European media a ‘double-edged sword’ when reporting on migrants, refugees

      Comments Off on European media a ‘double-edged sword’ when reporting on migrants, refugees

Syrian refugees appeal for help behind wire fence erected by Hungarian authorities to stem the flow of refugees at Keleti railway station in Budapest in 2015. Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

Forced displacements and migration have become “inescapable” in today’s world and media must not only find responsible ways of reporting about these issues, but also help “guarantee future coexistence in a diverse society,” said a recent academic study.

The study, Letting Diasporic Voices Be Heard: Refugees and Migrants in European Media, observed that “in a globalized world, both media and society systematically treat migration from an ethnocentric approach.”

Media have become a “double-edged sword,” said the study, conducted by WACC member Blanquerna Observatory on Media, Religion and Culture and published in The Ecumenical Review, the quarterly publication of the World Council of Churches. “As a main social agent, media have the function of informing. However, the way information is produced and published contributes to biased images of migrant people by not challenging stereotypes.”

The study looked at the portrayal and representation of refugees and migrants in Europe, in order to challenge European media to “evaluate their work and become conscious of its consequences,” and improve their coverage.

It emphasized media’s role in “stimulating, enhancing and guaranteeing co-existence,” and stressed that journalists must not only talk about migrants and refugees, but must talk to them and let them talk. “It is important to get to know, accept and integrate newcomers in the realization that building walls is not the way a global society should behave.”

The study drew on research from the project Refugees Reporting, coordinated in 2017 by WACC Europe and the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe and global research, including the International Migration Report 2017. 

Refugees Reporting monitored 140 European media on three given days in seven countries – Greece, Italy, Spain, Serbia, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Norway. These countries were either an entry, transit or destination country for migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. In a report published in November 2017, the project concluded that there is a “pattern of invisibility” of refugees and migrants in European media. For instance, it noted that only 21% of stories about migration referenced individual migrants and refugees. And, of this number, less than half of the articles quoted them directly.

The Blanquerna study said that the issue of migration is no longer a priority for coverage in European media. It noted how 55% of the news monitored were about politics, and 19% crime.

When stories about migration do get published, the study said, they’re often associated with political decisions that range from national legislation (Norway, Sweden and UK), to integration (Italy and Spain), to relocation (Serbia) and deportation (Greece).

And when migrants and refugees do appear in media, “they are neither fairly identified and described nor given space to express themselves,” the study said. In terms of adherence to UNHCR’s core principles of accuracy and impartiality when reporting about refugees, the Blanquerna study noted that only 26% of printed newspapers and 25% of online newspapers made reference to human rights or refugee legislation. Norway was the only country where these legislations were mentioned in more than 50% of stories analyzed, the study said. It also identified main characteristics of media reports regarding refugees and migrants, including: omission of information, lack of in-depth knowledge and “fast journalism.”

With regards to religion, 83% of stories did not have the information. “For a vast majority of the public, migrants and refugees are Muslims, and this is not always the case. This shows how omission of information can create a stereotype,” the study said. It noted how religion has been used to fuel nationalist discourses against migration, framing it as a battle between “us vs. them.”

In terms of roles and spaces assigned to them in media, the study said they are often the subject of stories (67%), but are commentators or experts only in 3% of stories analyzed. Thus, “they are only present in society when news stories talk about them,” it said.

The Refugees Reporting project has also shown that the situation of migrants and refugees has become “a new issue in the long list of global challenges that people see as difficult to solve, such as global poverty or climate change,” said the study.

The Blanquerna study was written by Míriam Díez Boschm director of the Blanquerna Observatory on Media, Religion and Culture; Josep Lluís Micó Sanz,  journalist and vice-dean at Blanquerna School of Communication and International Relations (Ramon Llull University, Barcelona) and Alba Sabaté Gauxachs, journalist, researcher at Blanquerna Observatory on Media, Religion and Culture and member of WACC-Europe’s Regional Executive Committee.