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Rohingya crisis: Responsible journalism at stake

  • Published at 11:13 pm November 30th, 2019
File Photo: Rohingya men and women migrating to different camps in Cox Bazar Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Some reports may provide excuses to the Myanmar government to stay away from taking responsibilities for their crimes, experts have said

Both local and international print and electronic media have played a role, as a catalyst to draw global attention to Rohingya refugees seeking justice for the persecutions they faced in Myanmar. 

After fleeing shocking violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state, over 1 million Rohingyas are now living in Bangladesh in the world’s biggest refugee camp. Despite the welcome they have received, many are now struggling to imagine a future for themselves.

At the onset of the refugee influx starting on August 25, 2017, the media in general put forth its commitment to expose the abuse, exploitation and persecution that the Rohingya people had long been enduring.

However, since the talks to repatriate them from the Cox’s Bazar camps began, particularly before the second anniversary of the Rohingya exodus, the media reports have largely portrayed the sufferings of the host communities.

File photo of Rohingya women and children in a camp in Cox Bazar | Mahmud Hossain Opu/ Dhaka Tribune This almost deviating posture of the media raises eyebrows among experts as they conclude with apprehension that such reports may further worsen the already existing fissure between the host community, and the Rohingya refugees. 

They said this could provide excuses to the Myanmar government to stay away from taking responsibilities for their crimes.

Media and development practitioners alike put blame on local reporters and newsmen in this regard, as the latter are less aware of news sensitivity.

This is because the local journalists have little or no experience in conflict sensitive journalism (CSJ). The field-level reporters also lacked required training and knowledge to report on the issue, they observed. 

File Photo of Rohingyas migrating to different camps all over Cox Bazar | BIGSTOCK

Fear of emergence of new dimensions in Rohingya crisis

Appreciating enthusiasm of media to address Rohingya crisis vividly, the Additional Commissioner of the Office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Mizanur Rahman said the news published over the crisis in recent months reveals apparent lack of insight among the reporters and journalists, resulting in disproportionate reporting that could deviate the crisis into something more problematic.

The host community is becoming intolerant as these partially true or half done reports are triggering panic and anxiety among locals of losing property to Rohingya people who may be staying for a much longer period in the area. 

Meanwhile, the government is making a determined effort to ensure quick repatriation of the forcibly displaced Rohingya people. As opposed to the ground reality, newsmen, in general, due to lack of adequate knowledge about the crisis and the people, have continued to publish unsubstantiated reports and articles, he added. 

"As a result, we note with apprehension that recent reports interpreting matters related to Rohingya refugees rather wrongly, and their characters, reason behind their unwillingness to return home were deliberately misconstrued in those reports," he said. 

“To me 99% of the reports categorically failed to address the crisis properly. And spreading false information could only increase the chances of flaring up conflicts among the host community and the refugee people,” the additional commissioner warned. 

Reckoning earlier statements, another senior RRRC official, seeking anonymity, said the worst part of these reports is that these half-done-reports would proffer opportunities to the Myanmar authorities to mislead global community by showing the reports as proof to their claims.

A UNHCR official seeking to be unnamed also said, even if the repatriation process starts tomorrow, it would take a long time to complete, and until the end of the repatriation, the host and refugees would have to reside side by side. 

“Therefore, any sort of tension could create a dangerous situation in the area,” the official added.

Understanding conflict sensitive journalism (CSJ)

In his handbook on Conflict Sensitive Journalist, Ross Howard said: “Professional journalists do not set out to reduce conflict. They seek to present accurate and impartial news. But, through good reporting the conflict reduces often.”

International Media Support (IMS) published the handbook in 2009. 

According to the book, a responsible report in conflict situation could deliver eleven tasks automatically, including - channeling communication with each community, educating each side about other’s difficulty, confidence-building as part of trust building on each others, correcting misperceptions, identifying bottom-line interests of each other, and also reducing tension and launch negotiations through a new insight of the crisis. 

Zain Mahmood, former staff correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, and a CSJ expert told the Dhaka Tribune recently that the reporters in Bangladesh do not have proper training and education on conflict sensitive journalism (CSJ). 

"When the mass exodus began, we noted a good number of reports that had used words and jargons evidently stigmatizing Rohingya refugees. Later some elements of sensitivity were identified in reports and usage of predisposed words and terms were decreased," he added.

However, with the passage of time another crisis has begun to emerge. Many reporters failed to make balanced reports, especially on the reaction of the delay of repatriation of these refugees, he added.

He said the news should have been balanced and objective, and written in a way that the information would be delivered as opposed to creating any fear among the communities concerned.

Conflict sensitive journalism is yet to get due importance in the curriculum of mass communication and journalism education in the country. Students who received formal training from the journalism departments in the country, said the concept was taught as part of a development discourse although CSJ was not taught comprehensively. 

Besides, a significant number of reporters were not students of journalism. Therefore, it’s a new concept for them, and to ensure objective and responsible journalism, adequate training is needed, said a number of communication specialists at the development agencies in the country.

Reporters stationed in Cox’s Bazar blamed lack of training and motivational programs from the respective media houses for their ignorance or limitations on CSJ. 

“After the mass exodus in 2017, our workload has increased and we are having a very busy schedule, but no extra benefits or incentives are offered,” said the Teknaf correspondent of a national daily.

When asked about organizing training for journalists, RRRC Additional Commissioner Mizanur Rahman said it is not their duty to arrange training for journalists. However, for the greater interest, RRRC is ready to offer help in hosting training programs, he added.