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The New Arab Staff

'Dehumanising' BBC report on refugees boats sparks outrage

Around 4,000 asylum seekers have made the journey this year [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 August, 2020

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Reporters from the BBC and Sky News have taken to the Channel amid a rise in migrant crossings; critics accuse journalists of treating the risky journey like a 'spectator sport'.
British public broadcaster the BBC has come under fire for a "dehumanising" report accused of treating migrants and refugees crossing the Channel in unstable dinghies as a "spectator sport".

Both the BBC and British broadcaster Sky News have courted outrage after airing reports that show journalists chasing down boats carrying refugees across the English Channel.

The BBC Breakfast report opens with journalist Simon Jones on a boat with a dinghy carrying more than a dozen migrants in the background.

"You can see why it's dangerous," Jones says. "The sea is pretty choppy."

"They're using a plastic container to try to bail out the boat so obviously it's pretty overloaded," he observes, again describing the crossing as "dangerous".

The reporter then approaches the dinghy, yelling across the water: "Are you okay? Are you alright? Where are you from?"

The migrants aboard the dinghy answer they are from Syria.

After asking the refugees where they are headed, Jones' boat sails away from the dinghy as he describes having witnessed another dinghy capsize near Dover.

"They seem to be safe at the moment but obviously the coastguard has been alerted," he says. "We'll shadow it and see how the situation develops."


Shared on Twitter, the report has garnered thousands of angry comments from viewers who described the video as "dehumanising".

"This is by far one of the most dehumanising things I have witnessed. This is not journalism, this is watching refugees as if it's spectator sport," said Arnesa Buljusmic-Kustura. "Yes, refugees, not migrants but refugees fleeing horrific conditions in hopes of a better life. Completely shameful."

Musician Laura Jansen echoed that sentiment: "This isn't journalism. This is voyeurism at its worst."

"Making a spectacle out of human beings like this fuels the fires of xenophobia, fear and racism," said the Dutch-American singer, who co-founded the Movement on the Ground NGO which provides humanitarian assistance to refugees in Greece.

Others described the report as treating the dangerous crossing like "reality TV", a "nature documentary" or "circus entertainment".

"In case you're wondering, this is how fascism is normalised in a society. On live television," Lebanese writer Joey Ayoub said.

'Utterly sick'

The boat carrying the BBC reporter should have saved the refugees attempting to cross the Channel, hundreds of social media comments asserted. International maritime law requires ships to assist vessels in distress.

"The fact that your instinct isn't to help your fellow human is the much bigger story," author Shaparak Khorsandi said in a tweet.

Robert Davidson, managing director of Scottish publisher Sandstone Press, added: "This is utterly sick. If people are in life threatening trouble you help them. You don't give a sort of sports commentary. What have we become?"

A similar report by Sky News on Monday has also attracted comments from outraged viewers echoing the same sentiments.

"This is just horrific. Please stop," pleaded Scottish MP Mhairi Black.

Journalist Samira Sawlani said: "The BBC got criticised for this yesterday & Sky News go & do the same." 

"The ability to turn what is a matter of life and death into a spectacle sums up how the media don't see the people sat on that boat as humans- but as a way to increase viewing figures."

Both reports come amid a reported uptick in refugees and migrants attempting to cross the English Channel from France.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday the UK should consider changes to asylum laws in order to deter asylum seekers from making the crossing.

The British government also seeks to work with France to frustrate such crossings, Johnson said. The prime minister has described the crossings as a "very bad and stupid and dangerous and criminal thing".

Critics of the ruling Conservative party accuse Johnson's government of "scapegoating" refugees and migrants and using the Channel crossings to distract from more serious issues such as the economy.

"Seeking asylum is not a crime, and it is legitimate that people have to cross borders to do so," Lisa Doyle, director of advocacy at the Refugee Council, said on Monday.

"Instead of scapegoating people in desperate circumstances, the prime minister and his government could address this by ensuring that people do not have to take these risks," Doyle was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

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