PANEL TWO

How a media scandal led to the Charter of Rome

The Carta di Roma (Charter of Rome), now one of Europe’s leading specialist media monitoring groups that is focused on the migration story, itself came into being after a scandal over media racism. The charter was drawn up following a letter written by Laura Boldrini, the Italian United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative, to leading Italian editors on 19 January 2007, in response to their treatment of the gruesome murder of four people in the northern town of Erba a few weeks earlier.(48)

The murders were initially blamed on the victim’s Tunisian husband, Azouz Marzouk, whose two-year-old son also died in the attack. Marzouk was widely depicted by media as a monster, with press and television interviews featuring aggressive criticism of the Tunisian immigrant community. It was then revealed that he was in Tunisia at the time of the attack. Subsequently, two neighbours confessed to the murders and were prosecuted.

In the letter, the UNHCR condemned media reports saying: “Strong and rather unexpected evidence of xenophobic sentiments emerged, as did a media system ready to act as the sounding board for the worst manifestations of hate.”

Many journalists were also shocked that once the truth emerged, none of the major media outlets apologized for their intemperate coverage. There was no display of conscience or responsibility, at best only a regretful shrug.

The protest opened up a dialogue on racism and media coverage of refugee and migration issues, much of which had been characterized by alarmist and warlike language and which was blamed for stirring up hostility and intolerance.

The Italian journalists’ union, working with the national editors’ association, academics, press employers, media experts and the UNHCR, prepared a draft a code. Once on paper, it became a topic for wide-ranging, often heated discussion inside media and beyond. The conclusion was the adoption of the Charter of Rome.

The Charter calls for “maximum care when dealing with information concerning asylum seekers, refugees, victims of trafficking and migrants”. It recommends the use of appropriate legal terminology and calls for accurate, verified information, and safeguards for those who speak to the media. It recommends media to consult experts in order to make provide information in context in their reporting.

The Charter led to the creation of an observatory to monitor media coverage and to provide analysis on these issues, as well as training programmes for journalists organized by media owners and the journalists’ union. The observatory produced two in-depth reports on migration issues in January and December 2014.

Significantly, the Charter also produced a glossary to define “asylum seeker”, “refugee”, “beneficiary of humanitarian protection”, “trafficking victim”, “migrant/ immigrant” and “irregular migrant”, to encourage their appropriate use.(49)

The Observatory’s analysis and comment on the treatment of migration-related issues in the media, which includes fact-checking reports and highlighting cases of overt violation of the charter, is accompanied by regular engagement with news media over their coverage.

Browse the report

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