5th June 2017
By Tom Law

Migration Media Award ceremony & Conference ‘Changing media narratives of migration’

Migration Media Award ceremony &

Conference ‘Changing media narratives of migration’

14 – 15 June 2017, Malta

The Migration Media Award highlights and showcases the best reports from the South and North of the Mediterranean with a view to recognise excellence, relevance, and newsworthiness of journalism pieces dealing with migration in all its aspects in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

The objective was to foster coverage and reward outstanding pieces of journalistic work on migration issues – recognising the role media play in influencing the current narrative on migration. The awards consist of co-funding a new production for journalists selected for an already published piece and a proposal for a second story on migration. Ten judges – well known journalists and OPEN Media Hub members – evaluated the 121 entries and up to 16 winners will come to Malta on 14 June 2017 to receive their award. The award consisted in financing the production of a story in TV, radio, online or print, in Arabic, French or English.

The ceremony took place in the evening of 14 June 2017 in the Barracka Gardens in La Valetta, Malta under the auspices of the partners of the Migration Media Award, namely the Maltese Foreign Affairs Ministry, the European Asylum Support Office, and the EU funded projects Euro Mediterranean Migration IV and OPEN Media Hub.

The next day on 15 June 2017, at a networking event, up to 30 journalists from the South had the opportunity to network and exchange good practices with one another and with experts and judges from the Migration Media Award. They were given the opportunity to report and produce stories on the media coverage of migration and portrait the winners Migration Media Award, relevant to their country and audiences. The organisers ensured for the participating journalists the organisation of interviews with experts, awardees and a cameraman and editing suite was available to produce short videos for publication in mainstream and social media. Print, radio and online journalists were also invited to produce stories.

The speakers to the event are:

  1. Janine Di Giovanni, award winning foreign correspondent and Newsweek Middle East editor, book author.
  2. Loick Berrou, France 24 Editor in Chief, will present InfoMigrant a new EU supported media targeting migrants and set up together by FMM, DW, ANSA.
  3. Jean-Paul Marthoz, Le Soir, Belgium, a seasoned columnist, writer, and teacher, advises the Committee to Protect Journalist, Human Rights Watch and Index on Censorship.
  4. Reputed AFP and UPI foreign correspondent, Magda Abu-Fadil, of Media Unlimited, Lebanon, is also an academic and foreign correspondent with many years in Washington and now in Beirut.
  5. Aboubakr Jamai, Aix en Provence University professor, is an award winning Moroccan editor and journalist, founder of Le Journal and Lakome.com.
  6. Tom Law, Communications Officer of the Ethical Journalism Network which promotes ethics, good governance and self-regulation of journalism, has launched the EUMM IV study on media coverage of migration.
  7. Asiem El Difraoui is a political scientist, economist and documentary film director and active with the Candid Foundation / Institute for Media and Communication Policy Berlin A lecturer at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques Paris where he also worked as editor in chief of IP Productions. Specialised on radical Islam, he has covered in documentary films the issue of migration.



The Director General Conference “Balancing the narrative on migration – the role of the media and policy-makers” took place under the auspices of the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union on 14 June 2017 in Malta. The Conference was organised within the framework of EUROMED Migration IV (EMM4), a programme funded by the European Union (EU), under the Directorate General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), and implemented by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD).

Building on discussions held during the previous Director General Conference which took place in Rome in December 2014, the EMM4 programme aims to foster and promote a positive approach to migration. Participants in the Rome Conference noted the importance of responsible and effective communication on migration. Especially in the Euro-Mediterranean context which has witnessed considerable evolutions in terms of the magnitude and nature of migration flows. This has been compounded by ongoing sub-regional instability and economic challenges. The emerging narrative focuses increasingly on the negative impacts of immigration; often it disregards the associated opportunities and benefits. This creates a predominantly negative public perception of migration, rather than a more balanced one which appreciates the complexities of the phenomenon. This presents a key challenge to achieving effective migration governance, and ultimately ‘safe, regular and orderly migration’. Individual communication efforts can contribute to a more balanced migration narrative, leading to constructive dialogues on the issues, resulting in evidence based solutions. Responsible reporting and an increase in evidence based policy making can promote more comprehensive migration governance, which promotes rights and responsibilities in host and migrant communities and leverages the benefits of migration. Communication is a key horizontal and cross-cutting element of the EMM4 programme. The Conference brought together more than eighty participants, including migration policy-makers, highlevel delegates from EU Member States (EU MS), European Neighbourhood Instrument Southern Partner Countries (ENI SPC), representatives of the media, experts from academia, international organisations and civil society actors.

The overall goal of the Conference was to examine the role of the media and policy-makers in constructing the narrative on migration. This discussion is meant to pave the way for actions to connect more migration knowledge with better migration communication, to inform migration policy-making; a more balanced narrative on migration is the first step in this regard. The conference provided a platform for different stakeholders to learn from each other, explore avenues of cooperation, and jointly reflect the challenges and way forward towards a more productive and proactive dialogue, a balanced migration narrative, and ultimately enhanced migration governance at the regional level.

Key Messages of Session 1: The role of the media and migration reporting in informing the public
  • Journalists contribute to creating and interpreting public opinion on migration, through their choice in words, timing, and what events they comment on.
  • There is a tendency to focus only on immigration when reporting about migration, rather than including emigration.
  • Research on public perception of migration, in EU MS, and ENI SPCs indicates an increasing tendency towards negative attitudes, especially with regards to immigration and refugees.
  • The perception of asylum seekers in a number of EU MS shifted from cautious tolerance, to ecstatic humanitarianism, and finally to fear in 2015.
  • There is a lack of discussion on the potential positive contribution of refugees. Refugees are often portrayed as young, unskilled and dangerous men.
  • Less space is given to migrant voices in the media, thus exacerbating the distorting coverage. Many voiceless refugees were associated with the dangers they supposedly represent.
  • Inaccurate portrayals of life in Europe in the media, in countries of origin, increase the migration pressure and promote the migrant smuggling economy.
  • False narratives often emerge in social media, when messages are oversimplified, and facts are distorted in the interest of sensationalism and ideology.
Key Messages of Session 2: Political and public discourses, and the interaction between actors in shaping public opinion
  • People have more positive attitudes when they have had more contact with migrants, and perceive migration as an important issue for their country, but not at the personal level.
  • Media coverage of migration in the region remains focused on South to North irregular migration, and does not take South-South migration into account.
  • Migrants and refugees are the third most debated topic in the mainstream media in Europe, while in SPCs the issue has been less reported on.
  • Animosity towards migrants restricts the ability of governments to sensitise their populations on the relevant challenges and opportunities, and efficiently govern migration.
  • The polarization between humanitarian and security based perspectives on migration is driven by principles of global solidarity, on one side; and national defence needs, on the other side.
  • Migration related public discourse are sometimes influenced by social media in both a nativist and progressive direction, at times this can lead to reactive policy making.
Key Messages of Session 3: The way forward for a balanced narrative on migration
  • There is a lack of understanding of terminology and complexity related to migration in the media, often deadlines, and the need to simplify messages leads to inaccuracies.
  • While reporting on figures is needed, it fails to convince; combining facts with background and respectful human interest components that give voice to migrants and refugees is more effective.
  • In many countries in the region the media relies on a narrow set of sources for data on migration, as well as information on the living conditions of migrants and refugees.
  • Stories that only focus on the human interest dimension tend to elicit pity in the short-term, and a degree of emotional fatigue in the medium-term.
  • Migration research is rarely covered by the media and does not reach policy-makers; it is complex, and difficult to report on in accessible manner, and subsequently translate into policy.
  • Efforts by journalists to develop codes of conduct for their profession, with regards to reporting on migration, and coupled this with training have had success.
  • Trainings of governmental communication professionals on how to convey complexity related to migration succinctly have been developed, and are showing results.

There is a complex interplay between editorial orientations, political narratives, journalistic approaches and public discourse on migration which form public perception. It is often anecdotes, and populist characterisations of the phenomenon that garner the most attention, driving sensationalism on this complex issue. The narrative on migration must be balanced if policy makers are to be given the space needed to formulate fully-fledged, evidence-based migration governance systems. To this end, the vast amount of data which is already available must be analysed in a responsible manner, which is understandable to both policy makers and the public. Above all else, the narrative must change from its current focus on the negative impacts of irregular immigration, to migration as a phenomenon that includes emigration, circular migration, and intercultural exchanges. These aspects enrich countries of origin and destination economically, and socially. The future orientations listed below are based on the common ground identified among participating actors over the course of the day. They aim to reconnect knowledge with migration, by ensuring that media and policy makers have access to accurate data and information, and that they have the tools to communicate effectively. This will contribute to creating a solid foundation for fully-fledged national migration governance policies and systems in the region. However, to achieve this, innovative approaches and methods must be embraced. Participants noted the following specific orientations:

1. Rebalancing the narrative on migration in the Mediterranean means emphasising the opportunities and benefits of migration for countries of origin, transit and destination;

2. Migrants themselves should be given space to present their narrative, especially in relation to positive experiences, that complement figures, and create compelling narratives on migration;

3. Governments and the media should adopt a proactive, and evidence-based approach to communication on migration, rather than responding to sensationalism;

4. Social media is an increasingly important media, governments should engage with citizens on migration related topics in a proactive manner through them, and listen to their ideas and concerns;

5. Efforts to scale up the initial efforts to train government officials on understanding and speaking the media’s “language” in relation to migration, should be undertaken;

6. The local and national contexts require tailored approaches to how knowledge is presented to policy makers and the public, and how support is provided to migration governance systems;

7. Improved cataloguing of data sources related to migration is necessary, especially systems that render the information more accessible to the public through reliable analyses;

8. Data, information, and subsequent research on migration needs to be translated into a form that is accessible to the media, policy makers and the general public;

9. There is a need for training of journalists on migration related concepts, including the rights of migrants, migration related terminology and the economic benefits of immigration;

10.The success of the journalist Codes of Conduct in reporting on migration, such as the ‘Carta di Roma’ should be spread to other countries, and the principles included in university curricula;

11.Editorial independence should be maintained, a balanced narrative on migration should be encouraged and not enforced, access to information and training can drive this approach.