The on-going refugee crisis in Europe, caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, has led to 8.1 million refugees fleeing from Ukraine till March 6, 2023. However, new hostility towards refugees has begun to emerge very early, particularly in certain countries of Eastern Europe, where soaring inflation has led to disinformation portraying refugees as ingrates siphoning off resources from needy locals.
The Czech Republic has received 0.495 million refugees till March 6, 2023, hosting the largest number per capita in the world. According to Czech Radio, its inflation soared by 17.2 per cent in August 2022. A viral post in Czech falsely claimed that “a Ukrainian family of four can collect as much as 90,000 korun (about US$3,700) per month in aid, far more than the income of an average Czech family”. Many similar articles carry the same message that Ukrainians are taking away resources from others. Even some renowned news organizations have made mistakes in reporting issues related to Ukrainian refugees. On March 17, 2022, Associated Press and BBC News incorrectly reported that the Czech Prime Minister had said: “The Czech Republic can no longer accept refugees from Ukraine”. It was a mistranslation of his Czech quote: “We are at the very limit of what we are capable of absorbing without any major problems and we must continue in the steps that will allow us to cope with more high numbers”. The BBC later corrected the mistranslation.
As the articles mentioned above, while reporting sensitive issues such as the refugee crisis, many news stories about Ukrainian refugees lack accuracy and compassion, portraying them as a group of anonymous outsiders who are dangerous and who take resources away from locals. This has led to resentment against Ukrainian refugees, with many fearing that their arrival will raise the cost of living and ruin the national economy.
On July 23, 2022, The STEM Sociological Research Institute in Prague shows that support for Ukraine, while still relatively high, has been rapidly decreasing since a few weeks, falling by as much as 100,000 people per week among the Czech Republic's 10.7 million people.
Investigating and reporting on the refugee crisis poses ethical and professional dilemmas for journalists. Ethical reporting of the refugee story requires journalists to avoid bias and rumours, to be wary of social networks and internet noise, and to focus on evidence and verifiable facts. Only when journalists avoid their own biases can they eliminate the biases of the public toward refugees through media coverage. Compassion and empathy are also crucial parts of these reports. Journalists should bear witness and amplify the voices of the dispossessed while appreciating the suffering they have endured, instead of catering to anti-immigrant sentiment.
Covering the refugee story is a public service and a huge social responsibility for journalists. How news media do their work in these difficult conditions will not only shape public opinion but can also exert some influence on the war and its aftermath. If journalists lack accuracy and compassion when covering the issues of Ukrainian refugees, their mistakes may lead to anti-immigrant or anti-Ukraine sentiment, which will benefit Russia. It is therefore crucial that news ethics are upheld when reporting on refugee issues.
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