Journalists fail to tell full story on migration

‘Moving Stories’, a report on international media coverage of migration in 2015, concludes that ‘journalists often fail to tell the full story and routinely fall into propaganda traps laid by politicians’.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | December 17, 2015

The 100-page in-depth report examines the quality of media coverage on migration in the European Union and 14 other countries. Led by Aidan White, the Director of the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN), it comes out just in time for International Migrants Day tomorrow.

“Around the world media coverage is often politically led with journalists following an agenda dominated by loose language and talk of invasion and swarms,” said White. “But at other moments the story is laced with humanity, empathy and a focus on the suffering of those involved.”

Migration reporting faces the same issues worldwide
Sensationalism has largely dominated reporting in South-East European countries, where politicians responded with panic and bigotry to the millions of migrants passing through; In the US, it’s Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump who has driven the explosive debate on migration, leading to heated, often racists, debates lacking any context; And in Turkey, the public migration debate has been very limited due to governmental controls on the media, despite the country being one of the biggest receivers of migrants from Syria and Iraq.

Despite these national differences, the general conclusions on migration coverage have been surprisingly similar:

  • Journalism is under pressure from a weakening media economy
  • Political bias and opportunism drive the news agenda
  • Dangerous hate-speech is still wide-spread
  • Migrants and refugees are stereotyped and socially excluded.

“Coping with high-profile politicians’ hate speech is one of biggest challenges for journalists,” says Tom Law, Communications Officer of the EJN, emphasizing the importance of putting outrageous comments into context.

This Five-Point Test helps journalists counter hate-speech:

Many newsrooms struggle with a lack of editorial resources in the newsrooms. “Humanitarian stories that deserve our attention often go uncovered because there is no photographer or journalist on the ground to tell the story,” says Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, suggesting that media institutions should perhaps start dividing the coverage of migration stories, just as the European countries share responsibility in coping with the influx of migration.

How to improve newsroom practices?
The report includes recommendations and links to help newsrooms improve their migration coverage, such as appointing specialist reporters, providing specific training to journalists on migration and hate-speech, increasing diversity in newsrooms, and intensifying collaboration with NGO’s, refugee and migrant groups.

EJN believes migration will remain the biggest topic on the news agenda in 2016, and Law said it was looking to provide specific training for journalists around the issue. The EJN will collaborate with news organizations on the Accountable Journalism database launched last month, to promote the use of ethical codes.

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