My colleagues and I have been doing research on the roles of local radios in creating awareness about the dangers of irregular migration. We interviewed a significant number of journalists, program editors, and managers of local radio stations stationed in Mekelle city. Our preliminary result shows that some of the media do not consider the issue seriously. Some journalists are not even certain if the issue is imperative to get regular coverage; although they believe that irregular migration is a problem for Ethiopia in general and Tigray region in particular.
Tigray is one of the regional states in Ethiopia which experience significant emigration flows. One of the journalists, for instance, told me that he knows many stories about the “horrors our sisters and brothers faced” while trying to cross international borders to Europe and the Middle East. Nonetheless, he had never reported about the issue. But, why are our media, particularly the local media, marginalizing the issue while it is a serious problem?
In my observation, the first reason is that the media managers and editors-in-chief have less (or no) interest to deal with the issue. A program editor of the FM radio section in one of the local media stations boldly told me that at least in the past two years no program has been made by a journalist under his command about irregular migration. The programs manager of the same organization similarly told me that his organization might not have any program format (like sports, music, and showbiz) about the issue for the future either. According to him, his organization will report about irregular migration only when there are some newsworthy happenings (such as deaths and mass arrests at the international borders). Paradoxically, the manager believes that irregular migration is one of the serious problems in his society.
Secondly, the media in Ethiopia are hyper-sensitive about the political instabilities in the country; thus, overlooks many other important social and economic issues – such as the migration flow. Both the social media and the mainstream media are unfairly interested in reporting the current political issues. Thus, either they forget or deliberately marginalized to accommodate migration issues in their news reports and other programs. The media almost forget to remind the society about the dangers hundreds and thousands of Ethiopians face in their quest to illegally cross international borders to the developed nations via different routes – such as the northern route through Sudan, Libya, Egypt; the southern route through Kenya; and in the eastern route through Djibouti and Somalia.
The third factor is that many journalists wrongly perceive that irregular migrants know enough about the risks they will face in their journeys. They argue that irregular migrants have sufficient information about the consequences of crossing international borders illegally. Hence, to report about the issue might not have significant impacts on them. According to these journalists, it is simply a waste of time to regularly report about irregular migration.
However, in my perspective, what the journalists seem to forget is that although the potential migrants might have ‘enough information’ about their deadly trips, it might not be accurate enough to let them decide rationally. As scholars in the area argue, lack of accurate information also generates irrational migration behavior and decisions. Human traffickers and smugglers, obviously, persuade migrants how the risks are worth to take compared with the benefits they will enjoy as they reach the shores of Europe and North America. A study conducted in Tigray, for instance, indicated that illegal migration in Tigray is intensified, among other reasons, due to the misinformation surfacing on social media about success stories of migrants. Furthermore, as Daniel Kahneman thought-provokingly states, because the human mind has “imperfect ability to reconstruct past states of knowledge, or beliefs that have changed”, even irregular migrants themselves who luckily made it might not accurately tell their fellows about the whole story of their perilous journey.
Hence, if people are easily influenced by unsubstantiated information that circulates on social media, one can be certain about the long-term effects of mainstream media forasmuch they do their programs appropriately.
Moreover, many journalists argue that irregular migrants dare to take the deadly trips because they seem to be convinced about the (economic) opportunities that await them abroad. Accordingly, they suggest that because youth unemployment is the root cause of irregular migration from Ethiopia, it will be better to discourse about job opportunities and the economic growth in their country than talking about the risks of irregular migration.
Undeniably, as the interviewees clearly state, we should work hard to convince our fellow citizens about the opportunities in their country. Responsible bodies should convince the youth that irregular migration is not the only way to lift themselves out of poverty. However, it is also important to remind our media people that, as some studies indicate, economic growth may not necessarily reduce the prevalence of irregular migration from Ethiopia to different parts of the world. One can, therefore, imagine that the effort to curb irregular migration should also be linked with the presentation of accurate information that would help people bring attitude and behavioral changes. Hence, the mainstream media are unconditionally responsible to creatively and continuously avail accurate information for the society.
Evidently, there is no question about the urgency and importance of addressing irregular migration in Ethiopia. Correspondingly, notwithstanding the local media here in Tigray (Ethiopia) do not give due attention to the issue, one cannot overlook the role of media in creating awareness and mitigating irregular migration. Along with other social, economic, and political interventions, the media (both the social media and the mainstream media) can be influential allies in regulating irregular migration.
Therefore, it is important to recommend that our media professionals and other stakeholders should consider irregular migration as a fundamental social and economic issue which demands policy interventions from the media side. The media should at least create dialogue platforms between policymakers and communities directly or indirectly impacted by irregular migration. Marginalizing the issue might not be justifiable. We expect continuous media reports and discourses which prompt lasting positive changes on the issue.
Ed.’s Note: Kibrom Berhane is a lecturer of Journalism and Communication at Mekele University. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]
Contributor by Kibrom Berhane