Migrants and refugees in the media
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Migrants and refugees in the media

According to a recent report (The Guardian, 19 May 2023), the BBC has commissioned a study on whether a broad range of viewpoints on migration are being reflected in all aspects of its immigration coverage.

Samir Shah, who contributed to the UK government’s controversial Sewell report on race relations, will co-author the assessment with Madeleine Sumption, director of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, which has been in operation since 2011.

The Observatory’s web site says that it “provides impartial, independent, authoritative, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK, to inform media, public and policy debates, and to generate high quality research on international migration and public policy issues.”

The two researchers will assess whether the BBC offers balanced coverage of immigration and to what extent that coverage is impartial “given audiences’ views and what is known about the history, distribution and impacts of migration.”

In recent years and in several countries, unprecedented levels of migration and displacement have led to public narratives becoming deeply polarized. Misinformation and myths have rapidly gained traction, while evidence-based communication has had little impact on public opinion.

When WACC did its own research in 2017, it found that only 21% of news items on asylum and migration reference a refugee or migrant; and of the 21% of the news items that referenced migrants or refugees, less than half (40%) of the articles quoted them directly. In addition, refugees and migrants were most often only identified by their displacement.

The project emphasised the importance of following existing journalistic codes of practice, the need to build trust and capacity between refugee groups and media professionals, and to give voice to the diversity, experience, and expertise of refugees and migrants themselves.

It will be worrying if new research discovers that a broad range of viewpoints on migration is not being reflected in an impartial way. And, given the growing number of humanitarian disasters around the world and the increasing impact of climate change on migration triggers, more people than ever before will soon be on the move. Balanced reporting and portrayal will be crucial to social stability and fair-minded policymaking.

A twist in the tale. Many media outlets around the world have also been accused of racism in their coverage of migration issues and recent furore about the legacy of colonialism have also carried racist overtones. In Australia, a change to the constitution is being discussed which would create a new advisory body giving voice to Indigenous Australians on matters that affect them.

During the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s coverage of King Charles’s coronation, one of the country’s most prominent Indigenous journalists, Stan Grant, a Wiradjuri man, spoke about the impact of colonisation on Indigenous Australians. His comments prompted a torrent of racist abuse on social media – made worse by repeated criticisms in Rupert Murdoch’s Australian news outlets. Grant has now resigned from hosting an ABC flagship program in disgust.

In countries where refugees and migration have long been political issues, racism has been weaponised. Balanced views on both are at a premium in Australia and elsewhere, but let’s hope the BBC’s record turns out to be fair.

Photo: Arrival of Ukrainian refugees at the Polish-Ukrainian border crossing Medyka, where the refugees are provided with warm food and clothing, and then transferred by bus to large cities and collective shelters. Credit:Frank Schultze / Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe

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