The MEDIVA Workshop in Athens
29 March 2012, Athens Greece
The Athens workshop of MEDIVA presents the results of the MEDIVA Media indicators in Greece assessing whether and to what extent specific media outlets (newspapers, TV stations, news web sites) evaluated reflect diversity and promote migrant integration in Greek society.
In particular the MEDIVA project pilot study implementing the indicators in the Greek context has assessed and presents results on the newspapers: Kathimerini, Eleftheros Typos, Proto Thema, the TV channels: MEGA and NET and the Web news site in.gr.
The event opened with a brief welcome and a general presentation of the project by Anna Triandafyllidou, Scientific Coordinator of MEDIVA and Professor (part time) at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS), of the European University Institute (EUI), of Florence. Anna Triandafyllidou outlined the role of the media in reflecting diversity and promoting a positive or indeed negative representation of migrants and their contribution to society. She outlined the main areas of research and action of the MEDIVA project notably, the MEDIVA database, which includes studies in seven European languages (English, Italian, German, Dutch, Greek, Bulgarian and Polish) concerning various aspects of the relation between migrants and the media; the MEDIVA web site and its section on the media ethics codes in the EU27; the MEDIVA thematic reports which analyse the content of the media as regards migration related news; newsgathering and newsmaking practices; concerning migration related news; practices and policies as regards recruitment, employment and training of migrants for the media profession. The thematic reports include not only the works analysed in the database but also materials taken from 68 interviews with senior journalists in six European countries (Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK).
After this brief introduction, Eda Gemi, the main researcher for the Greek case study of the MEDIVA project, presented the results of the pilot study assessing the Greek media capacity to reflect diversity and promote migrant integration on the basis of the MEDIVA indicators . The pilot study assessed six different media outlets: the newspapers Kathimerini, Proto Thema and Eleftheros Typos, the TV channels Mega and NET and the news web site in.gr.
The main findings presented can be summarised as follows:
The Greek media do not have specialised programmes or sections on migration related news nor specialised programmes concerning the countries of origin. However they do have specialised journalists covering related topics – these are not people who have received a special training but rather people who have specialised on the job out of their personal interest.
Concerning news gathering several sources are used by most of the media surveyed and migrant sources are consulted.
Generally the media do not have specialised ethics codes in treating migration related news and issues but they generally monitor for racist language and do not allow for the publication of racist and xenophobic statements. In one newspaper however (Proto Thema), racist language is published in the name of freedom of expression.
There are no special recruitment, employment or training schemes. Regarding recruitment and employment the idea is that first generation immigrants in Greece did not have the necessary language fluency to work as journalists. There is no perception of discrimination but also no awareness that migrants do face glass ceilings and that they should be represented among media professionals. As regards training there is no training whatsoever with the exception of the news web site which provides for training in new technologies for journalism
Concerning the content of the media there is limited interest in migration related news. Migrants are overall represented in negative terms and in passive roles. A more careful analysis shows however that:
News items containing information on migrants or on migrant related topics have been extremely rare in the sampled period: below 3 % and actually generally between 1% and 2% of total news items.
Interestingly the highest percentage of news items referring to migrants/migration related issues is recorded in Proto Thema (with 2.3%) where all these items present migrants negatively and as passive actors (100%!). The highest frequency of migrant related news is recorded in the news portal in.gr with 2% and in the NET Tv news channel (also with 2%). While in the other three media outlets reviewed news items referring to migrants were between 1 and 1.5%
With the exception of Proto Thema and its 100% negative representation of migrants, other media offer predominantly negative representations but to a lesser extent (in about ¾ of all items migrants are represented negatively, i.e. creating problems, doing bad things. In 90% of all news items referring to migrants, migrants are represented as passive social actors, i.e. being acted upon rather than contributing themselves to social and political life).
These percentages differ only in the case of Mega TV where the positive vs. negative and passive vs. active representation of migrants (whenever they are referred to) is balanced (approximately 50-50).
Generally news of special concern to migrants receive very low attention during the sampling period, notably below 10% of total news referring to migrants.
While the results of this pilot study are telling about the ways in which selected Greek media outlets represent migrants and present quite a disappointing picture, it should also be noted that migration related news may experience ‘peak times’ when an event takes place that attracts the attention of the media. There we would have had a much larger coverage of migration related news and perhaps a greater variety of representations (positive vs. negative, passive vs. active, various migration related issues reported). However we chose not to follow this ‘crisis sampling’ approach because we believe that the nature of the selected ‘crisis events’ (e.g. the hunger strike of the irregular migrants in spring 2011) would have also conditioned the positive vs. negative representation of the migrants in the news coverage. It is actually telling that it would be difficult to find an event that has made the news because of its novelty, emotional value, or general interest that refers to migrants in Greece.
The results of the Greek media assessment on the basis of the MEDIVA indicators were commented by Alexandra Christakaki, journalist in the public broadcast TV channel NET and organisational secretary of POESI the Panhellenic Federation of Journalists. Alexandra Christakaki noted that most people listen to the news on TV and that TV can be much more cruel, promoting stereotypes that are stigmatizing all foreigners than newspapers and news web sites which often dedicate more space and more attention in the analysis of issues. She noted that stigma is the main feature of migration related news items. News are treated as a product to be sold to the audience. The audience is seen as having a common sense understanding of issues mainly based on pre existing attitudes. Hence journalists avoid offering critical reports but rather tend to reinforce these attitudes so as to sell their infotainment product.
Alexandra Christakaki noticed that few people prepare properly in reporting on migration related items, hence they are not specialized and rather point to arousing the emotions of the audience or readership. She noted the extensive use in the Greek media of stigmatizing words like lathrometanastes (illegal migrants), xenoi (aliens), paranomoi (illegals) which present undocumented migrants as criminals. She also noted the distinction that is often made between ‘refugees’ who are ‘good’ and ‘migrants’ that are ‘bad’. Her view is that many journalists are not well acquainted with any ethics codes and rather offer easy to use stereotypes of the kind ‘Albanians are criminals’, ‘Pakistanis do not pose problems’ etc. Police bulletins offer the main source of news on migration while there is no concern about the problems faced by migrants including those who are undocumented. She mentioned the square of Ag. Panteleimonas, a place well known for its high concentration of irregular migrants and the violent attacks by far right wing groupings on those migrants and asylum seekers, including women and children. She noted that such issues however do not make the headlines either on newspapers or on TV.
Ms Christakaki noted that newsmaking has mostly to do with the agenda of the specific media outlet rather than with the head of the news section or the director of the newspaper or TV channel. It is the ownership who decides what is the political agenda of the specific newspaper or TV channel with regard to migration.
Concluding her commentary Ms Christakaki said she was not at all surprised by the low ratings of the Greek media in the MEDIVA pilot study and believed that the study represented well the reality. The floor was then opened for debate.
Several researchers from the audience asked questions on the methodology of the pilot study which was clarified by the speakers Anna Triandafyllidou and Eda Gemi. In particular questions were raised on the choice of newspapers. Eda Gemi noted that at the time of sampling Eleftherotypia, a major left wing newspaper had stopped its circulation and that is why it had not been included in the study. The details on how the passive/active and positive/negative role of migrants in the news were also explained by Eda Gemi and Anna Triandafyllidou.
A representative from the Greek Council for Refugees and legal expert on asylum asked the question: how can NGO and experts make a breakthrough in the media world and promote their own views and ‘news items’ in the media agenda.
A journalist of Albanian background and ‘liaison journalist’ for the MEDIVA project, Niko Ago, noted the absences of recruitment practices targeting immigrants of first or second generation in Greece and noted that breaking the glass ceiling is particularly hard in the Greek media. Indeed migrants as the study also showed are employed as technical staff or cleaners but not as journalists.
Another representative of the Greek Council of Refugees noted that the role of the social media in reflecting diversity and promoting migrant integration should not be neglected and that NGOs and experts should utilize them more to distribute information and commentaries.
The MEDIVA researchers confirmed the view of several people from the audience that in other EU countries too the news agenda concerning migration is formed by the political parties and the overall political agenda rather by the ‘news value’ of specific events or by a more systematic concern in informing and commenting on migration related issues.
Several participants from the audience, who are of migrant background, noted the continuously unstable stay status that migrants face in Greece because of the Greek legal immigration policy and how this hampers any meaningful participation in public life including the area of the media communication.
An expert from I-RED a research centre and NGO on migration and discrimination issues noted that the trends are common in several EU countries: there is a rise of racist and xenophobic discourse especially in view of the forthcoming elections in France, Greece and elsewhere. Such a discourse he argued creates a problem for democracy and is not an issue of ‘making a favour’ to migrants by ‘allowing them’ to participate in the media communication.
A sociology experts also wondered whether the racist discourse aims at pleasing the audience or at forming public attitudes. Indeed this is a relevant research question that goes beyond the interest of the present MEDIVA study but that is very topical given the present political climate in the EU.
Another migration expert noted that journalists often do not check the news they receive and rather reproduce them uncritically. They are generally not well informed about the policies and the measures they comment, they do not investigate well on the issues that they report e.g. the management of irregular migration in Greece and the relevant use of EU funds.
A representative of a migration information web site and a journalist noted the worrying concern that far right violent groupings in Greece have attracted as members second generation migrant youth.
A researcher from the Hellenic Centre for Social Research EKKE presented the results of a recent study concerning four newspapers in the period 2003-2006 and noted that she could also confirm the importance of the newspapers’ political profile in shaping the news and language used on migrants and diversity.
A photographer also noted that the photos commissioned to him show how much there is a political agenda in presenting for instance irregular migrants in Athens.
The second part of the event took the form of a Roundtable on media and diversity chaired by Tasos Telloglou, from the newspaper Kathimerini and the private television channel Skai. The three MEDIVA liaison journalist participated in the roundtable notably Ioanna Sotirchou, from the newspaper Eleftherotypia, Niko Ago from the newspaper Avgi and the web site Protagon.gr and Maria Delithanasi formerly in the newspaper Kathimerini and currently at the Athens News Agency(APE).
The three journalists commented on the difficulties in reporting on migration in Greece a) for ‘objective’ reasons notably the lack of a consistent and effective migration policy in managing migration and integrating migrants and their families, b) because of the political agenda that is behind each media outlet and which seriously constrains the capacity of the journalist to do her/his job properly, and c) because of the invisible glass ceiling that migrants face in the media profession.
The debate continued heated among the audience turning mainly on the ways in which migration is being utilised in the Greek pre election campaign (the campaign has unofficially started even though the elections are not yet officially announced but are expected to take place on 6 May 2012) by parties to gain votes playing on the citizens feeling of economic insecurity and using migrants, especially recently arrived irregular migrants from Asia as scapegoats. However, as Niko Ago noted even long term and well settled immigrants in Greece like him, ‘take their passport and stay permit with them’ on a day like this by fear of being arrested by the police because they look ‘foreign’.
The common political and research question raised by the participants was the need to use the internet, social media and other communication channels to counteract racist and xenophobic discourses and promote a positive view of diversity in Greek society. The audience and the MEDIVA researchers and liaison journalists recognised that the migration related issues are complex and multifaceted and therefore need more careful and polyphonic news gathering and news making and critical analysis on the part of journalists with a view of informing the citizens properly rather than misinforming them
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