By Br. Alfonce Kugwa in Kampala, Uganda
Catholic journalists, media practitioners and members of the civil society involved in the care of migrants and refugees are gathered in Kampala, Uganda to reflect on better ways of reporting on migrants and refugees in the continent. The workshop that is running from 10-15 July 2023 at St. Mary’s National Seminary, Ggaba, was organized by SIGNIS Africa in collaboration with the Dicastery for Integral Human Development and the Episcopal Conference of Uganda.
The major aim of the workshop is to empower Catholic journalists with skills to effectively and efficiently report on the plight of migrants and refugees.
Dignitaries at the conference include Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of the Pan African Episcopal Committee for Communications from Nigeria, President of SIGNIS World Mrs. Hellen Osman, Vice President of SIGNIS World, Fr. Paul Samasumo, President of SIGNIS Africa, Fr. Walter Chikwendu Ihejirika, Chairman of the Social Communications Commission UEC in Uganda, Rt. Rev. Joseph Franzelli, Chairman of the Uganda Episcopal Conference Rt. Rev. Joseph Antony Zziwa, the representative of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, Uganda government representatives and Catholic journalists from across Africa.
There is an ever growing number of migrants and refugees in the continent due to political instability and other dehumanizing factors which include lack of employment, climate change, drought and starvation and human trafficking. Uganda has over 1.5 million refugees from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and internally displace persons from within the country. The workshop emphasized the need for Catholic journalists to be able to listen to the needs of the migrants and refugees so that they are able to effectively articulate issues and concerns of this special group.
Addressing Catholic Journalists, the Chairman for Social Communications in Uganda, Rt. Rev. Joseph Franzelli called on the Church media to be sensitive to the needs of the migrants and refugees and not to trivialize or sensationalize issues about them.
“In journalism and in the media world, we all know that how we communicate is of paramount importance. We need to know and master the ways and skills through which we can share our message in the most effective way. Covering migrants, refugees and human trafficking and so on requires a special and adequate approach. Our workshop has exactly the specific aim to provide the necessary skills,” said Bishop Franzelli.
He challenged Catholic journalists to engage in communication that goes beyond provision of information but that which forms and educates people according to the Christian vision.
He stated: “Yes, ours is a work to educate, Educare, from Latin, pulling out and understanding what God has already put in each man and woman, creating us in his own image and likeness that is, being able to love, with a heart open to welcome all the children of God as our brothers and sisters. This workshop gives us also a chance for a sincere examination of conscience. Are we fulfilling our duty and mission as Catholic Journalists or we are missing the main point of our task?”
The President of the Pan African Episcopal Committee for Communications, Bishop Emmanuel Badejo challenged the Church media apparatus to support the Catholic Social Teaching in caring for migrants and refugees. He said Catholic journalists should be formed themselves to understand what the Church teaches in this regard so that they support, together with the Church, the needs of refuges and migrants.
“Catholic journalists should be there to bridge the gap between policy and implementation in caring for refugees and migrants. The entire communication apparatus of the Church in Africa is challenged to feed, sustain, and support the vision which the Church embraces. The vision of the Church characteristically challenges all predominant nationalist and protectionist stance and policies which many countries and institutions of the Western world operate today. Since media eventually define communion and influence community, the Church media and press in Africa must challenge the agenda set by the “cooperative” media which amplify, restrictive anti migrant and refugee policies,” Bishop Badejo stressed.
He encouraged Catholic Journalists to develop a reportage that promotes a welcoming culture of the refugees and migrants and not to help exacerbate their plight in host countries.
“There might be a call to duty here to evolve an “African lexicon” of terms and phraseologies informed by Christian vision and values that Christian journalists can adopt in order to educate, inform, critique, and influence governmental policies and institutions. They can over time use such a lexicon, to set an alternative, welcoming agenda for migrants reporting and self-regulation,” he said.
According to Bishop Badejo, Catholic Journalists should be well versed in the Catholic Social teaching and in the vision and mind of the Pope so that they help amplify the Church’s position in dealing with issues of migrants and refugees.
“To feed the Church’s vision, Catholic communicators need to know that vision in the documents and teachings of the Holy Father, and of the competent offices and officials within and outside the Church. Journalists are known to take on with their skills, issues that politicians would generally rather avoid. The four favourable concepts of Pope Francis about migrants and refugees, to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate migrants and refugees can be a useful tool for this task,” pointed out Bishop Badejo.
The Bishop also called on Catholic media to engage the digital transformation for purposes of giving the migrants a voice. He said the Church media must engage the digital world and promote a process that evolves language that helps to restore responsibility for the other, for the neighbour as well as give a voice to those the Church seeks to help.
“Migrants and refugees need to be heard in the management of the space and issues that concern them. The journalists can help by creating engaging, empathetic digital stories that favour the experiences of the migrants and refugees,” said the Bishop.
The workshop’s thrust was to empower Catholic journos to promote peaceful co-existence and compassion between citizens and refugees. The meeting also stressed the need for the media to help in the integration of migrants in most countries through advocating for their human rights and to promote harmony in refugee communities.
One of the speakers Dr. Pius Ojara, urged Catholic Journalists to encourage the promotion of human dignity in refugee camps in host countries by writing constructively informed stories.
“The Catholic media should fight the desacralization of human dignity of migrants and refugees. Catholic journalists should be seen to reset and re-conceptualize the agenda about migrants so that they don’t become a means for generating revenue for humanitarian architecture. Journalists must first understand the needs of the migrants so that they report effectively with facts and numbers, avoiding sensationalism and information that causes distress,” said Dr. Ojara.
Journalists who work for Church media were also reminded of their duty to uphold ethical standards that protect and support migrants and refugees so as to influence policy frameworks and to avail opportunities that displaced people can bring to host countries. They were called on to help fight all forms of stereotypes associated with migrants and refugees and to remind the world that the issue of refugees and migrants is a global problem which needs a global solution.