A Spectacle Of The Vulnerable: The Dehumanising Coverage Of Migrant Crossings

Isabelle Raikes

Imagine waking up one day and deciding to make the life-changing decision to move to another country to escape conflict or poverty for the sake of your family’s survival. Having to get into an overcrowded boat with people in the same desperate situation as you to make the journey, across to a country that may not want you, as a last bid for a better life.

Imagine then being met with white middle class reporters recording you like safari animals from the safety of their spacious boats. Humiliating and inhumane.

Last week, two of the biggest media outlets in the UK, Sky and the BBC, were accused of ‘voyeurism’ after following and filming boats carrying migrants that were making the journey to England from France across the English channel.

Voyeurism is used, in this context, to describe the ‘enjoyment in seeing the pain or distress of others’ with Stephen Farry, the leader of Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party, calling the coverage ‘unethical’ and ‘capitalising on misery’.

To me, seeing the footage of these reporters chasing down these migrant boats just to get an interview or some footage of these people in such desperate situations was disturbing and exploitative.

In 2019, Britain received around 677,000 people as long-term immigrants, for reasons such as work or study, as well as 49,000 asylum seeker applications. However, there were only around 4,000 unauthorised Channel arrivals which is equivalent to less than 1% of all immigrants in this year.

If the UK suddenly was engaged in conflict or experienced a disaster/crisis, I can bet a lot of people would do the same to escape

The people who make this journey are therefore desperate. Many of these people feel that making this life-threatening journey is the only way out of the situation they are in – perhaps to help get a better life for themselves and their families and even as a last chance of survival.

I am privileged for simply being born into a world in which my family or anyone I know has never had to make decisions to pick their lives up and leave. However, if we reverse this and think about if the UK suddenly was engaged in conflict or experienced a disaster/crisis, I can bet a lot of people would do the same to escape.

I cannot even comprehend what it would feel like to make decisions like these. But one thing is for sure, a camera in your face from unempathetic reporters on arrival would not make me feel like anything more than a showpiece.

In one instance, Sky News reporter, Ali Fortescue, was seen leaning over the side of the boat condescendingly asking where each person was from to which one replied “please no camera.”

He reported on the near capsizing of the boat as if he was watching a mere football match

Even worse, BBC reporter, Simon Jones, was filmed reporting on a particular migrant crossing and shockingly filmed from a distance an overcrowded dinghy filling with water, whilst standing on top of his safe and stable boat.

One twitter user commented her disgust at Jones in particular, saying he reported on the near capsizing of the boat as if he was watching a mere football match, and I couldn’t agree more.

For these reporters who are engaging in this type of journalism, this is their job that they can return home from later. For these migrants this is their life and livelihood on the line, none of which is guaranteed.

Recently a lot of media outlets have been covering news to do with migration and migrant crossings, perhaps to distract from Coronavirus and the continuous government debacles that are going on, leading it to almost seem like a new ‘trend’.

When these new trends or stories emerge, it is a race in the media of who can get the most information – or the closest to the boat in this case – which can be very careless and insensitive.

This coverage may be entertaining for those watching but these are people’s real lives being exposed

The type of journalism displayed in this instance was hugely wrong. I feel the heart of journalism is people, and exposing particularly vulnerable people in this way is not right at all and not what journalism should be about.

This coverage may be entertaining for those watching but this is people’s real lives being exposed. Perhaps these media outlets should think about how they would feel if the shoe was on the other foot. Issues such as this should be dealt with in a sensitive and careful way to prevent this disturbing kind of reporting happening again.

Isabelle Raikes 

In article image courtesy of @a_leesha1 via Twitter. No changes were made to this image. 

Featured image courtesy of  Andrew Buchanan on UnsplashImage license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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