The challenges
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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 newsroomsjournalists 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 terminologyLanguage 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.  

An under-resourced media 


Media as an industry is facing severe financial challenges, due to a changed landscape in how people consume information, and how much they are willing to pay for it. This translates in difficulties to fund in-depth, investigative reporting, which could provide a more thorough picture of migration.  


Digital and social media have allowed people access to multiple sources of information, many of them for free, with the result that newspaper subscriptions are decreasing around the world.  


Only a small number of people are willing to pay for news, according to the latest Reuters Digital News reportWhile there are vast differences across countries, even in the European Nordic countries, where most people pay for news, that amounts to only about a third of the population. The numbers go as low as 6% in Croatia.  



This has had a clear impact on the revenue models of news companies and media corporations, some of which are struggling to keep their business profitable, and in turn, to provide accurate, in-depth information, argues this study. 


With media often under-resourced, journalists are forced to produce more content with less, and this impacts their ability to provide context, to analyse and explain issues comprehensively. . All topics are affected by this trend, and migration – as a vastly complex, potentially inflammatory theme – very much so.  



Social media is faster – though not necessarily accurate  – in spreading news 


Digital transformation also means that there are other, new, competitors to media – blogs and social media may gain more audiences than traditional media, and are often faster in publishing content. Whereas journalism was once the agenda-setterthat space is shifting, and citizen journalism is taking on an increasingly prominent role.  


The influence of social media cannot be underestimated, as noted in the 17 nations Migration Media Coverage report. Reliance on social media for information has a dramatic impact on news cycles. At any given time, there will be people who will post and share images of an event, a demonstration, or something newsworthy happening – and they may be able to reach wide audiences quickly. 


This development significantly impacts the work of journalists, who by professional norms need to check their sources, facts and data before publishing. Traditional newsgathering is a slower processThe prevalence of social media as a news source may pressure journalists to publish fast, “and encourage a rush to publish’ through the dissemination of rumour, speculation and alarmist information that feeds fear and ignorance among the public at large,” according to the Migration Media Coverage report  

A lack of specialised expertise – and voices 


Migration and asylum are multi-dimensional issuesand when reporters have to cover multiple assignmentsthey often don’t have the time to deepen their knowledge on these topics 


“The limited knowledge and technical understanding of migration extant among many media professionals, resource constraints in the sector as well as the lack of migration information and data available to inform the work of even well-intentioned journalists often results in reporting which reduces migration to its extremes,” as noted in the Migration Media Coverage report.   


The lack of migration “experts” in the newsroom may also lead to an overuse of official sources, such as governmental ones, or data from international organisations. There may be confusion as to where other information is accessible, or how to access sources within the refugees and migrant communities directly. This, in turn, may lead to the voices of refugees and migrants being vastly under-represented in news articles – as is often the case.  


Building relationships with refugees and migrant communities is a slow process which requires trust on both sides. Journalists who have dedicated time and effort to this goal regularly report that they do not face any difficulties in accessing diverse communities, and in including migrants and refugees’ voices in their reporting.   


This aspect is also however a matter of resources, and how much time is available for the trust-building process. Just as with any other community of interest, building sources with refugees and migrants is extremely important, and can go a long way in providing a better coverage of migration.  


News diversity is also a significant challenge to reporting. Diversity is not just about diversity of people who write or report the news – or who decide which news to report. It is also about sources used in the news. We know from several studies that the voices of migrants and refugees are often neglected, in favour of government representatives, politicians, or officials with international or national organisations.  


A diversity of voices in the news goes a long way in ensuring a representation of communities which is more relevant to all people who are part of it, and which mirrors the diversity already present in society.  


Diversifying sources, and thus diversifying voices present in the media, is a frequent recommendation put forward by many reports, including WACC’s report on media representation in Latin America and in Nigeria 

Diversity in the newsroom  


Many newsrooms are still overwhelmingly male and in the Western world, white. This prevents the building n of trust and credibility in terms of community representation. Ideally, newsrooms should be as diverse as the communities they seek to serve.  


In Europe, the REMINDER project found that, “The composition of newsrooms seems to be an issue in all four Western European countries [analysed], in that the general view among journalists is that it does not reflect the political, cultural and ethnic diversity of their societies.” 


On the topic of migration, having not only journalists and reporters, but also editors, who are either refugees or migrants themselves or have a background as such, would go a long way in providing a more balanced, accurate coverage. There are also numerous arguments that diversity in the newsroom can help grow audience and generate new revenue. Hiring journalists and editors with a migration or refugee background in newsrooms has often been recommended by studies that analyse media coverage of migration.  


The Refugee Journalism Project in the United Kingdom aims to support refugee journalists in the country to restart their careers, by providing training and access to a network of contacts in the media field. Projects like these are very useful in bringing another perspective forward, one directly touched by the events it seeks to report about.  


However, while this is a longer-term objective, it is important that actions be taken in the short- and medium-term to improve diversity within newsrooms. There are, many initiatives and examples in this regard, and the good news is that it is achievable. 


A  BBC program  has managed to ensure that 50% of their expert sources are women by keeping track of their numbers disaggregated by gender and holding themselves accountable to that goal. There is no reason why something similar cannot work for the inclusion of expert sources with a migration background, ethnicity or origin.  


For more resources on diversity, look at this page, and read this article. Both are focused on an American  context, and deal mostly with race and gender diversity but they can easily be applied to migration-related contextsAttention to diversity calls for an intersectional approach that takes into consideration the multiple identities present in the society; in the case of migrant and refugee communities, the migration or asylum experience will be influenced by various markers including gender, race, ethnicity, class and sexuality. It is important to bring these voices into the conversation and allow them space to shape the narrative. 

Words have meaning 


The language that media use to talk about migration can make all the difference. It has a strong influence in how the audience understands, perceives and reacts to a topic. Words frame understanding of a situationAs a result, using the appropriate and accurate terminology in reporting is so important.  


The lack of resources in the media, and the lack of specialised knowledge may explain why often there is confusion in the terms used to refer to migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, etc.  

No human being is illegal 


The term illegal’ deserves a note. In many countries, migrants are referred to as illegal’term with almost universal pejorative connotation. It frames people as criminals, with the implication that they should not be where they are.  


The term should never be used to refer to a human being. It is discriminatory and denies fellow human beings of their humanity. There is no such a concept as an illegal human being.  


People can find themselves in an irregular situation in a country (for example, when they lack a residence document), but they can never be illegal.  Media have a special responsibility in this regard, and should never use this term.  


The Words Matter initiative by the Platform for Undocumented Migrants, provides some useful alternatives. You will find leaflets with more appropriate, non-discriminatory words in several languages.  

No human being is illegal 


The term illegal’ deserves a note. In many countries, migrants are referred to as illegal’term with almost universal pejorative connotation. It frames people as criminals, with the implication that they should not be where they are.  


The term should never be used to refer to a human being. It is discriminatory and denies fellow human beings of their humanity. There is no such a concept as an illegal human being.  


People can find themselves in an irregular situation in a country (for example, when they lack a residence document), but they can never be illegal.  Media have a special responsibility in this regard, and should never use this term.  


The Words Matter initiative by the Platform for Undocumented Migrants, provides some useful alternatives. You will find leaflets with more appropriate, non-discriminatory words in several languages.  

Going beyond the label  


Even when media uses the correct terminology, refugee or migrant are often just labels attached to people, and by which it is assumed these people are known and understood.  


In the 2017 Refugees Reporting study, the results showed that almost half (43%) of the sample analysed did not specify an occupation for refugees and migrants identified in the stories, while over a quarter (27%) only identified them as refugees or ‘migrants’ – as if that connotation was an occupation. This is interesting to compare with people in the sample who were not identified as refugees or migrants: in only 12% of the cases, their occupations were not stated. 


Every refugee, every migrant is, first and foremost, a human being. Going beyond the label, showing the person underneath, goes a long way in creating connections among different people and in creating a common understanding of humanity.  


Language is a key issue in the representation of refugees and migrants in the news. It can create a climate of acceptance and understanding, or one of fear and hate. “Everyone with an interest in this issue, not only journalists, has a responsibility to avoid playing on people’s fears and uncertainties, to eliminate the language of confrontation and hostility and to encourage national dialogues on how to meet the challenges of migration, argues this report 

Power imbalances  


Even when journalism is accurate, ethical and neutral, it is important to recognise that there is a power imbalance between the journalist and people in the newsThat is especially the case when media report about people who may be experiencing a situation of vulnerability.  


This is something worth considering. Journalists have the power to influence opinions, to bring light and awareness to a specific situation, but they can also worsen someone’s conditions, or jeopardise their well-being, if they are not careful.  


The other aspect where the power imbalance is visible relates to access. It may not be difficult for journalists to get access to a refugee camp, to find refugees who are willing to talk, but how about the other way? How easy, or difficult, is it for refugees and migrants themselves to reach out to the media to have their story told? 


During the Refugees Reporting project, representatives of refugees and migrant groups were very clear about the limitations of their engagements. While media would occasionally reach out to them to ask for a quote or comment, it was much harder for them to get the attention of the media, to have a specific story or an event covered, for example.  


There may also be a lack of expertise on the part of refugees and migrants to reach out to and talk to media. There may be a lack of understanding of the needs of media. What are the stories that work best? Which angle should I pitch? Who can I reach out to? These are all valid questions, and their answers may not be so easy to come by.  

Suggestions for refugees and migrants to tell their stories 




Tell your story  


Learn storytelling techniques. If possible, undertake a training course online or in person.  



Find your focus and define your purpose (What and Why) 


What is your story about? This is related to the purpose of your story and is similar to a story headline. Balance negativity with positive messages.  



Choose stories/topics that concern and move emotionally (How) 


Choosing and defining the topic of your story is challenging. If your story moves you emotionally yourself, this is a good sign. Using the first person perspective sometimes  gives your story more authenticity.  



In any case keep it short (How) 


Consider that the usual attention span when watching online contents is not very long, you only have a few moments to grab a viewer’s attention and engage them, so try to keep it short (2-7 min). 



Find your own language (How) 


Social media and digital storytelling offer possibilities to tell stories without using words. In any case, consider possible language barriers –using simple language can help overcome cultural barriers –think about who you want to reach. Use free online resources.  



Get your story out (Where) 


For example, by setting up a blog or building personal relationships with relevant journalists and publishers. It can be about who you know. Also, develop relationships with civil society organisation and with local media agencies to get support. 


 This opens up possibilities for those willing to engage. There is a space for training – joint training – for media professionals and refugees and migrants. There is a space for civil society to facilitate contacts, to develop these trainings together with migrants and refugees.