The photographs come from all over — Manila, Mosul and Caracas, remote Australia and rural Cuba. They capture people demanding dignity in every circumstance, and, having first appeared in The New York Times, their intent is to make you stop, look and think.
Now, for the first time in Australia, you can see them not on your phone or computer, but in an exhibit, called “Hard Truths.”
Hosted at the University of Melbourne through Oct. 11, it’s an effort to display our colleagues’ award-winning work in a fresh new way, in person and in large format. The experience is meant to be provocative — to raise questions about how the media represents the world and how the world responds to its ills, from war to poverty and climate change.
Last night, we held two events in support of the project. First there was a Q&A with Adam Ferguson, an Australian photographer who shoots all over the world for The Times. A panel discussion on global migration followed, with Julian Burnside, the human rights lawyer; Professor Karen Farquharson, who researches the sociology of race and identity, and Professor Michelle Foster, the inaugural director of the Peter McMullin Center on Statelessness at Melbourne Law School.
I was part of both discussions (at the risk of talking too much), and what I found striking and encouraging was the audience’s intense interest in how journalism can be done responsibly.
At the Q&A, students asked what we do to make sure those we cover feel as though they have a voice in the process. At the panel, we discussed how the media could improve its coverage of migration. I was also asked what journalists should do when they see other journalists failing to live up to basic ethical standards.
These are tough questions. I honestly don’t have an answer to the last one. As I told the crowd, I’ve often seen other journalists being rude or sensationalizing a major news event — like an earthquake or a mass shooting — and I’ve never known quite what to say.
With the other questions, though, I see clearer paths to more responsible journalism.
One thing I often do to make sure people I write about don’t feel burned and exploited is promise to come back to them before publication and read them the parts of my story that relate to them. I do this to make sure my characterizations are accurate, and to keep people from being surprised.
Especially for those who have shared sensitive personal experiences and haven’t dealt with the media much, I try to explain where they fit into the story — to make sure they understand the process. Sometimes people argue for changes, sometimes they ask why I wrote what I did, but in almost every case, the discussion ends positively and the person feels more included.
As for migration, I think there are some basic best practices that journalists can follow when writing about it. For example, I don’t use terms like “wave” or “invasion” when describing migrant inflows, especially not when it’s related to asylum seekers. That kind of language has been used for decades to stoke xenophobia, and it’s loaded — it suggests that migrants are always a threat.
Also, it’s important to rely on data to encourage reasonable (rather than emotional) debate. At one point on our evening panel, for example, Professor Foster asked the crowd to guess what percentage of all migrants coming to Australia arrive on humanitarian visas. One member of the audience guessed 40 percent.
The actual number? Two percent, if all temporary visas are included; 10 percent if you look only at permanent migrants who have arrived since 2000. In general, it’s far less than most people think.
“Hard Truths,” the photo exhibit, includes stark images from countries where many refugees come from — Iraq, Cuba and Venezuela among them. And it’s worth asking whether the media’s attention to these places contributes to the perception that asylum seekers are far too numerous for wealthy, successful countries like Australia and the United States to handle.
But by the same token, what would the world be like without these images that aim to help us understand? Maybe it’s not the images that are the problem so much as the way they are interpreted and used for politics. How we handle them is up to us. They present us with an opportunity — if only we’ll engage.
As Julian Burnside said at the end of our panel last night, citing the name of a documentary film about Germany and its history of hate: “Never look away. Never look away.”
How useful was this post?
Click on a star to rate it!
Average rating / 5. Vote count:
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Thanks for your feedback!