Comboni Missionaries challenge reporting on Africa

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(Vatican Radio) The theme that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has chosen for the 2018 World Day of Social Communications relates to what has come to be known as “fake news” namely baseless information. Fake news involves misleading distortion of facts with possible repercussions for innocent individuals or communities. It is in this vein that Italian-based Comboni Missionaries, Tuesday, held a media conference at the Vatican Radio’s Sala Marconi.

Under the title, “L’Africa non è una fake news” meaning Africa is not about fake news, the Comboni Missionaries assert that the Church cannot afford to remain indifferent in the face of such massive disinformation on Africa.

The media conference was an attempt to challenge and correct the disinformation prevalent in some Western media particularly in the field of migration.

During the conference, the panel of speakers was concerned that public debate on Africa in Italy and Europe is dominated mainly by prejudice and fear often fueled by media campaigns and an ideology that pushes a particular kind of politics. It has become common, they said, for Western media to speak of an ‘invasion’ of migrants even when facts speak otherwise.

Speaking at the conference, renowned journalist and Comboni Missionary, Fr. Giulio Albanese, who has worked and lived in Africa for many years, decried Italian media’s preoccupation of labeling migrants under the so-called “cronaca nera” effectively criminalising them. Fr. Albanese said citizens in Europe need to hear the other side of the story. They need to take time to listen to stories of migrants who arrive on their soil. He said the truth is that the majority of migrants are compelled to leave their homeland due to injustices and exploitation that sometimes ironically benefit Western economies.

Panelists at the media conference included Fr. Domenico Guarino, a Comboni priest from Palermo, a city in the South of Italy. Fr.  Guarino said he has seen migrants arrive in Italy and they were anything but criminals. He said many of them come to Italy traumatised and sometimes as victims of torture experienced on their journey. He criticised a recent agreement between Italy and Libya, which he said abandoned vulnerable migrants to militants who have no regard for human life.

According to Fr. Guarino, the majority of migrants come from countries that have been systematically impoverished by multinationals in cooperation with various predatory African governments. He appealed to Europe not to cloud itself under the veil of fear. Fear, Fr. Guarino said, can be contagious. Nevertheless, if fear is contagious, so too are courage and hope. Sowing seeds of hope is what the Comboni Missionaries are trying to do 150 years after Saint Daniel Comboni founded the Comboni Order with a pastoral apostolate for Africa.

Others who spoke at the media conference were Sr. Gabriella Bottani, a Comboni Missionary Sister who is the coordinator of “Talitha Kum.” Talitha Kum is a Rome-based international network of nuns against human trafficking.

Father Elias Sindjalim a Togolese priest who spent many years in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) explained how different militias in some parts of DRC fuel migration.

Mr. Luciano Ardesi, described as an Africanist and a collaborator of the Comboni magazine, Nigrizia, referred to the expropriation of land in African countries, by multinationals, as a phenomenon not only destroying the environment but also one that is now a cause of migration.

Thus, the first line of solidarity, according to the media conference, is factual information.

(Fr. Paul Samasumo, Vatican Radio)