Interview with the Secretary General of the MIER Network, Faustin Akafack, on the potential and problems of the media made by migrant and Italian citizens and journalists.
Formally established in 2010, the Emilia-Romagna Intercultural Media Network is an innovative reality that brings together publishers of the media created by migrant and Italian citizens and journalists in this region. Whether defined as "intercultural", "multicultural" or "ethnic", these media burst into the Italian market driven by the need to self-represent and make a different image and closer to the reality of that offered by the mainstream media.
A sector with great potential and very dynamic: today there are more than 500 initiatives. It is also a sector destined to change the way of making information in Italy to recover the service function towards all citizens, to contribute to know the migratory phenomena and also to spread the concept of diversity in the media.
On the other hand, these media are characterized by weak structures, depend above all on public funding and have often non-professional and voluntarily engaged collaborators.
The MIER network fits into this context, on the one hand to make its contribution in the way in which the issues of immigration in the media are to be represented, on the other to solve the problems that these media have, primarily those of economic sustainability and of training. To better understand the potential and problems of these media, Albanianews, who is also one of the newspapers belonging to the MIER Network, interviewed its Secretary General Faustin Akafack, a journalist of Cameroonian origin, founder of the web radio Asterisco and the newspaper Tamburo, both newspapers from Bologna focused on immigration and intercultural issues.
Is self-representation so important in the media?
Yes, the more time passes, the more this importance is confirmed also for how society is structured in Italy: there are categories of every kind to protect the interests of a group of people who want to be protected or feel threatened in some way. So self-representation is important because those who know you better than you.
Is self-representation born more as a need or as a reaction to the representation that the media provides of those who decide to self-represent themselves?
First and foremost it was born as a reaction because most of our publications were born precisely because they didn't feel absolutely represented, but then it turned into a need because we live in a society where some voices are not heard and if we ourselves can be carriers of these voices, it is no longer a reaction but a need. So the mission becomes double. On the one hand, reacting on the way immigration is represented because there continues to be a certain laziness among journalists in taking responsibility, verifying the sources and trying to deepen the arguments before writing lightly pieces that cause the general malaise of the population. On the other hand, having solved this aspect, I go back to everyday life, I live, I do the shopping, I do the same things as the people in my neighborhood, so it is a need to communicate and express themselves. Every day we have to remember a few things to say how to protect the few privileges and rights acquired so as not to lose them.
After the individual experiences of multicultural media, the MIER Network was also born. In short, why was it born?
The MIER Network was created to network these small singularly constituted realities. A proverb from Burkina Faso, to paraphrase an ant, teaches us that moving together we would move an elephant. In this case, the intercultural media by putting together can raise the level of claim because they have skills and a series of elements that allow them to broaden their horizons and amplify their voice.
When was the Net born?
Officially, the 2011 is the second year of the establishment of the Network. The project was born some time ago, but it has been concretely formalized in the 2010. We are at the beginning of the phase in which the network is trying to walk with its own legs and after a year of activity there are many projects in the pipeline.
What are the main difficulties of intercultural media?
The main difficulty is the economic one because the objectives cannot be achieved without having a minimum of funding. Most of our media fail to produce and create profit. They are socialization and communication tools available to the community. These newspapers are born in this area. Subsequently one grows, has ambitions and possibilities that may be to have advertising space. The ethnic market is taking on quite important forms and quotas in Italy and a Network like ours would like to be an interlocutor for this economic sector. The only real possibility to make it is self-sustenance. Many projects were born and then died because they were funded. So for the MIER Network, if a newspaper receives a loan through which it puts up the structure, then it needs to be done to make its reality sustainable, and the Network has all the conditions to expect even the ethnic market.
Other than economic, other difficulties?
I am convinced that solving the economic one all the rest follows. Because in fact these newspapers exist, they do not have to be created. They have done a certain path, they have shown to have determination and desire to do and they also have the right numbers to do it. We need to turn economic sustainability around to put everyone in the tracks.
Has anything changed better than in previous years?
The situation has worsened a little. Today, due to the fact that the ethnic market is increasingly appealing to large groups that are much more powerful mastodons than a reality like ours and cut funds at the source. We are working to make the MIER Network a strong regional reality. At the moment there is no such reality in Italy and if we succeed in achieving this goal, we could reverse the situation and intercept the funds directly. The deterioration is also linked to the fact that there is unfair competition because large groups today turn to foreign communities only for commercial interest. We are in the free market, but ethics wants the contents to be verified and monitored in some way if they reach the goals in some way. And it is also the predominance of this commercial interest that justifies the presence of multicultural media like ours.
What are the widespread media relations like? Are there collaborations, exchanges of opinions, common training?
At this moment something exists. There are collaborations that bring results because many of them cannot cover the sector we cover due to difficulties. Many of them do not care, but we are behind them to say try to consult us, we do it for free, and it is a message that we should still carry on for quite a while. In this context, our goal is to transform ourselves into an observatory tomorrow, to which the widely used media can draw on to have confirmations and checks before publishing certain things. Although at this time there is still no flow that we would like, we are working in this direction.
What does it mean to become an observatory?
Have the opportunity to cover every sector in the territory on the subject of immigration with our newspapers. Nobody can beat us on how to return these issues to a widely distributed public. At first, we are also available to collaborate with other widespread media that have larger audiences than ours.
In the context of relations with the widely disseminated media, one can also insert the Protocol of Intercultural Communication signed at the regional level two years ago. It works?
According to the Protocol, on a practical level we should all observe a certain way of dealing with immigration issues, but it seems that the application at the territorial level has not been verified. In this case, the Region that established this instrument should somehow monitor the situation, because the protocol itself remains a declaration of common intent to comply with certain criteria. In other words, it is a question that should be addressed to every signatory because the protocol was signed when the network had not yet been established. For its part, the Network, through its member publications, may in some way build a system to evaluate the trend.
How important is the provenance in the journalistic description of someone committing a crime?
It is a fact that we would never tire of emphasizing. The journalist profession insists on reporting the facts that are of common interest and that can help people live better. If it were a generalized rule, nobody would complain but it is in specific cases where a foreigner, a non-Italian citizen commits or is involved in a crime that his membership is underlined. In fact it is not a shame, but specifying it in those cases means that we are highlighting that foreigners commit crimes and this is not good.
In certain periods there are more non-Italian citizens from the same country who commit crimes. Have you noticed?
Yes, and when the elections approach we notice more. It is such a systematic thing that, as someone says, one has the impression of always being in the election campaign. We must maintain a climate of terror, we must keep the population under pressure and every now and then when we want to distract the citizens from the exits of the rulers who say one every day, "worrying" data are published. This is not information, it is disinformation. I think it's a pretty serious thing because the people who do it leave a heavy legacy for others to handle. So these data that are published at certain times are very much pushed in a certain direction.
It is a deception and a cowardly way of exploiting people who have no say. In Italy certain categories are not touched, just as others are touched in certain specific moments precisely because the latter cannot say anything. Foreigners do not vote and as long as this is the case we will witness similar situations. When foreigners can vote, they will be talked about with respect.
Politics will have its reasons for moving in this direction, but do the media do it consciously and intentionally, or do they just do their duty?
Let's clear up a fact. In Italy when it comes to the media, it must be remembered that there are often economic groups behind that also support different political parties. In this case, some data respond to the vision that politics has, which when it wants to give a message in a certain way, uses its communication channels.
On the other hand, in the various meetings also held with Italian colleagues, journalists often defend themselves by saying that they have taken the information in the way it is then published. So, a network like ours offers them the opportunity to call us first to check and confirm. If the voice comes from the MIER network because it has had time to verify the thing on behalf of a third party very well, we do our role and insist on repeating that we are there.
Another aspect is linked to the difficulties associated with exercising this profession, it is a reality we know. We have to try in some way to meet us and the variants to work on are mainly three: the first politician: people have to take their responsibilities, the second is the lack of sources and the last: everyone must simply do his job well as a journalist without preconceptions.
Is it different in local contexts? Could it be that the bad information is not done in an intentional and conscious way?
I think it is the same because we are photographing a reality at the local level, but the effects and causes are always the same at the national level. Local politics plays a lot and for this reason the immigration theme is used a lot. So the difference between national and local information is subtle. But at the local level there is the possibility to learn more if you want to do your job well: it's not like you write from Bologna about what happens in Rome or Palermo. We are in the region and we first enter into the merits of local issues.
The way in which today we talk about immigration in the media, does it not make the comparison and common training between Italian and foreign journalists necessary?
It is desirable, also because many of our editors have little experience and deal with those who have been doing it for a long time, it always helps. On the other hand, if Italian colleagues working at the local level are pleased to elucidate some mysteries related to communities or specific habits, I think that potentially all of us are able to answer these questions. At the same time, the MIER Network tries to organize periodically and create opportunities for such comparisons.
Instead of setting up intercultural media, isn't it better to aim to be a part of the media coverage of news organizations?
I think a change of this kind is taking place in some way. To be called journalists, you have to deserve the title and get busy. Many of our editors are not journalists but people who live situations daily and want to tell them. In this light, our network can be considered as the antechamber, the incubator that will produce the journalists of tomorrow. Many started like this: collaborating with our newspapers, they discovered the passion for the trade.
At that point it is their right, indeed it is desirable to try to integrate into these editorial offices because the contamination is positive. Right now, rarely understood. The Net is not a static reality, but it moves, grows, and tomorrow if an editor of one of our newspapers becomes a journalist, he too must have the ambition to work for a newspaper that offers him more opportunities. In this sense there are no limits. It is important to know that both multicultural media and the single foreign journalist bring something more into the world of information.
It seems that in the world of information foreign journalists have a sort of specialization dealing mainly with immigration, with Albania and in any case with the cultures or countries from which they come. In the end, the challenge of Italian journalism would not be to get Alban from Albania to speak, but Antonio who does so with full knowledge of the facts. Is this so?
We were a bit forced to be immigrants and talk about immigration. But a change is taking place because many aspire and change, talking about everything else. And so if they see their colleague Antonio who speaks badly of foreigners they will say "look at that topic you don't write like that". Or, when in the editorial conference there is a theme to deal with many elements that can generate prejudices, the foreign journalist in this editorial even if he does not deal directly with that theme, he will say "set up so it causes negative reactions".
Surely, the fact of being a foreigner and speaking by force of immigration is a limit because many foreigners have many things to express besides shouting their anger at a communication system that segregates them in the various compartments. In this perspective, working in multicultural publications does not only mean reporting situations but also expressing a talent. I like music, do I like culture in general? Well I do it also for these reasons, but I start from duty. It is necessary to say this theme should not be treated like this because it creates problems for me. I see the intercultural journalist with this dual function.
What are the next steps for the Mier Network?
The first is to complete an internal structure that will allow us to organize initiatives independently. This is fundamental because we were just born, but from a year after birth we can say that ideas are always clearer on the work setting. After that, as far as collaboration with the territory is concerned, the idea is to decentralize a little because the MIER Network in the local realities of our publications to consolidate a certain vision that the network wants to bring to the regional communication landscape. This will pass through events and meetings that will allow you to always explore remaining in the themes of immigration and interculture.
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