Across Europe, there have been many stunning examples of how stylish, well-informed and reliable journalism makes a contribution to building bridges between communities, exposing the dishonesty and inhumanity of flawed politics and promoting values of humanity and diversity. In almost every country journalism demonstrates a capacity for combating hatred and promoting understanding through reporting that connects with all communities.


In Spain, for instance, almost all journalists contacted about coverage of migration say they have sought guidance on how to cover migration stories in Spanish and international manuals and codes of professional ethics, but they have done so on their own initiative.


In spite of an often politicised and negative media tone in Italy there have been positive developments involving journalists including, for instance, the “No Hate Speech Campaign” [1] (launched on 7 September, 2015 by the Associazione Carta di Roma, with support from the European Federation of Journalists, Articolo 21, the Federazione Nazionale della Stampa Italiana, the Ordine dei Giornalisti and the USIGRAI public broadcasting company trade union. (See the Panel and Checklist for Diversity from Carta Di Roma.)

The campaign’s online petition calls on journalists not to be passive in cases of hate speech, arguing that “discrediting racist statements and clarifying why they are misleading constitutes a duty for journalists”. Readers are invited to isolate promoters of hate speech and not to engage in dialogue with them, while media, publishers and social network administrators are invited to remove messages of hate and ban their authors.

As part of a cooperative effort involving The Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung, El País and La Stampa and an investigative team, reports were produced which traced the journeys of several migrants along some important migration routes. They recounted the difficulties encountered, the prices they paid in different stages of the journey and moments of hope and despair, including shipwrecks and friends lost at sea.

They also contextualised the situation in terms of deaths, arrivals and the nationalities of those who arrived, showing that there were considerable numbers of likely refugees, particularly from Eritrea and Syria. Most of all, they provided valuable details which helped give a clearer understanding of the journey.

These media and editors demonstrated that media in the frontline countries of the European migration and refugee crisis could produce stylish and professional journalism to be proud of in a country where media, slowly but demonstrably, are learning from their mistakes.

In the aftermath of the migration crisis there are also many positive stories, not least focusing on how migrant communities including people of Muslim origin are contributing to the regeneration of isolated and declining communities in the south of the country.[2]

And two Italian national newspapers, La Stampa and La Repubblica, are involved in a ground-breaking activity, “The Trust Project” which offers more transparent standards to readers and supports the “immune system of democracy”.


In France there have many instance, of high-quality reporting. The AFP (Agence France Press) news agency, for instance, devoted considerable resources and newsroom talent to covering migration and terrorism issues. The reflections of its journalists on the Making Of/Correspondent blogs, illustrates a commitment to public interest journalism.[3]

“For reporters,” AFP writes, “covering the migration crisis is often an experience which marks them for the rest of their lives”.[4] Public service media, in particular, RFI, France Inter, Arte, and most of the “liberal” quality papers and magazines, have also been lauded for their attempts to provide thorough and balanced coverage of this most complex and divisive of news stories.


In Bulgaria, a report by Irina Nedeva on the suffering of the Syrian family Hawash, broadcast by Bulgarian National Radio in 2015 was one of the first to shed light on non-existent state support for refugees fleeing Syria. It led to the creation of the Facebook group “Friends of the refugees”, a civil initiative for humanitarian and integration support for migrants and asylum seekers, unprecedented in scale and activity for Bulgaria.

The group gained substantial media popularity, which helped attract more supporters and accelerated state reaction to the humanitarian challenge of providing shelter and care for the thousands entering the country in search of protection.

Other positive examples of high-quality and compassionate reporting include Slavi’s Show, the most popular evening show in Bulgaria, which made a documentary series dedicated to the Syrian refugees with a focus on their perspective and Nobody’s kids, a documentary by a Nova TV reporter, dedicated to unaccompanied minors in Bulgaria. Some positive items in Capital Weekly included the features “Germany, end of the trail” and “Wall of punches.” 


In the United Kingdom there have also been many instances of good practice such as that in the Evening Standard (26 May 2017). In an article entitled ‘Muslim heroes of Manchester’ the paper devoted extensive space to telling the human story of solidarity from people from a Muslim background in the aftermath to the terrorist attack at a pop concert in Manchester.[5]

Other positive stories that captured a counter-narrative of empathy and support included a focus on specific acts of support were found in the press and broadcasting[6] and the BBC devoted a special series to stories of communities coming together, all of which were aimed at developing a counter-narrative to bias against the Muslim community.[7]


In Germany and also reported by the BBC media gave extensive coverage to a Berlin mosque breaking Islamic taboos, part of a growing movement called Inclusive Islam which is heavily reported also in Der Spiegel.[8] The Berlin daily Tagesspiegel was one of the first newspapers to feature a regular weekly column written by a recent “newcomer in Berlin,” the Syrian student Ahmad Al-Dali, who describes in it his impressions and experiences of the city.

In his first column, Al-Dali makes his position clear: “The term ‘refugee’ is connected with the need for help and weakness. But I don’t want pity. I hate to ask for help … As a refugee, you lose the feeling of being a person. You lose yourself … There are people who think they know everything about me, when they hear I am a refugee. However, I have a past in Syria and hopefully a future in Germany. In Damascus, I was a normal student. I played the bass guitar and made music with a friend.”[9]

In 2016 the Süddeutsche Zeitung published a regular column titled “Neue Heimat” (New Homeland), written by four immigrant journalists: Lillian Ikulumet from Uganda, Olaleye Akintola from Nigeria, Nasrullah Noori from Afghanistan, and Mohamad Alkhalaf from Syria.[10]

On the television and radio station Deutsche Welle, the Lebanese-German journalist Jaafar Abdul Karim hosts the talk show Shababtalk, on which young people from both Germany and the Arab world discuss topics such as political participation, equal rights, and sexuality. In addition, Karim produces a video column for Spiegel Online called “Jaafar’s Videoblog,”[11] and on Zeit Online he writes the trilingual blog “Jaafar, shu fi?”[12]

As well as this work inside media, there is much reflection on how wider narratives in society – in the world of culture, politics and social affairs – contribute to creating narratives about Islam and Muslims and these are also useful for journalists in their work.

Confronting the problem of myth-making and narratives that generate anti-Muslim hate is the theme of the Counter Islamophobia Kit (CIK) [13] a programme supported by the European Commission to Counter Islamophobia Through the Development of Counter-Narratives in EU Member States involving academics and universities from Britain, Greece, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Portugal.

It looks at anti-Muslim narratives in each country, how they are constructed and deconstructs the narratives through historical, political and social prisms.

Helping media report the stories of migration, terrorism and community relations without slipping into bias against particular groups such as Muslims requires some rethinking of the way that media frame their stories.

This work, which began in January 2017 and is due to complete in December 2018, looks at anti-Muslim narratives in each country, and how they can be reshaped. The work examines the historical, political and social context in which narratives, including in media, are formed and also looks at counter-narratives already in place in these countries, from the perspective of media, civil society and state institutions.

Some of the findings have recently been made available online. The following quotes are taken from the second part of the work with data collected from interviews with policymakers and journalists among others. A review of academic literature, online and paper media outlets, social networks, blogs and websites is also underway. All of this provides resources essential to the development of a toolkit of best practices to counter-narratives of Islamophobia.


Looking at existing counter-narratives in France, for instance, the report describes how, in order to promote the representation of people from diverse backgrounds in the media, journalist Nadia Henni-Moulaï founded an online platform MeltingBook.[14]

Its diversity-centred content compensates for the lack of interest of mainstream media in minorities and gives voice to groups the latter usually overlook. She explains that one means of countering Islamophobia is “to embody the counter- speech through personal journeys and career paths”. To achieve this, the website identifies and promotes experts from ethnically and socially diverse backgrounds. “My goal is to reach people who deny the existence of Islamophobia,” she says. “Showing things differently will more likely affect them. Giving a voice to Muslim experts is a way of producing a counter-narrative”.

Henni-Moulai says that highlighting successful professionals from marginalised groups can also be a source of empowerment: “It is necessary to build a counter-narrative through story-telling. We need to rewrite the media narrative about minorities and let the latter reclaim their media narrative and their image. It is far more efficient to make a portrait of a lawyer who happens to be veiled, for example, than to present her as a veiled woman who succeeded despite her veil”.

Jehan Lazrak-Toub, the co-founder of W(e) Talk which provides a platform to inspiring women role models to empower others, agrees: “The issue of visibility is very important. I am an entrepreneur and it is as an entrepreneur that I want to be perceived. I do not want to be perceived as a Muslim entrepreneur.”

German journalist Daniel Bax, speaking about Islamophobia in general and how the media in Germany reports Muslims and Islam, considers the need to reduce the stress on religion as part of public debate and discussion. Mentioning someone’s religion should only be done when it is relevant to the story. He says the current discourse is very much framed with everything that someone with a Muslim background does somehow has to do with their religion. “You have to get away from this, you have to not Islamise every topic.”






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[7] BBC Crossing Divides

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