Media and minorities: Roundtables as a tool for exchange
By Anna Alboth, Media Officer at Minority Rights Group Europe
Why is it important to create a space where media makers, media experts and human rights activists meet? In our Engaging Media and Minorities to Act for Peacebuilding (EMMAP) programme, MRG supports both journalists and minority activists in gaining skills and experience to change the narrative on human rights in West Africa towards on that is more ethical and meaningful. While participants took our online course on these issues, we organised a roundtable in Accra to cultivate deeper exchanges.
The moderator of the roundtable, Francis Ameyibor, head of the Ghana News Agency, emphasized in his introduction the need for the media to use its power to protect minorities. The participants then each introduced themselves and shared their experience and challenges in reporting on minority issues or being covered in stories about minorities. Some described experiencing discrimination while conducting their work in the field. It concluded with participants sharing their action plans on how they would use the knowledge gained from the discussion in their work going forward.
‘It is important that we have journalists from the region who have deeply discussed with the activists the importance of sensitive reporting on minorities and their rights. It makes sense for their professional path but also help to address the marginalisation and discrimination gap. Because most often if they report on issues without giving them a gender lens or sensitive lens, they tend to miss out the important details and we, maybe in the process, might dehumanise the victims or people who fall into the minority category. Those conversations stimulate our consciousness, our awareness and our tolerance level to be more open minded and to appreciate the inclusivity in media work’, said Theriyeh Koroma-Nenneh, Media Officer at Children’s Rights Innovation Fund in Sierra Leone.
Dr. Francis Sowa from the Media Reform Coordinating Group, our partner organization in Sierra Leone, pointed out a lack of conscious effort in reporting on minority rights issues. He suggested that the media should be interested in what minorities have to say without the need for an event to provoke the arrival of journalists.
‘Events like this make so much sense, especially one that has got participants coming from different countries, with different policies and different ways of doing things. For example, people coming here from Senegal, they work on particular topic and they have different ways of getting their results. Me, as a journalist from Ghana, I find it very inspiring to listen to their stories about how they make their politicians take actions. I am making notes and thinking how to implement it in our own country to get results for minority groups’, said Shawana Yussif, journalist of Fiila Fm from Tamale, Ghana.
Tidiane Kassé from Fahamu, our partner organization in Senegal, stressed the importance of making space for minority narratives as well as improving the information provided about them and the way it is delivered.
George Achibra, Director of Partners in Community Development Programme, a non-governmental organization based in the Volta Region and works to rescue children from slavery in Ghana, shared that ‘it is not only about Ghana, West Africa or Africa, it is a global issue – for the journalists to go on learning how to better articulate the words to let people know about the minorities, who are being marginalised. By showing documentaries, publishing articles – media are a powerful tool to bring attention and change lives. But only when it is well done. I work with kids of different minority groups, who are trafficked and used as slaves by the fishermen. When I started my work, there were denials, my own country didn’t know that children are trafficked and used. Thanks to the international eyes of media, I could bring some light to it. We need this kind of engagement between activists and local and international journalists. Only with the help of media, we can educate society.’
The keynote speaker was Professor Amin Al Hassan, Director General of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. He explained that belonging and identity are the basis of conflict and migration. He gave the example of minorities in countries where journalists do not speak their language. This ostracizes them from news coverage. He stated that every place without media is highly susceptible to conflict and emphasized the media’s crucial role in preventing conflict and promoting peace.
Adam Abdul Wahab, Communication Officer at the Ghana Federation of Disability Organizations, said ‘It is very important and relevant to be having this kind of event, when the media world meets publishers and people working on the ground. I am a person with albinism, some people want to look at my story as something special … instead of treating me equally and including me in the story they are telling. At the end, some stories actually become more discriminatory than [they] do good for cases like mine. It is so important not to stop discussing the topic of inclusivity in media stories: why to do it, when to do it and how to do it.’
Roundtables are one of the best tools out there for meaningful exchange between minority communities and media actors. There is no doubt about it.
Image: Mary Ama Kudom-Agyemang from EMMAP partner organization, the Media Platform on Environment and Climate Change (MPEC) in Ghana, opening the Roundtable in Accra. Credit: Anna Alboth/MRG