By Ali Alabdallah, Syrian immigrant in the Nordics – email: Alimanabd1983@gmail.com
I left Damascus, the oldest capital in the world and left the memories of my childhood and my career.
I reached Sweden, where as a journalist I found a country of a completely different view on free speech. It was a delight to meet the concept of press freedom in Nordic countries: I am able to express all my opinions freely!
Despite the pleasure of learning and understanding freedom of the media in the Nordics, I found that something was wrong
Back in Syria, as a journalist at the largest Syrian newspaper Albaath, as a war correspondent for several Lebanese newspapers, and in the Syrian TV as well, I witnessed the presence of strict control on the media which leaves little room for press freedom. Governmental censorship on the media was not only annoying, but also worrying for journalists.
Despite the pleasure of learning and understanding freedom of the media in the Nordics, I found that something was wrong.
Why do media have more focus on the negative news of immigrants?
How can press freedom be exercised through journalism without taking other opinions in consideration? In particular regarding the immigrants’ opinions in all situations related to them as new citizens and regarding their home countries.
As a Syrian journalist entering Sweden in 2013, I asked all the media to be more careful in rhetoric. It is important to be precise like using Daash to describe the extremists Islamic groups instead of ISIS because ISIS is a bit of a misnomer and they are a terrorist group and not a state.
Furthermore, I have some observations regarding the media in Scandinavia. During the two years of my presence in this part of the world, I often notice looseness in journalism:
First: I noticed a serious empathy gap in the Nordic media. In North Africa, Middle East and South Asia, terrorist attacks are everyday life, and for us coming from that part of the world it seems, that media hardly notice this. In particular, it becomes obvious when two attacks take place at the same time. When terrorists in November 2015 made the appalling attack in Paris, while ISIS killed 43 civilians with a bomb in Beirut. Media in Western and Northern Europe focused on the Paris attack, though the same Daash was responsible for both attacks.
And we remember in the same time how Facebook was also accused of double standards when it gave the users of Facebook the option of putting a filter over their profile photos in the colors of French flag while failing to give their users the possibility of putting a filter over their profile photos in the colors of Lebanese flag. This was unfair for the Arab world.
Imbalance in the news coverage
Second: I find an imbalance in the news coverage regarding the news of immigrants. The media focus on negative news of immigrants more than the positives news. We hear how difficult it is for refugees to learn Swedish or about the high level of unemployment among refugees.
For example, the Swedish radio had a project called #100 voice, which includes 100 interviews with newcomers highlighting their difficulties to be a part of the labour market in Sweden and the difficulties of learning Swedish language. But why not questions about the successes of immigrants in Sweden and the other Nordic countries?
Why don’t we learn more in the news about establishment of dozens of small companies, which at the same time is a way very quickly to learn the different Nordic languages. All these news are almost absent from the media, and it is not my impression, that other Nordic countries have more focus on this.
I have discussed these matters with many colleagues in the Swedish media and with many journalists that I met when I attended the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day 2016 in Helsinki, Finland. Among these journalists, they also agreed that the news about immigrants are mostly negative. One of the most frequent quotes during my conversation was:
“Unfortunately, the media focus on all the bad news, that attract people. Because it is generally believed, that the public cares more about negative news and events rather than the positive ones.”
My questions are:
– Is it fair and balanced, if the media are inclined to prioritise negative news of immigrants, because of the relevance of the news is based upon the expectations from viewers, readers and listeners?
– Does the media follow a more pragmatic way rather than sticking to independence and objectivity?
In my view, we should not forget that negative news about migrants focusing on their religion, in particular Islam, has caused an increase of racism and islamophobia. This trend is confirmed by the report published by the UN human rights committees.
Media outlet should include new voices
The absence of other voices and visions from the immigrants or the gap between Nordic journalists and immigrant journalists are some of the reasons, that the media in the Nordic countries create biased journalism about new citizens.
Therefore, I would advise every media outlet to be open-minded and include new voices of immigrant journalists. I believe that the media will gain when there is diversity in the press. Most importantly, it will surely have an impact on the integration and a better future, when the civic society receive the flow of news from a more balanced composition of those working in the media.
There are dozens of Syrian journalists migrated to Sweden, Denmark, Finland or other European countries, and the same situation is the case for a number of nationalities fleeing to the Northern part of Europe. It gives an opportunity to the media to include these journalists by making them their voices to be heard. That happened to me when I started writing dozens of articles for the Swedish newspapers.
We should encourage the media to highlight success stories of immigrants in the society. News stories can focus on, for example, how many of immigrants have learned the local language quickly. Another example is, that among other professions, well-educated people have arrived from the war zones, such as thousands of Syrian doctors with high-degree of skills.
Why doesn’t media talk about the benefits of the migration while there is just focus on immigration as humanity disaster and crisis!
Certainly, we have difficulties in finding a job. Because the Nordic media seems to have no trust in the skills and efficiency of immigrant journalists and thus hesitate to employ immigrants or to give them the opportunity of training. This is my situation.
When I came to Sweden, I asked the local newspaper in Arvika in Varmland, where I stayed after arriving, for the possibilities of training. They refused me because of financial reasons. They said: “We have no money for training.” To me, it was really a strange answer. Because I was not asking for financial support for training but only a little bit of time.
Possibilities and solutions
As foreign journalists, we should have more possibilities to work or to have training provided by the Nordic media. In fact, many freelance journalists are more supportive for immigrant journalists than staff journalists working in both public service radio and TV and private media. Therefore, a little change of the approach could be very helpful regarding the possibilities of training and learning the basics of the Swedish press.
A few newspapers are interested in the views of foreign journalists, and they requested them to write articles. That’s what I noticed personally when several newspapers asked me to write articles about the refugee crisis.
When limits of press freedom reached the Swedish foreign minister
We have press freedom in the Nordics countries and this is what gives us the opportunity to express our opinions freely across social media such as Facebook. Recently we noticed that there are limits to freedom of expression and this is what happened to the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström.
In January 2015, she exercised her right from an extremely important high position to tweet critical comments about Saudi Arabia’s flogging of human rights activist and blogger Raif Badawi. She was criticized by the Swedish media as too vocal.
We need a platform
The advantage in an open society like Sweden is that it is easy to establish any media without any needs to get security approval like in Syria. Therefore, it was also easy for me to launch the first journalist initiative of dialogue in Landskrona, my new city.
I decided to call my media News Café. – Nyhetscafé in Swedish, and at the same time I launched a video channel on YouTube.
At News Café, I invited politicians and important community personalities and other persons to engage in an open dialogue about many relevant topics.
My participation in WPFD in Helsinki in Finland inspired me to improve my own business. Because I believe that Sweden and other Nordic countries need a platform for immigrant journalists. This is why recently I launched the immigrant journalists’ association in Sweden (IJF) – Invandrare journalistförening i Sverige (ijf).
My goal is to promote the concept of diversity in the Swedish media by publishing articles, giving lectures, creating conferences and keeping contacts with the Swedish media. We should create friendships and improved relationships with the Nordic media. Another example is, that we initiated several media to have Arabic speaking outlets.
Training is higly needed
I believe that immigrant journalists needs more training in the field of media to increase their knowledge on democracy and media in Nordic countries in order to better understand the concept of freedom of information.
Mass media need more courage to be inclusive in order to benefit from the experiences of immigrant journalists.
Mass media need more courage to be inclusive in order to benefit from the experiences of immigrant journalists. In order to deliver ideas and creativities we in the immigrant journalists association include members across Sweden. We made a video about our association.
In Sweden, I launched the first press initiative called News Café, a kind of citizen journalism.
Press freedom thrives in the Nordic countries, regardless of the difficulties described. I want to emphasize that the environment provides the possibilities for immigrant journalists to be creative and think freely without restrictions or censorship.