New recommendations have been launched by the United Nations University (UNU) to outline best practices for newsmakers, media regulators, United Nations entities and Member State governments when reporting on issues of migration. These recommendations aim to facilitate a better, fairer, and more balanced representation of migrants and refugees in the media.
Growing support for right-wing political parties and increases in racist hate crime are evidence of the rise of xenophobia. Numerous studies attribute this in part to news coverage, details the UNU policy report, Surges and Swarms: A Conversation on Responsible Coverage of Migration, and the media have a responsibility to shape positive discourses and narratives around migrants and refugees.
Representatives from international news media networks, academia and the United Nations (UN) analysed the role of the media in shaping public opinion on migration.
• How do the international news media represent migrants and refugees?
• How do the media’s choices of representation influence public opinion about who migrants are, what they want, and the rights they should or should not have?
Numerous studies attribute this in part to news coverage, details the UNU policy report, Surges and Swarms: A Conversation on Responsible Coverage of Migration. It outlines the responsibilities of the media to disseminate ethical and positive perceptions of migrants and refugees, while safeguarding the values of independent journalism.
A series of policy recommendations to foster best practices were outlined and launched in the report, giving guidance for key sub-groups with a role and responsibility in shaping public attitudes on migration: Newsmakers, Media Regulators, UN entities, and Member State governments.
In 2017, one person was displaced every two seconds. A record number of 68.5 million people have been forced from their homes. Some of those who cross international borders are among the most vulnerable people on the planet.
Migration has been shown to benefit economic and social inclusion. Yet, it is often understood to be a threat to national identity, public safety, and the domestic job market.
In a tense political climate marked by Islamophobia, fear spread by terrorism, and the rise of anti-immigrant parties, migrants are especially prone to acts of hatred and intolerance.
The United Nations is working at pace to ensure safe, regular and orderly international migration, in line with the commitment framing the Sustainable Development Goals to ‘leave no one behind’.
1. “Migration reporting is one of the biggest challenges facing the news media and will be for years to come. It is essential that media rise to the challenge of covering migration and put ethics at the centre of their coverage.” Tom Law, Ethical Journalism Network
2. The rise in news media coverage of migration in 2015 was accompanied by a rise in xenophobia and anti-immigration feeling in Europe and other common migrant destination countries. Irresponsible news coverage were cited as one of the contributing factors.
3. By filtering news stories and determining how they should be told, migration media coverage has considerable consequences on public opinion. It affects how the public learn about migration and migrant groups, form political judgement, and take electoral decisions.
4. UN representatives are calling on newsmakers and producers to partner in efforts to ensure fact-based, accurate and human-centred reporting of the migration remains the gold standard.
5. Addressing xenophobia to ensure the human rights and the inclusion of all migrants remains a pressing concern in the global migration agenda. It supports the general goal of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda to ‘leave no-one behind’.
The media play a critical role in shaping public opinion and countering negative attitudes towards diversity and mobility. Value-laden, pejorative, and dehumanizing narratives purport negative stereotypes, fuelling growth of xenophobia, and reinforcing the economic and social exclusion of migrant communities. Conversely, the potential for migration to positively contribute to development has yet to be fully acknowledged in public discourse.
Mainstream and social media play vital roles in shaping public perceptions of migrants and refugees. Media affects how the public learn about migration and migrant groups, form political judgments and take electoral decisions. Media is a key stakeholder in shaping discourses, and hence policies, that can effectively support inclusion.
The success of the global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration depends on the support of both transit and receiver societies. Key to building this support is a change in mainstream narratives and a shift in the framing of migration from a threat to an opportunity to newcomers and established longer established members of society.
For economic and social inclusion to be successful, xenophobia must be proactively countered. Policies must be implemented to challenge the root causes of xenophobia and enable migrants to make positive contributions to inclusive societies.
Only then will marginalisation, abuse, and exploitation be tackled, so migrants can enjoy the dignity and recognition they deserve, and contribute to and partake in shared prosperity.
More than one million migrants arrived to Europe in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration, with another 500,000 arriving throughout 2016 and 2017. Although the numbers of people risking the treacherous journey is falling, the crossing of the Mediterranean is proving more dangerous and deadly. Most of those arriving to Europe are fleeing war and poverty in the hope for a better future. The majority of arrivals this year are from Syria, Iraq, and Guinea.
Setting up a new life in recipient countries is a challenge, as photographer Gregory Beals explored when he visited migrant communities in Germany and Italy. His photos of the people he met show the challenges they face and overcome. Living conditions can be poor and finding work is difficult, but a brighter future is possible. Through the support of various services and migrant networks, many recently arrived refugees learn a local language and secure rewarding work, integrating themselves and contributing towards their host communities.
An example of the living conditions at Baobab camp in Rome. Migrants live under plastic sheeting even in extremely hot summer conditions. There is no electricity to speak of and water sources are located a distance from the camp, which sits in an industrial area near train tracks. Many migrants here describe feelings of hopelessness and despair after being unable to secure work.
Robert, a 23-year-old Nigerian man sits in front of a tent that he shares with friends at Rome’s Baobab camp. Camp residents have to go to a water spigot several hundred meters from the settlement in order to get water to wash with. Robert arrived to Italy several years ago seeking work but has had no luck. “I can be a mechanic,” he said. “But I will take any job. Anything. This is no life.”
Godsea, 29-years-old, came to Rome from Nigeria about two years ago. After several months trying to find work, he simply gave up and now makes his living begging next to the old Piazza Indipendencia squatter camp. "I love Italy," he told me. "But I am afraid. I am afraid that they will take me away.”
Khalil Ahmed (right) fled Syria three years ago with his 5-year-old son. While he worked as a mathematician in Syria he is still trying to find work in Berlin. Wisam Muhamad, was a singer in Iraq before he left for Berlin three years ago. “We are still learning German,” he said. “And we need to improve our skills. Here it is impossible to get work without a very high level of education.”
Juan Mendoza Rohloff, aged 24, arrived to Berlin in mid August after fleeing the political and economic turmoil in his native Venezuela. “People who used to be middle class are now eating out of the garbage,” he said. “There is no future where I come from.” Living in Berlin’s Templehoff airport, Mendoza is hoping to claim his grandmother’s German heritage as a means to citizenship. If he is unsuccessful, he will file for political asylum.
Templehoff’s Hangar 1 has been housing refugees and migrants since the crisis began in 2015. The designation of Templehoff as a refugee site created deep suspicions by local residents who were concerned that developers would use the crisis in order to secure the legal authority to build on the airport, which was closed in 2008 and is currently the site of one of the largest urban park spaces in Europe.
Nastaran Fekri, 38-years-old, arrived to Germany 5 years ago from Tehran, Iran. For several years she worked starting different NGOs dealing with women’s rights issues. Now she is studying cybersecurity and hopes to land a job soon. Still she worries about the competitive job market in Germany. “I am not a homemaker,” she said. “I want to use my skills.”
Batoul Ahmad, 30-years-old, taught Syrian and French literature at the University of Damascus before she arrived to Germany in 2015. She was granted asylum the following year and engaged in intensive study of German and computer literacy. Two years later and she has found a job working for the German government as an office manager. Germany's Federal Employment Agency predicts the economy is on course to create 650,000 new jobs this year, 100,000 of which will be taken up by people who came to the country as refugees. “We have this fear, the work here is so much harder than the work in our country,” says Ahmad “it is something that you have to face with confidence.”
This project was conducted in three stages:
First, the research report ‘Addressing Xenophobia: Representations of Migration and the Role of the Media’ was prepared by the United Nations University Institute on Globalization, Culture & Mobility to establish key issues and considerations in addressing xenophobia and understanding the role of the media in representing migrants.
Second, with support from the Bellagio Centre of the Rockefeller Foundation, a week-long conference was held to discuss the findings of the working report and to take discussions forward. Participants at the conference came from three principal groups: media practitioners, UN entities working on migration, and academics working on the nexus of media and migration.
Third, UNU-GCM and UNU-CPR co-authored the report Surges and Swarms, which encapsulates the findings from the conference and the working report.
The United Nations University thanks the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency and the Rockefeller Foundation for their support in making this project possible.
We thank Ms. Pilar Palacia and Ms. Nadia Ghilardoni of the Bellagio Center for their kind welcome and support.
We thank Ms. Deborah Seward of UNRIC for support in presenting this project in Brussels.