By Bill Orme
In the United States, as in Europe, migration was a dominant topic of mainstream news coverage throughout the summer of 2015.
In Europe, the story was a humanitarian crisis of historic proportions, with millions fleeing violence and repression. The migration focus in US media, by contrast, was an utterly domestic debate about the legal status of millions of immigrants who have been peaceably settled in the country for years. And it was prompted largely by one candidate in the early stages of a US presidential campaign, rather than reflecting an actual change in migration patterns or any other precipitating event. The refugee crisis across the Atlantic and in more distant parts were distant sideshows.
In serious news organisations in the US and Europe alike, migration has been covered as a multifaceted story of human tragedy and perseverance, of domestic resistance and acceptance, of multicultural diversity and geopolitical complexity, and, above all, as one of potentially permanent and profound demographic change.
Yet this coverage has long been strikingly different in the United States, where political refugees have not been a factor in debates over immigration in decades, while “economic” immigration has been a constant throughout its history – and a recurring topic of divisive partisan debate. The continuing desperate exodus of Syrian and other refugees was seen as a “foreign” story, with little initial reporting on the US role or responsibility in the origins of the crisis, or as a potential safe haven for those fleeing turmoil and often savage cruelty. By extension, ethical issues in migration coverage are also perceived quite distinctly in American media.
This article is taken from the Ethical Journalism Network's report 'Moving Stories - International Review of How Media Cover Migration'
About the author
Bill Orme is a strategic communications advisor and former journalist, who has covered immigration issues as a correspondent in Mexico for The Washington Post and The Economist and in the Middle East for The New York Times. He was executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in the 1990s and over the past decade as external communications chief for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). He is currently the UN Representative of the Brussels-based Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD).
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