Refugees are ‘invisible’ in the media, says report

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REFUGEES and migrants are largely “invisible” in media representations of mass migration in Europe, a new research project has concluded.

The project Refugees Reporting studied news items (from news­papers, websites, and Twitter) on asylum and migra­tion in seven countries this year — the UK, Greece, Italy, Spain, Serbia, Sweden, and Norway. It found that 21 per cent of the 571 articles ana­lysed did not mention, or include, the voice or experience of an individual refugee or migrant.

The project was co-ordinated by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) in Eur­ope, and the Churches’ Commis­sion for Migrants in Europe (CCME), with input from refugee-led organ­isa­tions and media profes­sionals. Its findings were published last week in the report Changing the Narrative: Media representation of refugees and migrants in Europe.

Of the 21 per cent of articles that did refer to the experience of an in­­di­­vidual refugee or migrant, less than a quarter (40 per cent) used direct quotes; but this average included a spike of 88 per cent in Norway — affected by its strict jour­nalism code of ethics — compared with a low of 13 per cent in Greece.

Women were further under-represented. Of all people men­tioned in the news articles analysed, only six per cent were refugee women, and 21 per cent were women migrants.

Religion was also disproportion­ally absent. In 83 per cent of stories, the religion of the person identified as a refugee or migrant was not explicitly mentioned: one per cent was identified as Christian, and 15 per cent as Muslim. “This finding opens up the ques­tion of the in­­creased identification between refu­gees [and] mi­grants, and Islam,” the report says. “It sug­gests that the associa­tion is made by readers them­selves, and not ex­­plicitly by the journalists.”

Refugees and migrants were the subject of the majority (67 per cent) of all the news articles analysed, but were presented as “experts” in just three per cent of these stories, it says. The occupations of refugees and migrants were rarely stated, and almost one third of articles that did mention occupation referred to this as being a refugee or migrant.

“When media does not go beyond the refugee label, and when the public tacitly accepts refugee as an occupation, people are deprived of their humanity and dignity,” the re­­port says. “Not only are they not given a space to express themselves; by labelling them in this way, it is assumed that this label is all that there is to know about these people.”

References to “illegal immig­rants”, however, were infrequent. Half the stories in the sample presented an “overall neutral tone”, while another third were deemed sympathetic, it says. Sympathy, how­ever, ran the risk of “over-emphasising” the refugee as victim. “Rather than sym­pathy, journalists should strive for empathy, allowing the person to express her- or him­self.”

Referring to a “refugee crisis in Europe” is also unhelpful, the report says. “The crisis is not one of num­bers or capacity. The crisis is one of political will and understanding.”

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