Tell them we’re from here

Date: January 1, 1970
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This article follows two survivors of xenophobia in the immediate aftermath of a national outbreak of xenophobia in May 2008 as they shelter at a police station.

This article may be used to:
  • highlight the relationship between hard news stories and features;
  • address stereotypes surrounding foreigners;
  • debate the role of journalists as advocates.
 Trainers’ notes:
This feature chronicles three days in the lives of a mother and son who were targeted in xenophobic attacks. While media covered the attacks heavily, this article goes beyond many hard news pieces that appeared during the time. In this instance, the journalist found an effective feature angle stemming from a hard news story that allowed her to take the hard news story to another level, which offered a more nuanced look at the violence. Features often have more leeway in terms of both length and style – the journalist uses this to her advantage. The longer length of the medium allows her to flesh out her subjects and their surroundings, humanising the story.  The fact that the piece was compiled over an extended period of time – three days – also shows the journalist’s commitment to the subject matter.
In a way, the journalist’s focus on humanising this mother and son speaks to stereotypes surrounding foreigners.  At the heart of xenophobia is a perception of “us vs. them,” – or an “othering” – that allows people to see foreigners as a group distinct from their own. Following from this, many people claim they can identify immigrants by their appearances. The article attacks this stereotype by stating early on that both mother and son are South Africans. Othering of certain groups essentially dehumanises them, making it easier for those targeting them to victimise these groups. The journalist addresses this, not only by choosing subjects likely to illicit empathy – a mother and child – but also by effectively humanising the two and showing the pain the violence had caused them.
Throughout the 20th century, media has figured into countless crisis situations, sometimes for better and worse however in the last decade there has been increasing attention being given to the positive role media can play in supporting human rights and development agendas.  Articles like this advocate a human rights agenda, helping to raise awareness about issues around vulnerable groups while also helping to include the rare voices of these populations in mainstream media.
 Discussion questions
  • Do we see this kind of in-depth reporting on immigrants or other marginalised groups often enough? Why or why not?
  • What are some of the challenges in covering xenophobia as well as immigrants in your community?
  • Within existing coverage of immigrants, what are the gaps?
  • What if any responsibilities do journalists have towards their subjects? If these do exist, do they change when subjects are vulnerable?

Training exercises:

  • Has your community been affected by xenophobia? Compile and analyse media coverage of the event and discuss its strengths and weaknesses. What’s missing? Think of feature article angles that could address the coverage gaps.
  • Make a timeline charting major events in which certain populations have been persecuted that media has influenced, including a brief description of media’s role in each. Are there any patterns? Discuss what role, if any, of media should play in terms of promoting the human rights agenda in the future.
  • Interview editors of major media outlets in your country – how/when do they think xenophobia should be covered? What do they think of their reporters’ abilities to cover this topic sensitively? Does the organisation conduct any sensitisation or training on covering vulnerable populations?

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