The Listening Post

Spinning the refugee crisis

We explore Hungarian TV’s decision to not show images of refugee children; plus, Nigeria’s ‘brown envelope’ journalists.

For the past few weeks, the stories of distraught men, women and children arriving at mainland Europe have been dominating newspaper front pages.

Fleeing war-torn countries, the vast majority of the refugees have arrived in Hungary as they head further west in search of safety.

However, harrowing pictures of refugees being held in squalid campgrounds, reminiscent to Nazi concentration camps, has sparked debate over the Hungarian government’s treatment of refugees – and also over its treatment of the media.

For journalists covering the crisis, this story has been a crash course on Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s disdain of the news media.

According to a leaked memo, Hungary’s State TV was told by the government-appointed Media Authority not to broadcast images of children.

An official reason given was to ‘protect the children’ but when the memo became public it was seen as a governmental effort to limit sympathy for the refugees. And as we all saw with the photo of three-year-old boy Aylan Kurdi, a single image really does have the power to change discourse, coverage and even policy. 

Discussing the media coverage of the refugee crisis are: Dan Nolan, a Budapest-based journalist; Tamas Bodoky, editor-in-chief of the online newspaper; Peter Bouckaert, the emergency director at Human Rights Watch; and Sue Clayton, a professor of Film and Television at Goldsmiths University, London.

Other media stories on our radar this week: journalists keep getting arrested and deported from Turkey but the president still talks up freedom of the press in the country; the Venezuelan government was ordered to re-establish the broadcasting license of opposition TV channel RCTV; and in China, stories that make the headlines one day, are disappearing the next.

Nigerian journalists and ‘brown envelopes’ 

Nigerian journalists are among the worst paid reporters in Africa and that creates a flourishing ground for corruption.

Money given in theory to cover a journalist’s travel costs and expenses tends to affect the way the story is reported.

And in a country where corruption tends to trickle from the top down, rooting it out of any particular institution is easier said than done.

The Listening Post‘s Nic Muirhead travelled to Lagos, Nigeria’s media capital to report on the local syndrome known as “brown envelope journalism”.

We close the show this week going back to the refugee story. Hans Rosling is a Swedish medical doctor, a statistician, an academic, a giver of Ted Talks, the kind of big thinker who ends up on those annual lists of the world’s most influential people. In an interview with Danish Television DR2 he argues that, to understand this story, news coverage is simply not enough. The answer lies in educating ourselves and then watching the coverage.