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The one-sided reality of “single stories”

How can we overcome single stories? Our daily reality is full of simplifications, partial news and stereotypes that can easily fuel prejudices and discrimination.

On the 19th of April, a group of selected professionals met online to discuss the value of Single Stories, the pillar concept around which Project Smite (SMITE – Stereotypes & Mass Information Together Explored) revolves. During the meeting that went live on Facebook, Times of Malta Editor in Chief Herman Grech, Global Explorer Rajan Nazran, Co-Founder of the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation Matthew Caruana Galizia and Cultural Mediator and Senior Staff Nurse Maali Boukadi shared their thoughts on Single Stories, with the mediation of Regine Nguini Psaila from African Media Association Malta and Conway Wigg from NWAMI International Malta.

We have the responsibility to work against the creation of stereotypes formed by single stories, according to Maria-Gabriele Doublesin, chairperson of NWAMI International Malta and cofounder of the project. For this reason, the aim of the project is to empower migrant communities, enabling them to be more aware of the single stories that media carry on narrating about migrants, as they were an abstract concept instead of real people. Those real people need to develop the means to make their own story and to be heard, thus the project aims at providing such tools through story cafes and educational entertainment.

As the discussion begins, the speakers were asked to give their own personal definition of what a “single story” is. Numerous different points of view were exchanged in response to this first question. According to Times of Malta Editor in Chief Herman Grech, we experience single stories everyday on social media, being exposed to just one single perspective of a more complex reality. When it comes to migrants, these single narratives become a source of discriminative treatments, especially by public authorities, who often are among the ones reinforcing stereotypes, making use of a specific language that casts aside people as “illegal immigrants”. Mr Grech’s suggestion is for people to take upon themselves the duty to complete every partial information that derives from this one-sided news, creating a full picture of reality by ourselves. To reinforce this advice, Global Explorer Rajan Nazran adds an observation on how the way we perceive the world around us is also dictated by the news we hear from the media, and this can often divide people, instead of uniting them. Here in Malta, the health sector is also one of the key ones in which discrimination occurs, says senior staff nurse Maali Boukadi. Cases of abuse are almost always disregarded when a migrant is the victim, and this is what people should speak up against, although Maltese people of colour are constantly afraid of how they can be perceived if they voice their opposition. On top of that, the media tend to focus on what has “news value”, according to Matthew Caruana Galizia, who adds that without the support from civil society and the judicial system people will always find themselves being subject to partial stories.

As the discussion progressed, the participants discussed the different ways single stories can affect both individuals and society. Single stories undermine peoples’ dignity and self-esteem, as well as defining the way some groups of people are perceived and treated in society. We, as individuals living their day-to-day lives, tend not to engage with different realities and different communities – Mr Nazran says – and this adds up to the lack of fact checking that the media already perform at large. To Mr Grech, the main problem of the media nowadays is its “self-censorship”: the single narrative that is put in place by the media is rarely confronted, and reality as a complex phenomenon is not reflected. We can see a real example of “self-censorship” in the single narrative that western media are pursuing when tackling the current war in Ukraine.

In the face of such issues, one question arises: what can be done? Mr Grech suggests contrasting the issue of self-censorship through developing a proper education system able to tackle media literacy and critical thinking, as well as history, even though his opinion is that this process will take one or two generations. Mr Nazran has a more optimistic take on the matter, being convinced that it will take less time, but only if media become less one dimensional and if open debates become a daily reality. Mr Caruana Galizia adds a consideration on the crucial role of the justice system to contrast harassment and discrimination.

In the last round of comments new topics were briefly grazed upon: the influence of male dominated narratives on single stories of women, the need for impartiality in the media, the paramount importance of increasing representation of diversity, and, most importantly, the need to speak up against hatred, even at the cost of making people uncomfortable.

Single stories need to be constantly challenged in order to make a difference.

The project SMITE is managed jointly by African Media Association Malta and NWAMI International Malta, and funded by Active Citizens Fund Malta, which is operated by SOS Malta.

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