By R. Nastranis
Media coverage of migration issues is far from conducive to promoting better understanding between cultures, religions and peoples around the world, according to a study presented at the Fifth Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) in Vienna on February 28.
The study – a pilot project by the UNAOC and the European Journalism Centre (EJC) – was a highlight of the Global Forum, which was attended by over 2,000 people from around the world. Participants included youth leaders, representatives from the private sector and civil society, journalists, foundations, alongside governmental and multilateral representatives.
During the two day event, leaders from around the world, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, President Heinz Fischer of Austria, the Emir of Qatar, Shaikh Hamad Al Thani, Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey, Romanian President Traian Basescu and Foreign Minister Margallo of Spain, Foreign Minister Salehi of Iran, and others conducted closed door meetings to address current global issues such as Syria, Mali, Israel-Palestine, and the future of sustainable development.
The Forum outcomes included the Vienna Declaration, a document affirming the commitment of numerous governments and international organizations from around the world to advancing cross-cultural dialogue. Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said the document was a unique opportunity “to further the promotion of intercultural and interreligious dialogue, so that it remains high on the global political agenda”.
Outlining his vision to make the Alliance more active in addressing acute interethnic and inter-religious tensions, the incoming High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, Nassir Al-Nasser, who served as Qatar’s Ambassador to the UN and as President of the UN General Assembly, stated: “We will strive to use the tools at our disposal in the difficult settings around the world. We will not shy away from them.”
The Alliance of Civilizations was established in 2005, at the initiative of the Governments of Spain and Turkey, under the auspices of the United Nations. The UNAOC is an initiative of the UN Secretary-General which aims to improve understanding and cooperative relations among nations and peoples across cultures and religions, and to help counter the forces that fuel polarization and extremism.
Prior to Vienna, it has held four events: in Madrid (Spain) in January 2008; Istanbul (Turkey) in April 2009; Rio (Brazil) in May 2010; and in Doha (Qatar) in December 2011. The sixth Global Forum will be held in Indonesia next year.
The study on media coverage on migration issues is the product of UNAOC and EJC cooperation with the University of King’s College (Canada), the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (France), Deutsche Welle Akademie (Germany), Christelijke Hogeschool Ede (The Netherlands), and the University of Missouri (United States). The study received expert advice from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and was co-funded by the Open Society Fund to Counter Xenophobia.
The European Journalism Centre is a non-profit international foundation with the remit to improve, strengthen, and underpin journalism and the news media. This mission has two main aspects: On the one hand, it is about safeguarding, enhancing and future-proofing quality journalism in Europe; on the other hand, it concerns initiatives towards press freedom in emerging and developing countries. To these ends, the EJC provides thematic training, professional capacity development, and a wide range of support activities.
The study, which offers a comparative analysis of media coverage of migration issues in Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States, finds that
- at face value, mainstream news media are broadly adhering to journalistic standards when covering migration;
- migration is, however, frequently framed and presented in a way that may counteract the spirit of journalism ethics;
- the reporting agenda is strongly influenced by a national focus and has deficits where the big picture of migration is concerned.
Research teams at journalism schools and media research institutions in the five countries took four-week snapshots of migration journalism around recent elections, including the presidential elections in the U.S. and France, the Dutch parliamentary election, and regional polls in Germany and Canada.
They identified and analysed some 650 pertinent articles and categorised them by their framing of migration: which types of migrants were in focus, which related topics were discussed, and what overall tone did the articles adopt towards migrants and migration. The sources primarily represented agenda-setting national as well as regional and local newspapers and news magazines.
The pilot study worked under the assumption that mainstream media provide a window onto the most salient public perceptions of, and issues concerning, migration-related topics in the participating countries. In order best to work this out and to highlight the most relevant findings, the project adopted a comparative international perspective. The UNAOC and EJC plan to extend this exercise around migration coverage to other parts of the world as well as on related topics such as hate speech, diversity, and religion.
The study was preceded by UNAOC’s High-Level Seminar on Migration Coverage convened in Paris on January 25-26, 2013 in which over 35 editors-in-chief and migration experts from 27 countries, across Europe and the Mediterranean took part. Working in tandem, both the editors and migration experts put forward 17 concrete recommendations toward more responsible media coverage of migration.
The outcome document includes recommendations in four areas:
- reporting on migration with a working knowledge of the topic, for instance offering journalists a media-friendly glossary
- involving migrants in migration coverage, such as employing more migrants or individuals of migrant origin in newsrooms;
- media actions, including encouraging timely publication of accurate data and use of data
- governmental and non-governmental actions involvement, for instance forging formal and informal inks between journalists and other partners.
“The UNAOC Media and Migration programs are taking a leading role in dispelling stereotypes in media coverage of migration,” said UNAOC Director Matthew Hodes.
“For institutions like the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations that sees the role of media in shaping public opinions and behaviors as crucial, it is timely to create a platform to further dialogue with media professionals on the issue of migration” said the then UNAOC High Representative President Jorge Sampaio during the meeting.
Discussions over the two-days led to a rich exchange of best practices and ideas on ways to strengthen the role of international organizations, establish partnerships with governmental, intergovernmental and other organizations and groups, and working with civil society and media to heighten awareness and foster responsible media coverage of migration.
The meeting was organized in partnership with the Global Editors’ Network and hosted by the Gulbenkian Foundation. Participants included a diversity of media representatives such as the BBC (UK), El Mundo (Spain), Corriere della sera (Italy), NZZ (Switzerland), derStandard.de (Austria), Komsomolskaya Pravda (Russia), Maariv (Israel) and Al Ahram (Egypt), alongside migration experts from intergovernmental organizations, think tanks and academics from the International Organization for Migration, Sciences Po-Ceri, the Ethical Journalism Network, and the Geneva Center for Security Policy, among others.