Aliens? Are we still using the word?

The Media Monitoring Project (MMP) has launched a formal complaint against South Africa’s best selling Daily Sun newspaper for referring to foreign nationals as “aliens“, in a case that highlights how the media has to constantly revisit its own vocabulary.

This, they argue, is not in line with its responsibility to fair, balanced, accurate and non-discriminatory reporting, according to the Press Code.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has also cautioned against calling people fleeing the xenophobic violence “refugees” saying it is feeding into the xenophobia mentality.

UNHCR spokesman Yusuf Hassan told Sapa that those displaced include: refugees, asylum seekers, migrant workers with valid work permits, students and economic migrants, permanent residents with valid documentation, as well as illegal immigrants.

Research conducted at the University of Milan’s department of psychology examined the underlying messages in choices of words used and found that terms like “Non-EU” and “illegal” centre on categorising people as coming from outside the community and the use of the word “illegal” equates to criminal.

Writing on Poynter Online, Mizanur Rahman says: “It’s becoming an uncomfortably familiar question in newsrooms when someone with a Spanish surname is a crime suspect: Is he illegal?” he asks. All Hispanics aren’t immigrants. And all immigrants aren’t Hispanic.”

Editors have to grapple with new words and terms everyday – some of them make sense, but others are just the “speak” of the time. What is your newsroom’s policy on “rape victim” or “rape survivor”? The language to be used when reporting on HIV/Aids has become clearer with reporting tools provided by advocacy groups. Whichever one we choose, we define the person we are writing about.

Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave is a good example. He was the man photographed on the front page of The Star after a weekend of violence attributed to xenophobia and for a few days he was just “a foreigner”.

Star reporter Beauregard Tromp’s investigation into who this man was gave us his full name and told us that he was from Mozambique, giving us a few details of his life in a richness of reporting that does not need generic labels.


4 responses to “Aliens? Are we still using the word?

  1. Strong news piece. Well referenced. Plenty of hyperlinks (maybe too much??).

    Your news background features strongly. Relevant topic too! More images may have been useful – but I know you were battling to download stuff.

    Scuzzverdict: 8/10

  2. A well referenced piece. Enjoyed reading it 8/10

  3. Hi Julie,

    You present a strong argument. I have to agree with Craig that your news background is prominent. Good use of links and the video strongly supports your argument.

  4. I have a keen interest in the xenophobia topic so your piece is very interesting. You also referenced very well (how do you do it so quickly, I ask??) and the video is well chosen too.

    I think we shouldn’t have chips on our shoulders about calling a spade a spade, but the world ‘alien’ doesn’t quite jel with me either to describe foreighners – the word originally implies describing something that is not human.

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