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  Reporting o…

November 29, 2011

Reporting on asylum seekers and refugees is a difficult task, yet extremely rewarding and an important exercise in journalism.  Every asylum seeker and refugee has a moving story to tell.  At times they can be heart warming tales of triumph, but more often than not it is a tale of unimaginable struggle and despair.  In this blog, I will reflect on a recent project in which I produced with a partner a radio feature on a Burmese refugee living in Canberra.  This blog will address my experiences in producing the story.  I will also examine the media’s role in reporting on asylum seeker and refugee issues and thirdly, I will address what I have learned not only from producing the story, but also from examining the ethical issues of reporting on asylum seekers and refugees.



What contact had you had with asylum seekers/refugees prior to commencing this project?


Before starting this project, I had had quite a lot of contact with refugees.  My mother and her family were immigrants from Norway who came to Australia in the 1960s to seek a better life.  Today, they could very well be classified as economic refugees.  My father is from Zimbabwe and is an active member in Canberra’s African community.  Growing up, I have regularly interacted with Southern Africans and other members of the African community in Canberra who are refugees who fled from their home countries for a variety of reasons, including economic, political and safety reasons.  My personal relationships meant that my involvement in Canberra’s refugee community was already substantial prior to this project, however I had never interacted with the community in the way that this project provided.

What was your attitude to refugees/asylum seekers and policies pertaining to their management prior to commencing work on this project?

Having grown up with many friends who are refugees, I have always seen asylum seekers and refugees as people who are simply searching for a chance to live a better  life that is free from persecution and fear.  No one chooses where they are born, and if there is a chance to better someone’s life, then it is every human beings moral duty to try and make that happen.  In fact, under Article 14 of the 1948 Universal declaration of human rightsEveryone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. (  This is why it frustrates me when I see things such as that “Australia stands alone in mandating the detention of all individuals entering the country without valid visas irrespective of whether or not they are seeking asylum. About 3500 asylum seekers, including 450 children, were held in detention in that country as of June, 2000.”Detention of asylum seek ers: assault on health,human rights, and social development. (Silove, Steel, Mollica, 2001)



What did you learn about asylum seeker/refugees during the course of the project?


Coming in to this project, I believed that I had an in depth knowledge of the global asylum seeker/refugee situation and the Australian Government’s policy position, due to having a keen interest in politics and the media.  However, working on this project has helped to consolidate my pre-existing thoughts about certain aspects of asylum seeker and refugee issues and provided the opportunity to analyse these issues from different viewpoints.  For instance, information I have picked up during the course of the project such as the fact that “Australia is involved in the practice of warehousing asylum seekers (including children and babies) in Indonesia, and that taxpayers’ money is being used to facilitate this practice, (Taylor, 2009) have further reinforced my views on Australia’s asylum seeker policies.  I value the progress I have made in developing my personal views and the opportunities provided to study various sources and case studies.

I have discovered that, to my surprise, there are many organisations in Canberra doing a great deal of meaningful work for resettled refugees in the region and that these organisations do not get the recognition they deserve.  Despite having met many refugees during my life in Canberra, I had never heard of the organisation that me and my partner were paired with, Canberra Refugee Support (CRS).   The role of CRS is to act as a conduit between resettled refugees and education and training facilities through a scholarship program, as well as to assist refugees to settle in to the community. Learning about such organisations has added greater depth to my understanding of life after being deemed a refugee by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

What (if any) impact has the project had on your views of asylum seekers/refugees and associated policy issues?


The lessons learned during this project have not changed, but reinforced my existing views of asylum seekers and refugees.  I maintain my frustration with the Australian Government’s current policy position (as outlined above).



What has the project taught you about reporting refugee/asylum seeker issues?


This project has highlighted the need to maintain objectivity when reporting on refugee and asylum seeker issues, not allowing personal opinions on the issue to cloud one’s judgement on a story.  As a sympathiser of asylum seekers and refugees, I found my personal views allowed me to engage on a personal level with the refugee we interviewed, but I also recognised when I was required to stand back and take an non-bias view of the story.  It has also taught me that no matter how unfortunate the story may be, the story still needs to be told.  There were a few things the talent told us that she explicitly asked to be left off the record and they were quite hard to listen to.  Even leaving those out of the story, the story was still quite a difficult story that saw the talent go through a lot of hardships before she was approved refugee status and transferred to Australia.

This project has, for me, highlighted the need for public journalism projects.  The purpose of public journalism is summed up perfectly in that “in order for citizenship to be a vital social force in any democratic society, citizens should be able to (learn to) identify themselves with the moral and political principles of modern democracy.  Media are considered crucial in this respect.”  (Meijer, 2001)

Audio gremlins were a problem in the field.  The recorder we used was an M-Audio recorder, but unfortunately one of the talent was a very low talker and the mic had to be kept far enough away as to not be obtrusive and as a result the audio came out extremely low.

How will you put these lessons into practice when you are next assigned such a story?


As for the audio problems mentioned above, I have since learned that there is such a thing as a Lapel Mic for the M-Audio recorder.  This would have been a lifesaver to ensure clean audio grabs and it is definitely a lesson learned for the future.

We had two talents cancel on us in the beginning.  Whilst this was unavoidable, I learned that one must always have a back up plan, and not rely on one source of information.

This project was designed for partners/groups.  One challenge I found was scheduling time to work on the story and equally dividing the workload.  This experience has allowed me to develop better time management skills and has made me more comfortable and competent to work as a member of a team.  I also feel that this project allowed me to develop greater leadership skills, a role that I feel I can now assume more confidently.


Overall, I am grateful to have been provided with the opportunity to complete a project on the asylum seeker/refugee issue, an issue which I am undoubtedly going to encounter in my future journalistic career.  The experiences and lessons provided by this project, including interacting with the Canberran refugee community and the opportunity to work in a team to produce a newsworthy story for ABC, have assisted in my personal and professional development as a journalist.  I have also realised that “it becomes apparent that media reporting can shape public perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers and has the potential to influence policy”, (Mares, 2002) and I’m hoping that more journalists realise this and work for the better. (accessed 24/11/11)

Silove, D., Steel, Z., Mollica, R.F., 2001, The Lancet, Volume 357, Issue 9266, pp. 1436 – 1437

Taylor, J., 2009, Behind Australian Doors: Examining the Conditions of Detention of Asylum Seekers in Indonesia, Asylum Seekers in Indonesia: Project, Findings & Recommendations.


Meijer, I.C., 2001, The Public Quality of Popular Journalism: developing a normative framework, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Journalism Studies,  pp. 189–205

Mares, P., 2002, Reporting Australia’s Asylum Seeker “Crisis”,  pp. 1-6


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