migration: not just the content, but also the type of news that can promote inclusive intercultural relationships. This is where change is needed, not only by providing information that is as objective, in-depth and with as many points of view as possible, but also for these comparative views to help prevent racism and conflict in multicultural neighbourhoods and ensure the emergence of a normalised interculturality. We would like to see this new kind of normalcy transmitted, how migrant families become easily integrated, and our society more multi- and intercultural as a result.
However, journalism today is not able of communicating that diversity.
This depends on how the stories are prepared and the different company merchandising criteria and target audiences. Both private and public companies follow mainly sensationalistic information models. They say that the public want these spectacles and if they do not give it to them, they risk disappearing, especially TV news, which depends on viewer ratings. In theory, this should not affect private TV channels, but it does because they compete for viewers.
Has portrayal of migrants changed in the past twenty-five years?
Some journalists are conscious and responsible in treating this issue. Doing this in an adequate manner requires following manuals with recommendations on how migration be treated in the media. However, the habits of using fast, simplified language and terms like illegal are hard to break and taken too lightly, although not recommended, as no person can be illegal. Some journalists specialised in migration are conscious of this but end up routinely using it anyway. Some argue that it is the easiest word to use and that even politicians use it.
As for how it is treated, there have been significant changes since the mid-nineties, as many journalists are a bit more conscientious. However, the main source of information for many kinds of information is still the Guardia Civil (Spanish police). Although they themselves are partly conscious of the issue, what they send to the press is still mostly photos of rafts, drama, and everything that journalists expect to receive, because that is supposedly where the real news is.
Journalists must take the initiative to find other sources. The problem here is how to gain direct access to recent arrivals as their primary source. Among other things, migrants are often undocumented, making them hesitant to make declarations to the press. They also move in groups, making individual interviews difficult. As the main source cannot speak for themselves, most information comes from official sources, NGOs and those who address the issue from the same positions I mentioned before, and studies confirm this trend.
Editorial departments also have limited linguistic and translation capacity for the statements given. There are further difficulties in presenting the person on TV, with the same frame and lighting but with subtitles. Coverage of this person may even turn out to be negative and counterproductive, with the public being required to read his/her statements, thus reinforcing his/her otherness.
Is there significant difference between the reality of disruptive behaviour covered by the press and the reality of neighbourhood cohabitation. How can press coverage of migratory processes be improved?
These problems affect all of us and must be addressed transversally from a social class perspective rather than a merely migratory one. This issue is economic and political. However, great care must be taken when bringing into the political arena, where restrictive laws and borders are drawn. It should be included in general policies, not just in new ones. These migratory movements are not recent, they have existed since the beginning of time. Research on what is behind them shows that it is not a question of who arrives and who does not, but of underlying structural and circumstantial issues. Professional journalism must emphasise this, thereby distinguishing between mere news and quality news.
What are the basic consequences for society of receiving such stereotyped information?
Here there is a clear distinction between “us” and “them”, and this kind of information does not help create a society based on respect for diversity. All to the contrary.
That is why we have to be very careful with this kind of information, and not share it until it is been proven. Sensationalist news about migration rampant also because of the morbid fascination it arouses. Other kinds of interesting and alternative forms of information must be found. Respect for diversity must be promoted more. Migrant people should not have to dress or walk like local people. But this is hard to address in mass media, so intercultural policies need to be promoted at the neighbourhood and city level as well.
What role could States and political parties play?
Behind all of this is a savage capitalistic system, and while this societal model still predominates, economic and exploitative interests will always determine political decision-making. But there are some contradictions that I cannot understand. Transnational capitalism has a vested interest in international migration, but it is often linked to public policy proposals imposing borders, barriers and walls. And there is a continuously increasing mediocrity of the political class. It would help to have a government that facilitates the processes of integration and acceptance of diversity to become normalised and for better regulation of migratory flows without so many problems. The left, the real one, is who usually makes these kinds of straight-out proposals. We need a government that is clear on how to promote the respect of Human Rights.
We need a renewed debate on social class because it is the exploited classes that keep arriving and when we notice this, it is as if nothing is happening. They are the pear-pickers in Lleida and the strawberry-pickers in Huelva, for example. Much debate is also made about the minimum wage. If we give airtime to this issue, all of us, the most affected people, would be there on the front line to get it raised. Another example is the retired population. These transversal issues involve people from many backgrounds. There may be fewer migrants among the retired population today, but in the future, many more will have a right to these benefits and will be demanding an increase in their pensions to not be left with a miserable retirement. Other issues of general interest are adequate youth employment and job security.
We have to discuss these new arrivals, but especially focussing on these basic, fundamental issues. Economic issues and poverty are not mentioned. In editorial office agendas, migration is still a specific section with a poor focus, instead of addressing it more transversally.
What recommendations would you have for European journalists?
The first would be that if we cannot publish/air adequate images of migrant people, we do not do it. “Adequate” here means of the same quality given to the other sources that appear in this information. This has been lacking for many years. We cannot use just any image, and if there are no images, there is no news.
The second is to be careful of the adjectives used. The first step in doing quality journalism is asking the quoted source about their specific origin or nationality. Since the mid-90’s, the term sub-Saharan immigration has been used to refer to millions of people, with no further data. We need to go more in depth.
We also have to watch out with the term illegal, as no person is illegal. If used at all, it must specifically apply to a situation of lack of documentation, because either we are all illegal or no one is.
We must be careful with the narrative and ask ourselves whether it is migrant people who are speaking or if we are speaking for them, and how to treat their interventions adequately to avoid their being rejected. I recommend that if the language used in transmitting a piece of information is not adequate, it should not be shared.
There are conscientious journalists out there who treat migrants as people.