Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Things the world gets wrong – Perils of Perception

We don’t know the basic makeup of the countries we live in.  In fact, we are wrong on most key social issues, according to a fascinating recent Ipsos MORI’s global survey.  

This study shows how wrong the public across 14 very different countries (including UK, Australia, Sweden, Japan, US, France and South Korea) are about key population characteristics and social issues.  Generally, we tend to overestimate what we see as problems or differences (unemployment, murder rate, immigration) and underestimate the familiar or what we assume is the norm (voting, Christians).  

And we are not just a bit off – we are massively wrong.

       In the UK for example:

       • We hugely over-estimate the proportion of Muslims: we think one in five British people are Muslims (21%) when the actual figure is 5% (one in twenty). 
•      • We think that a quarter of the population are immigrants  (24%), while the real figure is nearly half (13%).

• We believe that the British population is much older than it actually is – the average estimate is that 37% of the population are 65+, when it is in fact only 17%.

• And we think that one in six (16%) of all teenage girls aged 15-19 give birth each year, when the actual figure is only 3%. 

• In contrast, we underestimate the proportion of the electorate that voted in the last general election - the average guess is 49% when the official turnout was much higher at 66%.

• We think  39% of the country identify themselves as Christian compared with the actual figure of 59%.

The same discrepancies between perceptions and reality are seen across the 14 countries surveyed. See survey’s index of ignorance below.

The big questions for me are: what is the impact of this huge gap between reality and perceptions and how do we get things so wrong? 
Bobby Duffy, Managing Director of Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute, said: “These misperceptions present clear issues for informed public debate and policy-making.  For example, public priorities may well be different if we had a clearer view of the scale of immigration and the real incidence of teenage mothers.  People also under-estimate “positive” behaviours like voting, which may be important if people think it is more “normal” not to vote than it actually is.”

And how should politicians react? Should they act on these perceptions and design policies around them or should they try to challenge them?

As to why we get things so wrong, I blame the media. Although (or beacuse?) I am a journalist, I believe the media is largely responsible for reflecting distorted images of our societies.  For example, a relentless diet of Daily Mail’ stories about  ‘waves’ and ‘hordes’ of immigrants ‘flooding’, ‘invading’ British towns and villages must influence our perception on immigration.

Although the researchers didn’t generally ask respondents how they formed their views, they did ask the people who answered more than double the actual level for the immigration question how they formed their perceptions.

And surprisingly, the media (TV and newspapers) were far from their main reason. Rather, they said they based their immigration views on what they saw in their local areas and when they visited other cities. And because they believed people come into the country illegally, so aren’t counted.  

And now I wonder, how do people know who is an immigrant?  By the colour of their skin, the way they dress, the way they speak, behave? And that’s another big question…

Monday, 8 December 2014

Why prison doesn't work for women

Credit: Prison Reform Trust

Many years ago, fellow journalist Loren Stein and I worked with the Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco on a year-long investigation into the alarming number of miscarriages among pregnant women in US prisons and jails. Packed into routinely overcrowded, understaffed and ill-equipped facilities, pregnant inmates were often denied essential pre-natal and emergency care. As a result, more than 30 percent of the imprisoned pregnant mothers lost their babies – in one prison, it was 80%.

We found that because women formed a small proportion of the US prison population, the system was generally ill prepared and ill equipped to look after them - and there was very little thought about the impact their incarceration had on their families.

A couple of decades later and on the other side of the pond, it looks like little progress has been made:

A day-long conference at Northumbria University, Newcastle, this Thursday (11 December), will address why prison doesn’t work for women.

Former prisoners, prison reform campaigners and criminologists will examine the impact that imprisonment has on women and their families.  They will also discuss effective alternatives to imprisonment that could help solve the problem of increasing reoffending rates for women.

Keynote speakers include Vicky Pryce, who served a prison sentence for perverting the course of justice and has recently authored Prisonomics, a book calling for reform for women prisons; Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird; and Jenny Earle, director of the Prison Reform Trust’s programme to reduce women’s imprisonment.

Louise Ridley, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Northumbria, will argue that the prison system has been designed for men and isn’t suited to the needs of women offenders.

“Women are mainly imprisoned for low level crimes, such as theft or handling stolen goods, which are often linked to their domestic situation. When men are imprisoned there is often a network of women – mothers, girlfriends, wives – who are caring for their children, paying the bills, and keeping their lives going so that they can more easily slip back into their family life when they are released. When women come out of prison they need support to rebuild their lives.”

Ridley argues that there is greater cost to the state when women are imprisoned as there is often the need to support their children in care during the custodial sentence. There also appears to be a larger domino effect when women with families are sent to prison.

 “Studies have found that children with mothers in prison are more likely to go on to offend than those with just the father in prison.”

The event is organised by The Centre for Offenders and Offending at Northumbria University, NEPACS, a regional charity providing support to prisoners and their families, the Prison and Offender Research in Social Care and Health Network (PORSCH), and OpenGate, a charity providing mentoring and support to women offenders returning to their community. 

You can follow the conference on Twitter: @PrisonNU & #wiprison

Monday, 27 October 2014

Reporting Diversity in Algeria - Terrorism stretches inclusive journalism training

Here I am with some of the brilliant journalists participating in the reporting diversity training in Algiers

You might not have heard much about Algeria and that’s not surprising. Unlike neighbouring Morocco, Algeria is not a popular tourist destination and the country is rarely in the (Anglo-Saxon) news - unless there is terrorism.  Well…a few weeks ago, not far from where I was staying on the outskirts of Algiers, a French tourist was kidnapped and beheaded by a militant group linked to Islamic State.  Police presence was beefed up in Algiers and foreigners like me were told to keep a low profile.

The murder hit at the core of the work we were doing there.  I had been asked by the Media Diversity Institute (MDI) to run a training for professional Algerian journalists on reporting diversity.  The London-based organization works internationally to prevent the media from intentionally or unintentionally spreading prejudice, intolerance and hatred; encouraging instead, fair, accurate, inclusive and sensitive media coverage in order to promote understanding between different groups and cultures.

During the five-day workshop, an Algerian colleague and I trained print and online journalists in how to write stories about the diverse groups who make up Algerian society, but whose voices are seldom heard in the media.  The journalists rose to the challenge and produced great stories on Syrian refugees, Sub-Saharan immigrants, people with disabilities, children in rural areas, single mothers and other marginalised groups.

And there was one other story – my favourite in fact. It was the story of a boy born in the mountains in Northeast Algeria during the “Black Decade” – the devastating conflict between Muslim extremists and government forces that tore the country apart in the 1990s and killed some 200,000 Algerians.  “Abd was the son of Islamist guerrillas, born in the ‘maquis’.  He is now 18. He doesn’t share his parents’ beliefs - in fact he has condemned them - but he is rejected everywhere he goes, he has no place in society and no future. He is suicidal,” explained the young journalist who had produced the story.  “I want to tell Abd’s story. It is the story of the children of the terrorists, of the “repented” – they are treated as pariahs in spite of the 2005 charter of national reconciliation,” the journalist told the class.

The other journalists greeted his story in stony silence. Then one said:  “I refuse to read anything about terrorists. We shouldn’t give them any voice, any recognition, any space.”  Many nodded in agreement. 

- “But he is a child. He didn’t ask to be born to terrorist parents, he doesn’t share their views,” I tried. 

- “What about the children of their victims? Do they have a voice?” angrily replied the journalist.

Everyone in Algeria is still traumatized by the “Black Decade” (Algiers still shuts down at night - a remnant of 10 years of curfew) and the story of the invisible children of Algerian terrorists hit a raw nerve. But it also generated a passionate and ultimately productive discussion around issues which were at the very heart of our training: how do we talk about other people’s views and experiences, especially when they disturb us?  Isn’t it better to hear what a segment of the population has to say, even if we don’t agree with them?  Some strongly believe that “terrorists” shouldn’t have a voice, but other people in Algeria believe that refugees, homosexuals, Christians and many other groups shouldn’t either.

The story also made me appreciate even more working with my Algerian colleague, as there are things which an outsider can only understand intellectually.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Rural Women's International Day - Our Stories, One Journey

Meal time in a rural village in the Pwani region of Tanzania/Photo credit: Veronique Mistiaen

Here in the West, it might not mean much, but rural women absolutely deserve a day of recognition. This new international day was set up by the UN in 2008 to recognizes “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.”

Rural women do feed the world. They are key for achieving the transformational economic, environmental and social changes required for sustainable development. But limited access to credit, health care and education are among the many challenges they face, which are further aggravated by the global food and economic crises and climate change. Empowering them is key not only to the well-being of individuals, families and rural communities, but also to overall economic productivity, given women’s large presence in the agricultural workforce worldwide.  

The first step in helping rural women to get the rights and tools they need to thrive is to let their communities, countries and the world  – especially policy makers - know what an amazing job they do and what enormous challenges they face.  So, I was pleased to see this “Women’s Travelling Journal on Food”  initiative by the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition (ARWC), PAN AsiaPacific (PAN AP) and Oxfam’s East Asia and South Asia GROW Campaign. 

Now on its third journey, the travelling journal, “Our Stories, One Journey: Empowering Rural Women in Asia on Food Sovereignty” aims to highlight the important roles of rural and indigenous women in agriculture and rural development, improving food security, coping and adapting to climate change, and eradicating rural poverty.

The journal is a compilation by 45 Asian rural women  from Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Pakistan who share the daily activities related to food in their homes, farms and communities and amplify their demand for food sovereignty, climate justice and secure rights to land and resources.  The travelling journal will culminate with the publication of the women’s stories on March 8, 2015 on the commemoration of the 102nd International Women’s Day.

“The travelling journal gives women a voice to share their lives and their struggles. Many have written that the journal initiative has been an enriching experience, increased their awareness and strengthened their solidarity with other rural women and communities,” said Sarojeni Rengam, executive director of PAN AP and Steering Committee member of the ARWC.

Watch the Women's Travelling Journal on Food Sovereignty teaser

She added that, “the journal comes at a time when Asian rural women are more marginalised and food insecure than ever, facing the onslaught of land and resource grabbing, corporate agriculture and neo-liberal policies which benefit a few corporations and countries, and elites.”


Norly Grace Mercado, East Asia GROW Campaign Coordinator, pointed out that women’s stories on how they cope with and adapt to climate change is very crucial “since climate change affects production and exacerbates hunger. Women are in charge of ensuring the family’s food security. They are also the ones overburdened when climate disasters strike.”


You can follow the 45 women as their stories unfold over the next six months  on Facebook here and on Twitter here.   Hashtag: #WTJFoodSovLaunch 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Yezidi Refugees Living in Limbo in Turkey

Children at the Yezidi refugee camp in Batman, Turkey/Credit: Kimbal Bumstead
Refugees from Iraq's Yezidi (or Yazidi) religious minority, who have fled to Turkey from the advance of jihadists, are still living in harsh conditions in refugee camps.  And many fear they will never be able to return home. 

The Yezidi refugees have fled to the southeastern Turkish province of Sirnak bordering Iraq to escape the murderous advance of Islamic State (IS) jihadists who specifically target their community.

Turkey, which is already giving sanctuary to some 1.2 million fleeing the Syria conflict, is not coping with this additional refugee influx.

Kimbal Bumstead, a young British-Dutch artist, has spent some time in the Yezidi refugee camp of Batman. Here is his report: 

Five minutes walk from “Batman Park”, a monster of a shopping mall, complete with lights that change colour, glass elevators and chocolate fondue fountains, is a disused football ground building that houses over 500 Yezidi refugees who have fled from Sinjar, Northern Iraq. They have been living there for over a month now, with three families to a room, after ISIS militia came to their village massacring those who refused to convert to Islam.

The Yezidi people are a Kurdish tribe who follow an ancient Mesopotamian pagan religion in which they worship the sun, and have a spiritual connection with the land.

Credit: Kimbal Bumpstead

I was lucky to meet two men there who spoke English, having been interpreters to the US Army during military campaigns in Iraq during 2007/2008. They told me some horrific stories about their families and friends who had been killed, women raped and sold into sexual slavery. On the 3rd August, ISIS militia came to their village and took 80 men out into the street, and told them they must convert to Islam or they will be killed. Those who refused were shot; those who accepted were also shot. 

According to local news sources there are now over 30,000 Yezidi refugees in Turkey, having fled their villages on foot, it is estimated that there are over 1 million refugees in Turkey now since the start of ISIS attacks in Syria and Iraq.

A place in-between, a life in limbo

The disused sports hall housing the refugees is a place in-between, a place of not knowing, and hopes that may be shattered. There is not enough room inside the building or enough blankets for everyone to sleep. Many of the men are sleeping outside. The winter is coming and the people I spoke to have received no information about where they can go or when.

They have not been granted asylum in Turkey and neither do they want that. All of them have the same dream: to move to a place that is safe, in either Europe or America. They want permanent solutions and asylum, but for now they are in limbo, not having the tools or the means to be able to apply for it. Without having money to travel to an embassy, nor documents, they are reliant on officials to come to them. They are becoming increasing frustrated, and none of them know how long they will have to wait.

The majority of them are undocumented, having left their homes with just the clothes they were wearing, many of them had never had the need for a passport before. Turkey has granted them temporary shelter in its territory, but not political asylum.  

“We want to go to Europe or America”, says Saado, one of the former US interpreters, “we can’t go back to Iraq, it’s not safe, they will kill us, but we can’t stay in Turkey either. Maybe they will make us stay here for one or two years but then what?”

Another man, a Kurdish Yezidi who lives in Batman and has taken it on himself to organise the camp, tells me:  “The Turkish government say they are helping, but they are not doing anything to help us. The only help we are getting is from the local Kurdish community, they give us food and water and have helped with giving us blankets to sleep on, but we need help from governments. People see us but they are blind to us, we need help… Even the animals have rights, if they can’t give us human rights, at least give us animal rights.”

Credit: Kimbal Bumpstead

 "74th recorded genocide of Yezidian peope"

Turkey is a comfortable buffer zone for ‘Fortress Europe’, literally a space in-between, to help delay responses in helping to take in refugees. For how long these people will have to wait, for politicians to make decisions about their futures, they do not know.

The message from the refugees is clear, that they do not want to stay in Turkey, they are afraid of the possible future reprisals of Islamic fundamentalism and possible attacks here. I asked a boy what he thought about the future.  He said that he couldn’t event think about the future, everything was gone. He just wants to be able to go back to school and feel safe. I asked if he felt safe here. “No”, he said, “I am afraid that those people will come here too”.

Saado expands, saying that if Turkey really wanted to help then they would help by attacking ISIS, not by supplying them with weapons and supporting their actions.

Meanwhile, out on the streets of Batman, police in armoured tanks are firing tear gas at a group of protestors angry about the Turkish Government’s lack of support to Kurdish Guerillas who are fighting ISIS in the Syrian/Turkish border village of Kobane.

This is the 74th recorded genocide of Yezidian people in history, as Saado tells me.  “This happens to our people every 100 years or so. The past 100 years alone has many cases of Yezidians being persecuted both in Iraq and Syria ,but also within Turkey. Turkey used to be home to a large proportion of the Yezidian population, but following the Ottoman led genocide during the years 1915-18, in which around 300,000 Yezidians were killed, plus further attacks after the creation of the Turkish state, most Yezidians fled to neighbouring countries. Stories are passed down through generations and their fears and lack of trust in the Turkish state is heavily apparent. Those I spoke to, made it clear that this is a religious problem, not a political one. ISIS wants to kill them because they believe they are devil worshipers, and the Turkish state does not officially recognise Yezidism as a religion. Interestingly, Turkey is classified by the United Nations as a ‘secular state’, however it only recognises three minority religions; Greek Orthodox Christians, Armenian Orthodox Christians, and Jews. Those Yezidians, and those of other minority religions such as Syrian Christian, Chaldean and Bulgarian Orthodox who live in Turkey are classified as either atheists or as Muslim.

“It’s chosen by god, (this genocide),” the other interpreter tells me. I ask why he thinks god would want that.  “I don’t know”, he says, “maybe this is not our place, maybe this is our destiny.” There is a sense of bad ‘kader’ (destiny)  amongst Yezidians, which I imagine many Kurdish people also can relate to. Having a shared history of being persecuted by the states that encompass them. These are placeless people, and now they do not even have a home.

Are you hopeful that something will change I ask? “Yes we hope,” he says, and looked down at the ground. “but until now we did not hear anything…. Maybe we are hopeless….” He smiles, and looks out into the yard.

In the yard, under a blanket propped by a stack of chairs, a group of children watch a TV. On the screen are images of American jets. They are excited, people welcome the latest bombings, but it’s not enough, “they are just putting on a show”, another man told me. “They are just securing their oil once again, rather than actually doing something to help the people”.

Credit: Kimbal Bumstead

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Exhibition Celebrates the Reopening of Sarajevo’s Library - The Damnation of Memory - Do Not Forget, Remember and Warn!

Sarajevo's Library/Miriam Nabarro
I came across the work of the wonderful Miriam Nabarro while doing a piece on War Correspondents for the Economist's Prospero blog, a song theatre show on foreign correspondents. Nabarro, who has worked in conflict zones for many years, designed the show and helped interview the correspondents.

Looking at her website, I was amazed at the scope of her work (theatre design, photography, printmaking and textiles) at a still relatively young age. Her work has taken her to Iran, Australia, Sudan, Kosova, Eritrea and the DRC, where she has created performances, exhibitions and installations in theatres, football pitches, churches and factories, with national theatres, artists, street children and people of all ages.

I was excited when she mentioned her new project: The Damnation of Memory - Do Not Forget, Remember and Warn!, an exhibition celebrating the reopening of Sarajevo’s iconic war-bombed library. For the show, Nabarro experimented printing square, black-and-white images she shot with her old Hasselblad camera onto glass with liquid emulsion to create a fragile, ghostlike feeling.  She produced nine dreamy plates, which seem to whisper stories of 'before', of the library's savage destruction, but also of resilience and hope.

I love them, so was disappointed when a piece I wrote for the Times about her exhibition failed to feature her work because the editor believed the black-and-white images would not reproduce well.

As there are only a few days left to view this beautiful, evocative exhibition, I wanted to show some her images here, along with the unedited piece I wrote for the Times. The Damnation of Memory - Do Not Forget, Remember and Warn!, is showing at the School of Oriental and African Studies  (SOAS) in London until September 5.  Go see it, if you have a chance.
Sarajevo's Library/Miriam Nabarro
The Damnation of Memory - Do Not Forget, Remember and Warn! – An exhibition celebrating the reopening of Sarajevo’s iconic war-bombed library.
A plaque at the entrance of Vijećnica, Sarajevo’s recently reopened iconic war-bombed national library, reads:

'On this place.... Serbian criminals in the Night of 25-26th August 1992 set on fire the National and University's Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Over 2 Millions of Books, Periodicals and Documents Vanished in the Flames
                  Do Not Forget, Remember and Warn!'

The destruction of Vijećnica was one of the most devastating acts of the 1992 Bosnian Serb siege of Sarajevo and became its symbol.  Nearly 90 per cent of the library’s collections vanished in black smoke, which hung over the city for three days. “Set free from the stacks, characters wandered the streets, mingling with passers-by and the souls of dead soldiers,” wrote the Bosnian poet Goran Simic in his 1993 Lament for Vijecnica.

The Damnation of Memory - Do Not Forget, Remember and Warn!, an exhibition of photographs celebrating the reopening of Sarajevo’s library after 22 years, is showing at the School of Oriental and African Studies  (SOAS) in London until September 5.  Vijecnica was restored to mark the centenary of WW1, which was triggered by the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. He was shot as he left the building, which was at the time City Hall.

“Anyone you mention the library to has a story,” says Miriam Nabarro, the first Artist in Residence in the Department of Development Studies at SOAS, who photographed the library under reconstruction in 2006 and again in 2012.  She was told stories about the time “before”, about the library’s multicultural atmosphere and its magical books; stories about their destruction and how Sarajevans formed a human chain to try to save as many books as possible; and stories about Vedran Smailovic, who played  his cello for 22 days in the burned down library in defiance of the snipers and shelling. 

Nabarro, a theatre designer and photographer, first shot a series of images on a Leica camera in 2006, but they seemed too “journalistic” to reflect the depth of emotions and stories the building evoked. 
Sarajevo's Library/Miriam Nabarro
“Walking through the partially restored shell of the building, you could still see the charcoaled marks of burnt books on the stucco walls, bits of carved graffiti post catastrophe asking for Mir (Peace) and favorite quotes and authors.”

Nabarro wanted her work to respond to the building and its history rather than merely recording its reconstruction, so she returned to Sarajevo in 2012, this time with her Hasselblad, an old-fashioned medium format film camera.  (She had used the same camera to shoot Hidden Corners, her behind-the-scene photographs of the National Theatre in 2010).   She then experimented printing the Hasselblad square, black-and-white images onto glass with liquid emulsion to create a fragile, ghostlike feeling.  

“I work this process very quickly, coating the glass with a gelatin solution, then melting the emulsion in the darkroom, applying it wet to the glass plate, exposing it immediately and then straight into the developer/ stop/fix. It has taken a while to perfect the technique, or rather, to learn about its eccentricities enough to manage the outcomes... but somehow this felt like the perfect medium to evoke the feeling of loss and memory, and also of hope that the architecture of the library gives.”   

To enhance the dreaminess of the plates and let the viewer’s mind wander between the library’s past and future, she suspended her work from the wall by mild steel rods. This allows the light in behind the images and causes them to appear as if they are floating.

The result is a sensitive, evocative and very moving exhibition. There are only nine plates, as well as a beautiful handmade book, but they leave a deep impression. And they seem to echo destruction and hope in other places and times.

The Damnation of Memory is at the Wolfson Gallery in School of Oriental and African Studies  (SOAS) University Library until September 5. 

Sarajevo's Library/Miriam Nabarro

Monday, 25 August 2014

"Shout Art Loud" - Using art to fight sexual violence against women in Egypt


The vast majority of women in Egypt have experienced some form of sexual harassment: it is a common occurrence on the streets, on public transport and in private homes. But groups are starting to fight back – and artistic expression is a driving force in the campaigns for change.

Documentary filmmaker and women’s rights activist, Melody Patry is part of that movement. She has just produced "Shout Art Loud", an innovative “living report” on art and sexual violence in Egypt. The interactive documentary explores how Egyptians are using theatre, dance, music and graffiti to tackle the “epidemic” of sexual harassment and violence against women in their country. 

Published by Index on Censorship, an international organisation that promotes and defends freedom of expression, "Shout Art Loud" features interviews with artists, original artwork, videos and performances.

When Patry moved to Cairo in 2012 to learn Arabic and join a small women’s rights group, she was shocked to find out how much sexual violence against women had risen since the revolution. During the period February 2011 to January 2014, Egyptian women’s rights groups documented thousands of cases of sexual harassment, as well as crimes of sexual violence against at least 500 women, including gang rapes and mob-sexual assaults with sharp objects and fingers, .

“As the number of sexual crimes increased, I watched the amount of graffiti promoting women’s rights and denouncing violence against women grow and blossom on Cairo’s walls," she she writes in an introduction to her documentary.  One of them was “the circle of hell”, a mural painted by two Egyptian artists – Mira Shihadeh and el Zeft – near Tahrir Square. The image denounced the disturbing trend of attacks against female protesters in which women are encircled in mobs of 200 to 300 men who fight, pull, shove, beat and strip them.  “This painting, a few meters away for Tahrir Square, was a statement for all to see. Egypt would not stay silent before such crimes. Other murals and pro-women graffiti regularly appear on – and sometimes disappear from – Cairo’s walls,”  Patry writes. 

“When I was given the chance to take part in a theatre workshop exploring issues of sexual violence in Egypt, I jumped at the chance. Seeing the graffiti, and then taking part in a play, showed me first hand how powerful a role art can play in tackling the problem.

“This is why I decided to make “Shout Art Loud”. In the documentary, I try to highlight artists and civil society’s new approaches to denounce sexual harassment, encourage women to speak out and challenge social taboos. These include art exhibitions, graffiti and murals, street performances, dance, theatre, rap, comic strips, and digital tools to report and map harassment."

 “This innovative documentary is a reminder of the vital role artistic expression plays in tackling taboo subjects like sexual violence — in Egypt and beyond,” says Index CEO Jodie Ginsberg. “We want to bring this issue to a wider audience to show just how important artists and writers can be in bringing about change.”

Friday, 1 August 2014

Media Diversity Institute – towards a more inclusive, ethical media

One of the reports produced by MDI

Reading or watching news reports on conflicts, immigration, minorities and other controversial and sensitive issues, I often wonder whether journalists do more harm than good.

Journalism can be one of the best tools for change and can play an important role in the fight against ignorance, prejudice and bigotry. But it can also exacerbate divisions and tensions, and fuel fear and hostility. 

We have seen extreme examples on how the media can incite hatred and violence in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. But most of the time, the media’s unhelpful coverage of minorities and sensitive issues is unintentional. It stems from ignorance, sloppy journalism and lack of time. Many stories on immigration in the UK or about Roma in Europe, for example, don’t quote immigrants or Roma, but only experts and members of the public or groups objecting to them.  Not surprisingly, these stories lack important information and empathy.   Over-stretched journalists simply don’t have the time to search for the right people to interview - and the 24h news cycle and ever-faster pace of social media are exacerbating the problem.

I recently had an interesting conversation with someone who has worked on these issues over the past 15 years – and made a huge impact: the amazing Milica Pesic. She is the founder and Executive Director of the Media Diversity Institute, a charity which promotes responsible journalism as means to lessen inter-group conflict, increase tolerance, encourage dialogue among individuals and groups coming from different backgrounds and support a deeper public understanding of ethnic, religious, sexual and gender diversity. They do this through research and professional media training. 

“Responsible, ethical journalism is thinking journalism. It provides fair, accurate, informed and reflective coverage of events and issues that are important to people and society,"  said Pesic.

MDI was born out of the wars in the Balkans some 15 years ago. Pesic, worked as a journalist for TV Serbia during the 1980s and early 1990s. After refusing to participate in the propaganda machine created by the Serbian regime, she was sacked from her job. Horrified by the unprofessional and unethical way the media fuelled the conflict by increasing tensions between ethnic groups, she decided to setup MDI as a way to prevent the media being used in this way.

From initial work in South East Europe, MDI took its expertise to the volatile Caucasus region, and then to the Middle East and North Africa, and South East Asia. Over the last few years, MDI has brought its experience from more troubled regions to address tensions in increasingly diverse Western European societies. 

In our highly divided and divisive world and our rapidly-changing media landscape, organisations like MDI are more needed than ever. But I am wondering how to extend these ideas and training to the millions of people on Twitter, FB and other social media…

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Favela World Cup - Brazil's Alternative World Cup

Watch this great video on an alternative World Cup: “The Favela World Cup,” a tournament organized by the nonprofit Football Beyond Borders in the host city of Salvador, Bahia, with international fans and residents of nearby favelas. 

Like many Brazilians, many participants were disappointed with the impact of the FIFA World Cup in their communities, but they were excited about the chance to play soccer with people from around the world.

“Right now Brazil didn’t need to host the World Cup, we had other priorities,” said Nelito de Silva, one of the local players. “I prefer this cup a thousand times more than the FIFA World Cup,” he added.
Football Beyond Borders is a non-profit organisation with projects based in the UK and Brazil. They use the power of football to tackle inequality and provide opportunities for young people to achieve their goals and make their voices heard. Find out more about what they do and how they do it on their website.

PS: If someone could tell me how to make the video fit within the frame of the blog, I'd be so grateful!