Tuesday, 8 September 2015

When Peter Greste

and his colleagues were sent to jail in Egypt I was not surprised. I had been watching Al Jazeera reports via our SBS news. An Egyptian colleague was in London at the time and warned me it was likely to happen.
The problem was that the news reports were perceived as being "biased". The other side of the story was not getting enough attention. Had Greste and his colleagues given more time to the other side of the story, even in a neutral manner, it is likely they would not have been incarcerated. (They may still have been deported.)
It is always a problem for journalists, particularly in a conflict situation. They are there to report the news as they see it but they are also there to sell the news. Selling the news is every bit as important as reporting it. 
Journalists are also only as good as their sources. A good journalist will cultivate multiple sources because they know they will be given biased information. The bias may not always be intentional but it often is. 
And there are times when a story is just too good to be ignored even though the media knows it is not true or unlikely to be true. The motivation for reporting it may or may not be one for the good but it will be designed to provoke a response.
And that is the story with the little boy on the beach. It is an horrific story and nothing at all should suggest otherwise. No small child should drown on a small boat without a life jacket.
But now it seems there was more to the story than that - more than the convenient cameraman filming someone picking him up off the beach. There are now questions being asked about the story his father told the media. Was his father even on the boat? Were they, as reports suggest, safely settled in Istanbul for three years? If so, what was the motivation for leaving? 
These things have not been extensively explored by the media. It can't be done because the story has been used to get massive support for those flowing across borders to countries like Germany.
Now please don't misunderstand me. There is an humanitarian crisis. It is real. There are more people on the move than Europe can comfortably cope with and many of them are on the move for very good reasons. They have no homes to go back to. There is no work. Groups like IS and the Taliban are still active. It's dangerous. The rule of law is the rule of thugs. I don't blame people for wanting to leave. I would want to leave.
But we also need to realise that the news we are seeing on the television screen, hearing on radio and reading in the papers or on the net is not necessarily giving us an accurate picture of what is going on. When we criticise governments for lack of  action and for inhumanity we are not always in possession of the facts that matter. The complexities of the situations are grossly over-simplified for general public consumption.
Our Prime Minister has suggested that this country should be concentrating on taking in women, children and families from refugee camps. Demands that we take in 10,000 or 20,000 or even 30,000 are being made by groups who know they won't have to actually handle such numbers - indeed the Opposition knows that their demands could not be easily met and that the costs would be high. 
The Prime Minister's response has come from the sort of advice that I hear being given in my job - from the aid workers on the ground. The Leader of the Opposition will know that - or should know that. 
We can all use the little boy on the beach to stir up public opinion. It is an incident which should never have happened and one that has left me deeply disturbed. But it is not the beginning or the end of the story or even the story itself. 
Refugees don't have a choice. Let's remember that and work from there, not from media stories designed to sell the news.

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