The challenges involved in reporting on migration are multiple, and can include the economy of the media, inadequate resources, newsroom structures and practices.
Inadequate resources: Lack of sufficient time and resources prevent many journalists from doing their work properly. Inadequate funding is of course not specific to migration, but impacts coverage of issues that are complex, multi-faceted, and require a deep understanding of human phenomena.
Lack of thematic expertise: Very few media houses have journalists specifically dedicated to covering migration. In some newsrooms, journalists may be assigned to different news beats, and lack the time to develop an in-depth understanding of the various beats they cover.
Lack of diversity in newsroom staff: Another issue that influences media behaviour is the composition of the newsrooms. In many Western countries, for example, media powerhouses are led by white males. There is also not much diversity among the editing and reporting staff. The lack of diversity in newsrooms, influences news selection and news reporting
Language and terminology: Language is a major challenge, and the use of appropriate terminology is by no means a given. While tools and information portals are available for those who wish to use them, they may not be known to everybody. There is a strong need to get the language right, to learn the proper definitions, and to avoid at all costs the de-humanisation that comes with the use of demeaning terms such as “illegal”.
Power imbalances: Another challenge to accurate reporting of migration lies in the power imbalance between journalists and refugees and migrants. This translates into access: How can refugees and migrants reach out to the media to tell the stories they want to tell?
How can journalists access sources within the refugees and migrant communities?
These factors collectively shape media portrayal and representation of migrants and refugees, which in turn influence public discourse and treatment of these communities.
The brief points above, and the longer explanations below, illustrate how much work needs to be done to produce accurate and ethical migration reporting. However, where there are challenges, there are also opportunities.
There is space for multiple actors to step in and to create — together with the groups they seek to serve — the tools, training and understanding that are missing. Civil society can have a prominent role in this regard and can help create bridges between the people it serves and the media. Refugees and migrants can work with journalists to develop training for both, to be able to understand each other better, establish the best ways to create contacts. Journalists can commit to upholding ethical standards in their reporting, and contribute to a more complex, and more nuanced, depiction of migration.