Following the launch of the report “Changing the Narrative: Media Representation of Refugees and Migrants in Europe” on November 16, Refugees Reporting organised a follow up discussion in partnership with One World Media and the British Red Cross.
“Unpicking the Refugee Narrative” took place in London on November 30, involving key decision-makers among several top media professionals from the UK media landscape. Highlights of the project findings focused in particular on the UK, followed by presentations by the Ethical Journalism Network and the British Red Cross.
Discussion centred on topics such as the lack of direct representation of refugees and migrants, the issue of terminology, diversity in the newsroom and the importance of having a migration expert within the newsroom.
Participants recognised the lack of direct representation of refugees and migrants in the news but also the infrequent use of direct quotes of refugees and migrants in stories. It was agreed that when the stories are told directly by those involved and most affected, they are more powerful and better able to reach the public. One example cited was “Exodus”, the award-winning BBC-commissioned documentary filmed by refugees themselves during their journey to Europe.
The need to cover both positive and negative aspects of the migrant and refugee phenomenon was highlighted, underlining how a “romanticised” reporting of the 2015 situation contributed to the creation of hierarchies among refugees themselves. In this context, Syrians, who tend to be more visible in stories, become the “good refugees” whose reasons for fleeing are much better understood by the general public. In contrast, other people on the move – for example Afghans – are much less present in the news and might be considered less worthy of asylum because the situation in their home country is not so well known.
Participants noted that migration is a multi-faceted topic whose boundaries go far beyond the traditional division between national and foreign news desks. This often makes it difficult accurately to portray its many dimensions.
Traditional newsroom approaches are naturally compartmentalised and, in light of this, the importance of having a migration expert in the newsroom was repeatedly highlighted. Such an expert would be a person of reference for migration-specific articles as well as others dealing with the topic.
Diversity in the newsrooms was also repeatedly mentioned. There is considerable advantage in having mixed backgrounds and points of views around journalism decision-making tables.
Participants underlined a key message from the Refugees Reporting project: the important role of civil society organisations in facilitating contacts between refugees and migrants and media professionals and in ensuring respect and safety.
Further information can be found in Changing the narrative: Media representation of refugees and migrants in Europe and in Moving Stories: International review of how media cover migration.
Picture: front cover of Moving Stories, Ethical Journalism Network