Every year I look forward to the arrival of the Mérida Migration Journalism Congress with crazy illusion. As Joaquín Reyes would say, journalism is a world of vice and mamarrachería in which I feel totally integrated. And this year has been better than any other. Dozens of professionals from literally four continents have gathered in Extremadura and the networks to talk about the challenges of covering human mobility in this troubled time.
I share with you some of the many reflections that this year’s experience suggested to me.
1. The coverage of migrations is, ay, Fashion. More and more people, from more places and in more diverse professional contexts are getting muddy to report on this matter. Professionals who cover routes – the North Triangle, the Sahel, the Middle East, the Andean region – and who tell the epic, sometimes tragic, of the lives in the countries of transit and destination. The gaze on these migrants and their context offers a kaleidoscopic image of the societies that we are, because there are few themes so embedded in the fears and aspirations of our time.
2. Unfortunately, this specialization carries with it the risk of work on the border and in the field (ask if not the table of correspondents who shared their experience). There were not one or two journalists who reported the abuses they suffer when exercising their profession. In places like Morocco, Libya, the eastern border of Europe or several Central American countries, the obstructionism of the authorities and the violence of the mafias try to prevent the world from knowing what is happening there. With a difference from the past: the democracies of developed countries are becoming complicit in these abuses. The information blackout on the border between Poland and Belarus is the penultimate example of a drift that criminalizes independent coverage and those who carry it out.
The information blackout on the border between Poland and Belarus is the penultimate example of a drift that criminalizes independent coverage and those who carry it out
3. We talk about the risk of the information of the show. Despite its growing specialization, the profession continues to contribute to the image of migration as a tragedy or humanitarian crisis. A brief review of the terms most used in the coverage of three of the media that participated in my table (“migratory crisis” multiplied all the others together) gave rise to an amusing controversy.
The numbers could be nuanced, but the main argument was not: despite the fact that the vast majority of migrants are economic in nature and arrive in our countries on a regular basis, their reality is absent from the media. It was only necessary to listen to the powerful speech of the companions of SEDOAC (Active Domestic Service), demanding spaces in the information. To not talk about it is to ignore its paramount importance in matters such as the labor market and essential skills, the future of pensions, the deterioration of the rights of workers (indigenous and foreign) or the impact of migration on development.
4. On this subject, a fascinating conversation was opened about the role of migrants and forcibly displaced persons as journalism professionals. There were Baynana’s companions, the wonderful Spanish-Arab initiative of four Syrian refugees who report first-hand about the society in which they live. Also NDLON, Radio Bilingüe and Connect Arizona, speaking of community information spaces organized in the United States (radio and press, but also WhatsApp groups). And many others, women and men who have made their life experience the best master’s degree to tell about this complex matter.
5. I leave Congress even more convinced of the potential and importance of unlikely coalitions in shaping modern journalism. When information, research, storytelling, design, or project specialists are able to work together, stories take on extraordinary depth and scope. There we heard the testimony of Lighthouse Reports, an inspiring collaborative experience that is becoming less and less exceptional, thankfully. The digital transition that has destroyed the mainstream media business model has also led to a new world of infinite possibilities. Let’s take advantage of them.
A final note on the organization of this congress. I have already explained to you on occasion why it is a privilege to be part of Por Causa and the miracle of continuing to work year after year to raise the quality of our battered public debate. But this event has something more. Its main funder is the Extremadura Agency for International Development Cooperation, which has managed to turn our annual meeting into a symbol of Extremadura’s presence in the world.
The mayor of Mérida never misses the inauguration and the president of the Board closes it year after year (this time, with an inspiring speech about the societies that we are and the role of his region as a land of host and emigration). If we are managing to consolidate this community of professionals whose scope goes far beyond the two days a year that we see each other, it is thanks to them. At this time, in this world, your message cannot be more important. Thanks.
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