Marco Panzetti is an award-winning journalist who dedicates his professional career to reporting on migration. His story “Troubled Waters” won First Place, Video Category in the 2017 Migration Media Award. The OPEN Media Hub spoke with Marco after his participation in the workshop “The role of policymakers and journalist in shaping the public perception of migration” at European Parliament on April 25, 2018, where he showed his work “Life after Hell” developed with financial support from the Migration Media.
Marco, you have been on a rescue ship, worked in the migration centers in Italy. What is most challenging thing in reporting on migration?
When you work for a long time on a subject like migration, at some point you start empathizing, feeling for what migrants do. You get too attached to some migrants and stories and sometimes you lose the big picture.
Another big question is the issue of the freelancer, because you need funding. It’s too hard for a freelancer like me to get proper funding to do its projects. And if you work for a big media, for any kind of media, you are somehow forced to follow certain type of stories. Or to show some kind of drama in your stories. And then you are not 100 percent free.
I think, working with migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, who are telling you awful stories, about their terrible situations and horrible backgrounds, you reach certain saturation – you can not stand more suffering. This also is a big part of the problem, especially if you are covering this subject for long time, as I am.
Migration has been front page for the European media for years now. Do you find there is a real interest in this subject or there is already a fatigue in the public and journalists with these types of stories?
There is a fatigue in the media. Until 2014 migration was only a spot in the news and since the beginning of the migration crisis it became a big story for everyone. I found myself covering some aspects of this stories with hundreds other journalists. It became big debate and images shown in the media became a little bit overwhelming during this period. Especially in some countries (I come from Italy and live in Spain), in Italy for example it was the story of the years and in Spain, it has been greatly in the news.
We are coming to a turning point now with numbers of migrants coming down and the public becoming a little bit overwhelmed. And that’s why I think the awards and grants, the photography and video industry awards are shifting to another subject, may be related to migration, but not with the same focus. I have personal example: last week I was awarded the first prize in photojournalism in Spain. The winning photo was one of a refugee in Italy, but it was a posed portrait, inside a tent. And she was pregnant. The second and the third place were more seen pictures of migration like borders. So, I think in the industry there is also a process of innovation and they prefer to award a picture, which is more about integration in Italy, or struggling for a better live in Europe.
There has been a lot of talk that journalism should be fact-based, based on a deep knowledge on the subject. Do you think there are more stories to tell about migrants that are coming or wishing to come to Europe, that have not been told yet by journalists or may be told wrongly during the last 4 years?
We, journalists, overlooked some aspects and are still overlooking some related subjects. How many stories have we seen about the background or the reasons, forcing people to leave. Of course, we all have seen the images of bombings in Syria. I think the public opinion was more open to refugees from Syria because of the images from the war. But then but we have never saw images from poor villages in Accra in Ghana, Nigeria or West Africa where big portion of migrants to Italy are coming from. We don’t know, it was not in the media.
Do you think that the public distinguishes migrants from refugees?
There is biased discussion there. At some point a distinction must be made, because some legal aspects force authorities to do so. But who can tell if fleeing from persecution of war is worse than being starving at home? Both deserve better live and better future. That is why I think the debate should be more about policies, reforming asylum laws in the European countries.
Because people often think this is too complicated or too boring to discuss?
I think the subject of changing laws should be in the media, but I agree that it could be boring for the average public. The media should be pushing for such a debate, which is not happening now. For the same reason I think politicians should be taking initiative to start reforming these laws and thinking about Dublin agreement, about collaboration between European countries. Those are still thing that everybody is talking about, but nobody is doing anything about.
How do you perceive the role of journalists in shaping the debate? How should lead – the decisionmakers or the media?
Decisionmakers are well paid to do their job and they should. The first move should come from them. But also, in media, especially in the big ones, there is a big lack of information on certain topics, related to migration. I don’t know if it’s only about the market – that the people won’t buy it or it’s is easer to focus on other stories that are more dramatic or easer to report about?
Personally, as a free-lancer, lucky enough to choose his own subjects, I would definitely shift my attention to other topics that related to migration.
You have won the first Media Migration Award last year. As a small curtesy to colleagues, what in your opinion made the jury to pick your work among the other candidates films?
There are two types of answers here. One is about the format and when I work, I always try to differentiate the formats that I use. I consider myself a photographer, but I also do the field working, I always shoot some video, I record interviews, sound. I am also starting to use 360-degree recording. I am trying to differentiate the formats and I think that if a journalist wants to succeed right now, needs to do. Especially the freelancer.
I don’t now what was the reason for the jury, but if I am to find one about the work that I have done, I should think about trying to tell a story where the public, the audience is somehow encouraged to feel some empathy towards the subject. So, if I take a photo of a migrant on a rescue ship, I always try to have a little bit of his story. Of course, I decided to put aside many pictures of people in poor conditions, because I prefer to show a more dignified vision of the subjects. So, I think is about the empathy, about telling the human story behind or beside the drama.
And what do you think about the dramatization of stories? Do you think you need to dramatize to be heard, to be noticed or your job is properly done when you report exactly what you see?
You never report exactly what you see. You can try, but there is never an objective reporting. Everybody has its own vision and this vision is seen in the pieces they produce. But there is a need for drama and it comes from media. If you want to publish photographs in newspaper of magazine and you have been on a rescue ship, you present 100 pictures and they would choose those 20, when you can see people in the boats, struggling to get a life-jacket, the images that really sell, but it’s OK. You have these pictures, the media wants them and you can keep more personal work for other purposes like putting together a video piece, or a more personal piece. So, when someone sees your pictures in the magazine and goes to your website, they can find a more in-depth piece, can see video, they can hear interviews, a 360 video or a virtual reality. Those dramatic images, the ones that sell can lead, can bring people to explore different content if they are interested. If an interested audience is coming to your website, this is a good thing.