On Thursday night, the 8×8 festival teamed up with Trinity News to hold a discussion on racism in the media, hosted by Irish journalist and tv presenter Vincent Browne. Browne was joined by guest speakers Dil Wickremasinghe, Salome Mbugua and Joanna Siewierska. This was 8×8’s last event for the week,excluding the exhibition outside the Berkeley, and it was certainly an event worthy of bringing the festival to a close.
Browne wasted no time and dived straight in, asking the panel “Is racism a problem in Ireland?” All three panelists agreed that racism is a huge problem in Ireland, with a key issue being the media. While the media has the power to educate people, Mbugua, President of AkiDwA (The Migrant Women’s Network), pointed out that it can also “reinforce stereotypes”.
Wickremasinghe, who now has her own podcast, Sparking Change with Dil, following the cancellation of her radio programme with Newstalk last month, spoke about direct provision and how little it is discussed. She described the story of a woman whose mental health was so damaged by direct provision that she took her own life after she was given status in this country. Mbugua stated those living in direct provision are “living in fear” with issues such as sexual harassment and drug trafficking. Wickremasinghe chimed in to point out its depicted as if “planes are being flown in everyday” of asylum seekers when there are less than 5,000 in Ireland.
Siewierska, a former deputy president of the Irish Second-level Students’ Union and is currently working with Bardzo Ladnie, spoke of the lack of representation of Polish people in Irish media. She highlighted how shocking this when its considered 100,000 to 150,000 Polish people live in Ireland.
Browne emphasised the depiction of the traveller community as a “striking incident of bigotry” in Irish media. He criticized TV3 for broadcasting shows such My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, skewing the public’s view of a traveller’s life. A name that frequently popped up was Denis O’Brien with heavy criticism falling on him for deciding what’s an important news story and what’s not. Browne stated that the media is “soaped in an establishment mindset” due to the heavy involvement of middle aged men with little influence from other groups in society.
Upon being asked how can we combat racism in everyday life, the panel agreed that its questioning those around us and what’s shown to us that will make the biggest difference. The recent contorversial Dove advertisement where a woman washing in soap goes from having black skin to white skin, was raised as an example of an instance where one person questioned it which lead to public condemnation of the advert. The panel finished by saying that it’s “the small conversations” at home and with our friends that will have the biggest impact.