Journalists are everywhere in Calais these days. A real swarm of them. Strutting around the jungle, barging into people’s tents and private spaces, asking the same questions over and over (can’t they google, or read each other’s stories?), shoving their oversized cameras in people’s faces without asking for consent …
Are all journalists bastards? (AJAB?) Maybe some are decent people, actually give a shit, care about more than careers or racist agendas or Owen Jones sized egos. For instance, this recent article in the Daily Mirror is commendable: it not only treats the people stuck in Calais as people, but clearly conveys useful information. A journalist who can write, and actually did some research! And some of the local Calais media are pretty good, reporting sensibly and knowledgeably about the issues.
The thing is, though, it’s not just about individual journalists good or bad. The mass media play a systematic role in the border “crisis” and the border regime here. The rightwing UK press whipped up the political storm that shut the Sangatte refugee camp in 2001, and is now turning Calais into a militarised zone. The liberal UK media are also part of the problem. They continually reinforce the “common sense” establishment view: migration is a crisis, police and borders are necessary and legitimate, just can we make the violence a bit softer and less visible.
And all media, left or right, are part of the same bullshit game of “representing”, literally “mediating”, people’s voices and stories. They are the expert communicators (joke) who speak for us: for the hard-pressed taxpayer, for the suffering migrant, for the “british public”, for “humanity”.
In terms of the immediate situation in Calais right now, there are both good and bad sides to having journalists around.
On the plus side, media coverage can help improve some of the worst “humanitarian” aspects of the border. Particularly French journalists, as they can exert direct pressure on the government. Stories on the jungle have helped pushed the authorities to do some minimal things like install (not enough) toilets and running water. Exposés on police brutality in the French media (where we’ve worked with journalists on our dossiers and films) have made some small temporary differences in the levels of police brutality. After a big story comes out, for a while the cops are more cautious about beating people in public places.
On the negative side, journos are making it more difficult to cross the border. A lot of people trying to cross have told us this. The thing is that, left to themselves, French politicians and French cops don’t really care all that much about enforcing the British border. Basically, they want the migrants out of here. The media spotlight is making them enforce the border much more actively than they were before. The cameras following people at the eurotunnel every night are making the situation worse.
On balance, having journalists about might slightly reduce the chances of getting beaten, but it also reduces the chances of getting across. And that’s what matters most. As people have been chanting: to cross the border, “We are ready to die”. The really serious violence here isn’t spectacular, it isn’t the tear gas and truncheons. The real violence is the daily repeated misery of being trapped by the border.
1st August 2009
A UK journalist, NUJ member, was taking photos at the Ethiopian squat. When police arrived to try and arrest migrants there he was told by CRS, French riot police, that he could not take any photos. His camera was taken off him and the photos taken at the time deleted.
6th August 2009
The same UK journalist was at the Ethiopian squat when CRS again turned up. As they did he discreetly handed his camera to one of the Ethiopians who took it inside the squat. Police then told him that it was illegal under French law to photograph the police and got aggressive with him. They asked for his camera. At this point he showed his NUJ ID and UK ID, saying that “in a democracy I don’t think police should have the authority to exercise editorial control over images people could see”. He called his NUJ union representative and has since enagaged NUJ legal advisors on the issue. He was not prepared to say where his equipment was and was detained for 15 minutes while police made calls and then changed their minds and released him.
Relevant article of police law stating it is not illegal to photograph police, unless engaged in secret service activities, English translations coming soon: