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“So Much Education to Do”: Professor Christine Ogan Talks Immigration in the Media

Christine Ogan and her husband, Pekin, are volunteer Turkish interpreters with the Immigration Justice Campaign. Christine is also a professor emerita of journalism at the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies at the University of Indiana. The focus of her research has been the portrayal of immigration issues in the media in both the United States and Europe.

We asked Christine a few questions about her area of expertise.

What’s the most significant trend you’ve seen recently regarding immigration in the media?

When the economy’s rolling along – and we've seen this in both the U.S. and Europe – migration doesn’t tend to rise to the top of the discussion. But when the economy is in crisis, migration becomes more important to people because these threats get raised in the conversation – cultural threats, economic threats. And it doesn’t really matter what the facts are.

This recently released survey from NPR/Ipsos is disheartening. It indicates that Trump’s rhetoric surrounding immigrants persists and has even grown since he left office.

Are there certain areas where you think the media tends to get things wrong when it comes to immigration?

During the presidential election of 2016, we did a major project to compare the way immigration was being treated in the media across different outlets. And in our research, we didn’t find that the stories were slanted so much one way or another. They were more neutral, or two-sided. Not across Fox News, of course. Fox News was different from the others, and the Wall Street Journal more on the side of Fox.

So overall, we found more balance than we thought we might. But the problem is who’s talking about immigration in the first place. Because if Trump gives a speech, the media may go and get the other side to balance out what he’s saying, and that’s fine. But the fact of the matter is, if the Democrats aren’t giving a speech about it, there’s no opportunity to cover the speech they didn't give.

What else do you think could improve the media's coverage of immigration issues?

There’s so much education to do. Like climate migration, for example. No policy that we adopt will be able to predict who will be leaving their homes and when. As we know, many people come because they have to.

More flooding, rising seas – all of those things are going to force more people to move somewhere else. But when an election comes around, no one talks about those longer-term problems that need to be solved.

Any immigration-related media you would recommend?

I listened to an episode of This American Life a few years back. It was a case study of a city in Alabama where a lot of immigrants had moved to town and taken jobs at a chicken factory. The show did a lot of research and interviews to investigate the facts behind some statements Jeff Sessions had made on immigration. I ended up assigning that episode to all my classes.

Another strong piece that comes to mind is this recent interview with Elizabeth Cullen Dunn, director of Indiana University’s Center for Refugee Studies, where she talks about the role of forced migrant labor in maintaining our food system and our society’s impulse to bury that uncomfortable reality.

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