1. Ethical context

Migrants and refugees are a vulnerable minority who can quickly become scapegoats for the ills of society – social and economic decline, crime and unemployment, pressure on health and welfare services and lack of security.

Media can counter this threat and help people better understand the complex migration story by applying ethical principles, avoiding crude stereotypes, developing good newsroom practice and engaging with the audience. In particular, journalists should apply and respect the following five core principles of journalism in their work:

  • Accountability: media transparency and commitment to correct errors.
  • Humanity: sensitive and careful journalism that avoids doing undue harm;
  • Impartiality: fair reporting that tells all sides of the story;
  • Independence: journalism free from self-censorship and political pressure;
  • Accuracy: fact-based reporting, analysis and commentary;

2. Newsroom practice

Media companies and journalists’ unions and associations should prepare concise guides to best practices for the reporting on refugees and migrants. In addition, all media should examine their internal structures to make sure they are telling the story in the most effective way.

News organisations can:

  • Appoint specialist reporters with good knowledge of the subject to the migration and refugee beat.
  • Provide detailed information on the background of migrants and refugees and the consequences of migration. It is especially important to note that some major studies reveal how migration can strengthen national economies in the longer term, even where there are short-term challenges.
  • Avoid political bias and challenge deceptive handling of the facts and incitement to hatred particularly by political, religious or other community leaders and public figures.
  • Respect sources of information and grant anonymity to those who require it most, particularly those who are vulnerable and most at risk.
  • Establish transparent and accessible internal systems for dealing with complaints from the audience over coverage of migrant and refugee issues.
  • Review employment policies to ensure newsroom diversity with reporters and editors from minority communities.
  • Provide training for journalists and editors covering everything from international conventions and law to refugee rights and what terms to use while covering refugee stories.
  • Monitor coverage regularly. Organise internal discussions on how to develop and improve the scope of migration coverage.
  • Manage online comments and engage with the audience to ensure that migration stories are not used as a platform for abuse or intolerance.

Media associations and journalists’ unions can also support national structures for independent regulation or self-regulation of journalism, such as press councils. Where there are industry-wide codes of conduct and guidelines dealing with non-discrimination these should cover reporting migration.

3. Engage with the media audience and connect with migrants

Refugee groups, activists and NGOs, many of which provide vital information for media, can be briefed on how best to communicate with journalists and media can explain to the audience their policies and editorial approach which may encourage readers, viewers and listeners to contribute useful additional information.

4. Challenge hate speech

Hate speech is widespread in the media. Often it can’t be prevented when it comes out of the mouths of prominent public figures, but journalists should always remember that just because someone says something outrageous doesn’t make it newsworthy. The Ethical Journalism Network has developed a 5-point text for hate speech as a useful tool for newsrooms.

5. Demand access to information

Media cannot report without access to reliable information and facts. When access to information is restricted, such as not being allowed to enter refugee camps, media and civil society groups should press the government both nationally and internationally to be more transparent. Media and journalists’ unions should meet regularly with police and state authorities and agencies to ensure journalists have safe conditions in which to work and access to the information they need.

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