As valuable as journalism may or may not be, in the migrant community journalists are not well respected. This is something that has been made very clear to me throughout my stay in Morocco.
A story I was told repeatedly was of the BBC coming and doing a documentary about the struggles of migrants in the border cities of Morocco such as Tangier. Several people, Ebrima being one of them, gave their time and energy to the documentarians so they could paint a respectable picture of their struggle.
Many days were spent giving interviews, and being driven around town showing locations of events. They had been invited into migrant homes, being hosted without a second thought. Subsequently, those people that gave there time, lost out on valuable working hours and appointments with organisational aid.
When it became time to leave, the documentarians said that they had enough footage and information to finish the feature back in Europe. In return, the people asked if they could have a few jackets for the upcoming winter as compensation for their loss of time. But the reply that was given was “no, because if we show that we are on the side of migrants then we will get into trouble”. Even when told that no-one would hear of their kind gifts, they refused to give anything.
An example of a journalist causing disastrous problems was described to me when talking about documenting attempted strikes. One journalist persuaded a group of migrants who were about to strike using a boat, to let him come along and see how it worked.
When at the shore of the Mediterranean, everyone has to be incredibly quiet and look out for soldiers. There are many patrols on the land and out at sea looking for migrants trying to cross. Even with a journalist, nothing was different – the level of danger was exactly the same.
Before it was time to set off, preparations were made – inflating the boat while keeping watch across the sea. The journalist then took it upon himself to start taking pictures, not thinking twice about using the flash, instantly alerting nearby boats and guards.
Within minutes, the police had arrived and detained those attempting to strike, confiscating all of the expensive equipment used to get to Spain. This resulted in the complete waste of the strikers’ previous few months and the setback of the coming months after the incident.
These stories and many more like them resonated throughout the friendship circles that I knew of, and far beyond. People were clearly bitter and resentful towards professional media groups, to the point that they were sometimes so cautious that they refused to meet and greet with journalists at all.
Only after explaining that some particular individuals do actually care about the struggles in Morocco and not just their own careers, would they reluctantly tell their stories. Of course, this is not the same for everyone in the migrant community. Many people are also happy and sometimes even desperate to tell their tales. But it only takes a few of these counterproductive events to happen before more and more people lose trust in the media altogether.