Towards a charter on media reporting about refugees

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As increasing numbers of people are seeking refuge in Europe, what can be done to promote the rights of refugees to speak on their own behalf, to uphold good journalistic practices in reporting on refugees and migrants, and to raise the visibility of refugee voices and networks? These questions are at the centre of the Refugees Reporting project, launched by the World Association for Christian Communication – Europe (WACC Europe) and the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME). They were also the focus for one of the sessions at a Summer School on Communication Rights in Wittenberg, Germany, at the beginning of August organised by WACC and the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU).  After presenting the Refugees Reporting project and an overview of forced displacement worldwide, there was a discussion of European media reporting on refugees in Europe, and the conclusions of the Migration and the Media project of the London School of Economics about European reporting in 2015, which highlighted the following issues:

  • Media framing: Refugee and migrant arrivals were seen as a “crisis for Europe”
  • Lack of contextualization
  • Temporal shifts in narratives, beginning with caution, then humanitarianism, and finally fear
  • Refugees and Migrants had little opportunity to speak directly about their situation being mostly represented as silent actors and victims.

In group work that followed, the 20 or so students were asked to highlight issues that could feature in a possible charter about media reporting on refugees and migrants. Together, the students came up with the following 28 proposals (slightly edited for clarity), which can also feed into the Refugees Reporting project.

Dr Stephen Brown
President, WACC Europe, and the presenter at the session on “Media and Refugees in Europe”

Towards a charter on media reporting about refugees

  1. Be aware of complex demographics: differences in age, background, countries of origin etc.
  2. Who is doing the framing? What is the framing?
  3. Undertake regular self-monitoring and evaluation.
  4. Don’t ignore other narratives but interact with them.
  5. Highlight what people did before they became refugees.
  6. Avoid wire and stock photos.
  7. Situate within a global context.
  8. Extend the story or article beyond the entry point.
  9. Use authentic voices.
  10. Need for training and education of journalists.
  11. Be aware of the psychological aspects of being a refugee (traumata).
  12. Help refugees to articulate their voices when they are not being heard.
  13. Consider use of language and terminology, linguistic paradigms.
  14. Avoid generalisations – refugees come from different contexts– Syrian refugees have a different background to Afghan refugees.
  15. Be aware of and present the basic or root causes of people seeking refuge.
  16. Place developments in their political contexts – for example, if governments or international organizations have been aware of developing situations but have not acted.
  17. There is a need for an intercultural dialogue.
  18. Contextualise – it is not easy to decide to become a refugee – and challenge preconceptions.
  19. Avoid terms like “waves”, “landslides” …
  20. Promote an international discourse with other countries and regions.
  21. Training and support for refugees to articulate their own concerns.
  22. Balance general reporting of situations and individual stories.
  23. Place refugees at the centre, human stories in a global context.
  24. Use pictures and images that portray the humanity of the situations.
  25. Be sensitive to the diversity of religious backgrounds of refugees.
  26. Address the political causes: these events do not just “happen”, they are not simply a “human tragedy”.
  27. Understand the reasons why others may have a different standpoint and try and address these.
  28. Journalists themselves reporting on these situations might need support.
  29. Be aware of links to “peace journalism”.


This article was written by Dr Stephen Brown, President of WACC Europe.