‘Voice4Migrants’ – for fair and accurate coverage

In a partnership project run under the Media4Change programme of the National Institute for Social Integration, a Lithuanian NGO, young human rights activists and journalists from across Europe who have been working with migrants examined media coverage of migration issues and discussed ways of countering hate speech.

Given the overwhelmingly negative nature of the coverage, they drafted a checklist for media professionals to encourage fair and accurate coverage of migrants. They mirror existing Codes of Conduct in use across Europe.

Project participants came from the following countries and organisations:

  • Germany:   European Youth Press-Network of Young Media Makers EV.
  • Hungary:    Szubjektív Értékek Alapítvány.
  • Italy:          Agenzia di promozione integrate per I cittadini in Europa-APICE, Associazione Trepuntozero, Italy.
  • Lithuania: Media4Change.
  • The Netherlands: UNITED for Intercultural Action Network.
  • Spain:                 S.O.S. Racismo Gipuzkoa.
  • United Kingdom:          The MediaWise Trust.

The following notes are to help explain the rationale behind the ‘slogans’ and facilitate discussion with media professionals:

1. RESPECT IDENTITY & PRIVACY

Those seeking sanctuary in a new country may have good reason to request that their full identity be obscured, for their own safety and security.  Becoming a refugee can undermine self-esteem and personality, but everyone deserves to keep their dignity and their personal privacy valued.

2. LABELS CAN DO HARM

Describing people in ways that may have no direct relevance to their predicament can put people at risk. Using pejorative terms or making assumptions about a person’s situation may have long term consequences. (? ‘terrorist’ or ‘freedom fighter’; ‘orphan’ or ‘unaccompanied minor’?)

3. PROMOTE UNDERSTANDING, NOT HATRED

Avoid using discriminatory language. If the purpose of journalism is to help people understand things it should not be rather than promoting ignorance or fear, and fuelling prejudice.

 4. CONTEXT MATTERS

Explaining the background to migration story may be as important and revealing as the migrant’s personal experience. Facts about their culture and the geopolitics that may have affected their situation and life decisions are part of their story.

5. DONT PROMPT ANSWERS

Applying value judgement when asking questions can result in misleading answers. Open questions are more likely to get more interesting results.

6. DON’T PANDER TO PREJUDICE

Just because there are negative attitudes to ‘strangers’ in society is no reason to frame stories in a way that might arouse hostility or exacerbate tension. Avoid sensationalist headlines.

7. CHECK YOUR FACTS

Sometimes it is difficult to verify claims by migrants but where possible some effort needs to be made. It should always be clear when an unverified claim is being made, and when facts have been established from a reliable source.

8. KNOW YOUR SOURCES / SOURCES SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES

Everyone who talks to journalist has a motive, whoever they are. It is important to know something about sources but also to be clear when it is their unmediated voice the audience is hearing.

9. DIVERSE COVERAGE / REPRESENTATION MATTERS

There are many different ‘realities’, points of view and life experiences. Age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality etc, all play their part and deserve to be included in public discourse. We need to hear all the voices.

10. INFORM, NOT DEFORM

Distorting information for the sake of a sensational headline or clickbait can have long term devastating consequences from which the subjects of the stories may never recover.

11. WHAT’S YOUR ANGLE? / IS IT THERE A BETTER ANGLE?

However a story is framed, there will always alternatives worth exploring. Thinking laterally rather than taking the easy path could result in even more interesting material, avoiding stereotypes or simplistic notions.