Adéla Jurečková is a coordinator of the Migration Awareness Programme at People in Need, a Prague-based international NGO. The Programme works with journalists, students of journalism and general public at improving the quality of informing about migration, integration and related issues, organizes workshops, campaigns and public events. Adéla is a co-author of recent research “MIGRATION WITHOUT MIGRANTS? The media image of migration and immigrants in Czech Republic.” The interview with her was conducted by Marie Heřmanová, a social anthropologist, researcher, journalist and member of Anthropictures Studio. For the New Neighbours project, she also created the Fact Sheet on Media and Migration in Czech Republic.
How do Czech journalists approach the issue of migration?
In an uniformed way, mostly, with a few exceptions. Before the so-called refugee crisis, many of them didn’t even know that the issue exists. Up until now many journalists still don’t have enough information and they don’t approach it as a complex issue, they pick concrete situations – for example when there is a ship in the Mediterranean that reaches European shores, they write about it or they would report on a criminal act committed by a migrant abroad, they would quote a politician what he or she said about migrants. But my general impression, based on how I follow the news and also on my personal experience of working with the journalists and on what some of them have told me personally, is that they don’t really think about it in a complex way, within the broader context, they lack the ability to connect it for example to the actual causes of migration. They also don’t have any contact with migrants themselves – so they treat the issue like something they have to cover, because readers are interested, because there’s still a certain sensational aspect to it (even though nowadays there’s less of it than it used to be), but it still has the potential to generate a lot of engagement from the readers. But if you compare it, in terms of level of information the journalist have and how expertly they can treat the issue, for example to social policy or a focus on a certain country in the context of foreign reporting, migration is still very much behind everything else.
You have mentioned the refugee crisis. Do you think it was a breakthrough, was it the moment when something has changed in the media?
Certainly, I think that before it really wasn’t an issue that journalist would treat as interesting or even worthy knowing something about. If migration was covered, then it was mostly about migrants who are already here in the Czech Republic, for example the Vietnamese or the Ukrainians – that is actually still a topic for journalists, but it is far less important than the above-mentioned refugee crisis, Muslims and asylum applications. When we talk about the coverage of lives of migrants already living here, not much has changed though – media were not interested back then, they are still not much interested today. From time to time, there would be some event or issue – for example the discussion about the need for migrants and foreign workers at our labour market – something like this would make it to the news, even though not on the front page probably. But the lives of migrants who are here, that’s still not an issue. So when the topic of refugee crisis reached Czech media in 2015, well, it has mostly stayed since then. So the issue of migration as such is basically seen through the perspective of refugee crisis. When you say migrant, the journalists picture an asylum seeker, someone coming from Africa or Middle East and they do not connect the term to someone living and working here.
Why do you think this is? What caused this general approach, why are the journalists not interested and why they do not have enough information?
I have asked some Czech journalists – not enough for it to be a representative survey, that needs to be mentioned – but those who I talked to, they couldn’t really answer the question why it is not interesting for them, mostly they just said it is not attractive for the readers, because it lacks…well, because Czechs are already accustomed to the fact that Vietnamese and Ukrainians are living here, it’s not problematic, it’s not new, it lacks the sensation of newness, urgency, of something newsworthy. I do think it is a false assumption of course, however this was the explanation they offered me. And the other thing that I already mentioned, that they do not know any migrants, also plays a role here – they are not able to grasp the issue, find the interesting thing in it, because they have no idea what migrants living here actually deal with. So if there is no external problem, an “added value” – like a criminal act or let’s say a conflict in a community where many migrant workers live, and the locals protest against them – they just can’t see the news value in it.
So they don’t actively look for it?
So even if the demand for the coverage has increased since 2015, the awareness among journalists has not increased.
Not really, my impression is that it has only changed very little. What could increase it, possibly? If the journalist studied it, read about it, but in some broader context. But that doesn’t really happen, since they only inform about single, concrete events. Other way how to increase it would be if they visited the migrants or refugees themselves, talked to them, if they visited the countries of origin – but that doesn’t really happen that often and if it happens, people doing it are the ones who are already informed, already interested, that’s why they would go to the field in the first place. They are able to get information, start a cooperation with some organization who offers press trips (People in Need often takes journalists to press trips to its missions in Africa and elsewhere – note of the interviewer). So the level of awareness has not increased generally, maybe it has increased on an individual level, some people started to be more interested, but not generally. At least not much.
If I asked you to connect this situation to the social context here, do you think that this is also caused by the fact that there are not that many migrants in the Czech Republic – or there are, as we mentioned, by they are mostly invisible? Based on your experience of working with the journalists – is the reason their lack of personal experience? I’m asking because this is the usual answer, that our general lack of information about migration and our general negative attitude is caused by the lack of personal experience. What do you think about this explanation?
Well, my answer would be what you already mentioned – the migrants are here, of course. 5% of Czech population are migrants, which is not some staggeringly high number, but for example here in Prague, every sixth person is an immigrant – so it would follow that the journalist probably have some foreigners in their social circle. But it would not be people from Middle East or Africa, because this group is really not very much represented here and maybe they would not be Ukrainians or Vietnamese either – if we don’t count shopping in the Vietnamese grocery stores, because few people actually start the conversation with the shop owners. So they don’t have the information of how hard it is for example to get a working permit, live here, what sort of reaction the migrants encounter etc. This is not part of the social bubble in which journalists live. So they do lack direct experience – but it is not impossible to have it, the migrants are here, there are organizations where they work, even if you are just looking for a respondent to a simple news notice you’re writing, it is possible to find the contacts. So back to your question – it is not that journalists are not in contact with migrants, but they are not in contact with them in their social bubbles, on the same social level as they perceive themselves, to put it bluntly.
So the fact that news about migration lack diversity is also caused by the fact that there are only few journalists interested in the issue and writing about it.
Exactly. There are so few of interested journalists. In the end I think that all of these problems that we are discussing are somehow part of a bigger problem, that you could possibly call crisis of Czech media – I am not sure if to call it crisis, but let’s say problems of Czech media market. For example the social bubble that I mentioned, the one that journalists are living in – not only migrants are not represented in it, but also people from the countryside…of course there are people born in a village who then came to Prague and studied journalism. But on a general level, I think that journalists lack the connection to certain geographical spaces and social contexts. So they are inherently biased, they lack the experience with certain kind of environments, including the immigrant one. And these problems are present in all media and they are rooted in the problems of financing of the media.
If we talk about migration coverage again – if you don’t have budget for a trip somewhere, you end up generating sensational snippets of news, even if you are not working for a tabloid, but you still need to cover migration, because it attracts the audience, people click on it. So you just write something about it. Many editors and redactors just work with press releases from the Czech Press Agency instead of creating their own content. They work from the table, they only pick what they think will be attractive – so we are back to the coverage of migrant’s criminality etc. This is reflected also in other areas, not only migration. But in migration, the problem is that media are basically the only source of information that people have. In this case, bad journalistic practice leads to distorted perception of the issue by the general public. Whereas with other issues, let’s say domestic politics, housing, social policies, people actually have some personal experience and they can compare the media coverage to that and have a more differentiated perspective in the end.
To follow up on that, do you think then that the media play an important role in the shaping of public opinion about migration?
I have already answered partly. I think they play a crucial role precisely because of the lack of other sources of information about this topic. What other opportunities do people have to learn something about migration? You can spend your time reading studies, but many people won’t do that of course, because they don’t have time and they don’t have enough expert knowledge to even understand the academic discourse. At the same time, media and politicians have already formed some sort of pre-conception of the issue and there already is a certain polarity in the society around the issue. People who are already convinced that migration is problematic and they are afraid of it – these people do not trust academic sources or NGOs working in the field and these are the only other options besides media. We can also mention international media, but they are not accessible to everyone, if there’s a language barrier.
Do you see any differences between various types of media – for example private media and public broadcasters? Is there any difference in the coverage of migration?
I will maybe repeat myself, but let’s just point out a few things from our research. All the negative tendencies that we already mentioned – like scandalization, criminalization, the tendency to just let the politicians speak and act as their voice, consequently a politicization of the problem, the tendency to treat it as something special instead as an integral part of everyday life of the society – this is all reflected in the general framing of the coverage, where the main frames are politics, politicians‘ opinions and speeches, refugee crisis, elections. In our last research, we did not cover public service media specifically, but in the previous one done by Masaryk University (see also the interview with Michal Tkaczyk on the New Neighbours website, note of the interviewer), the authors observed that there is maybe a small difference in the quality of the reporting or in the frequency of the news about migration – but the tendencies are the same. Which is interesting in the context of the frequent attacks on public service media, who are being accused of being biased and informing too positively about migration and also for example about the European Union. That is obviously not true.
But I see the qualitative difference at least in the diversity of voices – the public broadcasters have to ask all politicians, not only those with the strongest views against migration and they also inform about some broader processes of migration that are relevant for Czech Republic. It is hard to make general assumption, but I have observed this at least on the level of individual reporters. I don’t have that many sources here, but some journalist working in Czech TV (public broadcaster, note of the interviewer) told me that they had the discussion, that they talked about how to cover migration in a balanced way. I have not heard anything similar about any other media – that they would start the discussion about balance – like, let’s not think about if it is negative or positive, let’s inform about everything that is really relevant, not just about what politicians and/or the audience think it’s relevant. I have even heard that they have created a list of terms, who is a migrant, who is an asylum seeker, who is a refugee, etc. That is definitely not the standard in Czech media.
Let’s talk more about the study that you did. What are the main conclusions?
It is not very positive, to be honest. I will try to reconstruct the main conclusions: definitely the politicization of the issue is one of them – this is based on several findings, for example the fact that most often quoted speakers are politicians, state authorities, even foreign politicians, politicians from extreme and right-wing parties are represented in a significant way. NGOs, experts are under-represented compared to that. We have found that even priests were quoted more often than migrants themselves.
So the migrants are completely missing.
Yes. You could say it like that – it is an exception, if migrants are given the voice in the news. So the politicization is based on who the speakers are, for one thing. But we also did an analysis of keywords such as “migrant, refugee and migration” and we have found that the frequency of use of all of these terms increased before the elections. It was mild, it hasn’t skyrocketed or anything, but it was visible. So it is a political issue that’s targeted on purpose before elections by political actors, even at municipal level.
Which is interesting, given the fact that municipal politicians have zero power to influence migration policies.
Yes, that’s why I’m mentioning it. It works even on this level, even if you can’t expect the politicians to do anything about it. So all of these bizarre campaign slogans like “Not one migrant will enter Havířov“ or “Havířov without migrants” (actual examples of campaign slogans from a Czech middle-sized town, note of the interviewer) actually work. Besides politicizations, I would also mention another tendency that we could call de-personification – the news were rarely about people and their individual stories, the reporting was about a “problem.” Even in the previous analyses, we can observe that migrants are depicted as a mass of people, as a threat. One more interesting thing here – the keywords migrants, migration and refugee had trended in 2015, but the frequency has decreased since then, more significantly with “refugee“, less with “migrant”. Which means that even when the media were talking about concrete people, they were talking about “migrants”. The same thing has not happened for the term “migration” though – so the problem has remained, but the people have disappeared mostly. This is one of the manifestations of the de-personification trend.
You have also mentioned scandalization.
By that, I mean exactly this tendency to inform about problems connected to migration – I mean, there is nothing wrong with informing about problematic things per se, but when it comes to migration, it was usually connected to criminality, unrest, criminal acts, conflicts. If we look at the framing of the news, the most used one was the political one – political meetings, negotiations, etc. The second one was criminality though. You also find it for example in news about failed integration in Germany or Europe in general. It is interesting that Germany was mentioned specifically. We have looked into that, because we all had the impression that it is happening, but we were not sure if we are not just being biased – but the data confirm it. In the sample of news about criminality and failed integration, I believe some 60 – 70% were about Germany.
That is a bit absurd.
Yes, it is absurd that we are somehow fixated on the idea of Germany “failing” at integration and migration management. I don’t know why that is, we don’t have data to form any conclusion – but we did a comparative research between Czech Republic, Slovakia and Estonia. And in Slovakia, Germany was also present, but mostly Austria, a neighbouring country, played this “warning” role as well as Hungary. In Estonia, it was Finland. So there is this interesting phenomenon that we have called “peeking to the neighbour’s garden”. We compare ourselves to the closest country available that has received a significant number of immigrants and we are curious how it is playing out for them, what problems do they face. To add my personal opinion, the Czech fascination with Germany is maybe also based on some historically rooted rivalry, where we have always felt marginal compared to our powerful neighbour and now we somehow really want to be able to say, look, we told you guys not to accept migrants, we have been stronger and wiser and we did not let them in, we won. I think this a strong sentiment in the Czech society and it is almost painful to watch it unfold, to see how the data clearly show our negative bias towards Germany.
That leads me to another question – what about integration? From what you already said, I get the impression that media cover migration as such, but integration is not an issue at all and if we talk about it, we like to talk about how it failed elsewhere. What is your take on this?
I do share this impression, definitely. I would even go as far as to say that many journalists and the majority of the public have no clue what integration actually is, what the term means. I mean, I know that it is difficult to define and sometimes even expert do not agree on how we should define it, but I am not talking about an expert discourse here. The journalists are only interested in integration when it is clearly not working – then its newsworthy. So the media like to present us examples of how migrants “did not integrate well into the society”. But since no one really understands the process of integration, this is very distorted. And it is connected to the fact they do not write about people already living and working here, as I already said.
Now that we’re talking about it, I‘m thinking we should have included it in the study – to ask them what they know about our integration policies, do they even know that Czech Republic has an integration programme? So to conclude, integration is not an issue so far as it is working, it becomes an issue when it becomes problematic. And you can’t really explain this with a lack of personal experience – there are enough well integrated migrants to have material to cover.
On the other hand, this is reflected in the municipal and local politics – our colleagues, who work with local authorities, when they go to them and offer help with integration, the authorities say, nah, we don’t need help, we don’t have any problems. So the people are basically invisible and the politicians do not understand the need for an actual, pro-active integration policy. Why would be interested in helping someone integrate, if we have no problems with integration? They don’t see it as a preventive issue – that integration policy is meant not only to prevent problems such as criminality, but also to help people to know their rights, help them in a vulnerable situation. The state is not communicating this at all. Coming back to the media, it is not only their fault then – of course they could be more pro-active in asking and searching information themselves, but on the other hand, if the state and state authorities communicated about integration more, it would help the media and the public in the end.
Are there any other suggestions on how the situation could be improved? Do you know about any interesting projects, practices or concrete cases that could serve as examples? Please tell us also what you do at the Migration Awareness Programme at People in Need, since it is definitely one of the good practices that should be mentioned.
Well, this might be the most difficult question so far! It is easier to analyse the situation and pointing out what’s wrong than come up with some real solutions. I have already mentioned before that I think all of these problems are actually structural issues on the Czech media market – and there are no easy solutions to those, of course. Bigger budget for trips abroad, more thorough background analysis, less pressure on the journalist to work quickly and more pressure to actually do a good job…all of this would help and not only when it comes to migration. The overall development of Czech media, where we can see decreasing interest in foreign reporting, international news being covered as these snippets and fragments of problems – this is an obstacle if what we need is a more thorough investigation for example of what is happening in the countries of origins of the immigrants.
Here, NGOs can play a role. What we do, when we manage to fundraise money for it, is to invite journalists to travel with us to the field, but this is of course limited, not everyone can come, not all editors-in-chief will even allow their staff to go on an NGO-organized press trip, because they don’t have enough people and they can’t afford to miss a reporter for a week. I also understand their doubt if it is balanced and the fear that they will be blamed again for being biased when they are cooperating with an NGO. The general assumption is that the NGO will only show one side of the problem – we try not to do that, of course, but I understand their reservation towards us. But out of the few things you can actually do to improve the situation, this is definitely one that makes sense. Another thing that might partly overcome the doubts mentioned above, are micro-grants for journalists to cover analysis, research and travel. We are just in process of designing such a programme – where a journalist could apply with his or her own project and we can also help with contacts etc., but he or she can have a budget to do his or her own thing. This is what you can practically do to improve foreign reporting.
When it comes to the domestic issues, we have to start the debate about integration – our aim is to point out that migrants are here, they do live here, work here and there are so many interesting topics and issues that you can work with if you know where to start. It might be hard to explain this to journalists who already have some sort of established practice or are part of a media that is generally not interested in the issues, which is one of the reasons why we focus on working with the students. They are preparing to be a journalists and if we provide them with the information on how to approach the issue, where to get information, whom to contact, I hope that it could encourage them to become interested, to find out that this in reality a very rich topic and there are migrants that they can include, give them voice. We are organizing a course for journalism students at the Faculty of Social Sciences at Charles University, every other semester and we are trying to attract young people, journalists just at the beginning of their career. Maybe not all of them will be interested and maybe not all of them will end up practising journalism in the end, but if only a few people every semester become interested and willing to learn more, it could definitely be a start of something, some bigger change.
What we did before and maybe now is the time to start doing it again is to engage young migrants who have journalistic aspirations and give them support and also to inspire them to think about being active in the media and in the public space. It is important to work on the diversity in the newsrooms – if there are migrants working there, it can change a lot, even if it just means to have a colleague who’s trustworthy to you as a reporter, whom you can ask and he can say, I think this is one-sided, you should also look at it from this perspective or just say, I know some people, I can give you some contacts, I know people who speak the language, I can find out information about countries that we do not normally cover that much. Because journalists are of course a bit afraid to write about these things, if they do not have enough information.
The project “Crossings” that you did a few years ago is a good example.
Yes, that was our cooperation with Czech Radio – Radio Wave, their youth station (public broadcaster, note of the interviewer), where we engaged migrants as authors. They worked on the programming, on moderating and everything that was needed around preparing the show in terms of journalistic routine. They worked together with journalists from Czech Radio. I think this a great example of good practice and it would be good to restart the project, if we would be able to find enough people who would want to be part of it.
One other thing I’d like to do is an inspiration from Germany, where they do have fellowships and grant programmes for young migrants, who want to work in the media. Of course, there are much more people like that in Germany and the process is very professional, they have to go through several interviews and many steps of the application process, they need to have some previous media experience at least as interns, etc. – it is based on the assumption that if they will be given the support to start, they will stay in the media and really dedicate themselves to the career. They have maybe a few months long paid fellowship and support in the form of education, special courses and seminars and they are being encouraged and supported to apply for a position in some respected media. I think it should be possible to develop a similar programme here.
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