How to cover migration and other global issues
Current coverage of the global south by media in the EU and global north is too often defined by negative stereotypes and simplifications of complex contexts, focusing on ‘headline’ issues such as poverty, natural disasters, terrorism, corruption and conflict rather than more nuanced analyses and perspectives.
All too frequently, too, these stories are told from the viewpoint of humanitarian aid workers, diplomats or other external commentators from North America or Europe, at the expense of local communities, experts and activists whose experiences remain unheard. And positive stories – though there are many to choose from – rarely feature.
This reflects a broader lack of global imagination in our coverage of global issues.
The media is still struggling to achieve a truly global journalism that brings together the different relations and interconnections across the world together: instead, these issues are being covered in a piecemeal fashion. This is illustrated by the fact that journalism is still neatly divided into ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ coverage, even on issues with an obviously global scale and scope.
One of the topics where this aspect of media coverage is weakest is around migration. Unfortunately, this comes at a time when journalism on this issue could not be more important, particularly with the rise of misinformation and anti-migrant hate speech.
Minority Rights Group, together with partners and journalists from Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, have developed this toolkit to help journalists, editors and communication specialists address this blind spot around migration.
The world is more interconnected than ever before. Journalists have to adapt to meet this new reality – and global development journalism is the way.
Journalism is a process of collecting, analysing and disseminating information in the public interest. This means it is a profession with a strong element of social responsibility. That is why journalists are required to follow the highest ethical standards – accuracy, balance, impartiality and truthfulness, independent of any commercial or political interests.
There is no single definition of development journalism. We have opted for those definitions which:
1) put the emphasis on global issues
2) use analysis to understand the role and responsibilities of a journalist
3) entail high ethical standards, and
4) adopt a global outlook when trying to understand and reflect the world.
At the same time, while it certainly seeks to counter the tendency towards one-sided or Western-focused narratives, development journalism is not (as the name might suggest) only investigative reporting from developing countries.
Global development issues are more complex and urgent than ever before. What was considered ‘foreign news’ just a few years ago is now a regular topic in domestic public debates. ‘The global is the new local’, as the saying goes – and migration is a perfect example of this. Development journalism is a way to react to pressing issues like migration or climate change through a complex, imaginative approach that ‘domestic’ or ‘foreign’ journalism often fails to achieve.
As development journalists cover contexts far removed from their own, they can more easily slip into stereotypes, fixed assumptions, misinterpretations or unethical practices.
The world is changing, and journalism should react to these processes. One of the areas in urgent need of a rethink is journalism ethics. Today, journalistic coverage requires more diverse information and data, more voices and perspectives, to be considered balanced and accurate. At the same time, national or even personal interests should not take precedence over transnational principles of human rights and justice. Journalists should become transnational communicators whose social contract extends beyond their own audience or country. Instead, they should develop something much wider – a multi-society contract with the entire global community.
Our view of the world is strongly affected by a range of factors, from the culture we come from to our socioeconomic situation, that may mean we see things stories through certain prejudices and assumptions that we take for granted. We need to be aware of these potential biases and blind spots to prevent them from compromising our reporting, especially on lesser known issues and places.
The very first point when we are trying to cover distant and complex issues is to reflect on our own position – who we are and how our background influences our work. This also requires a genuine understanding that journalists possess power and bear a social responsibility to use it responsibly.
As our world is changing rapidly, journalism needs to adapt with an approach that connects seemingly unrelated stories from different contexts into a single coherent story.
The challenges humanity faces today and the rapid geopolitical changes taking place around us means that the need to perceive and reflect the global community as a whole is more urgent than ever. With globalization, we find ourselves closely connected to people and countries on the other side of the planet, but the media has often been slow to fully acknowledge that. Journalism with a global outlook – or ‘global journalism’ – could help ensure that media coverage can catch up with this new reality.
Even though we live in a globalized world, media coverage often fails react to reflect this. Global journalism responds to these shortcomings through an approach to reporting that explores, analyses and reflects on the relations and interconnections between people and events in different parts of the planet.
The need for a global approach to journalism can be understood as a long overdue reaction to the changing status quo of the world, its shifting power structures and the complex dynamics driving this transformation, rooted in the growing crises we face in a globalized context.
A global outlook expands our understanding of the world and our role in it. It broadens the imaginable boundaries of our understanding of the world, changing it from a dichotomy between a domestic versus foreign outlook to a relations-based global outlook. It brings new ways of interpreting and arranging reality. Thanks to these new skill sets, it enables journalists to connect seemingly unrelated events taking place at different continents, in different positions in local, regional, international and other power structures, into one single coherent story.
Free, fair and balanced journalism has always been an important cornerstone of modernity and democracy, empowering people and societies. But the world has changed radically and journalism must adapt to ensure it remains relevant to today’s challenges. With this in mind, global journalism promotes global empowerment and creates the space to debate global issues, problems and solutions. By doing so it makes societies and communities more resilient and better able to withstand the many crises we face.
Global journalism is not a manual or guide imposed externally on journalists for their enlightenment. On the contrary, it has evolved from within practice and processes in the field. It does not come burdened with predefined morals or assumptions: it simply highlights neglected or disregarded aspects of global politics. It is not in itself corrective, aiming to achieve a particular agenda – it just seeks to accurately reflect the new global reality. Finally, it is not presented as a substitute for either domestic, foreign journalism, but aims to build on the best aspects of both to promote more responsive and far-reaching coverage of the same issues.
The majority of the coverage on world events – migration and development included – takes place from behind a desk. Reporting from the ground is still desperately needed to boost engagement on these issues. This, however, means journalists have to acquire a set of new skills and perspectives to cope with the dilemmas and challenges of covering distant contexts.
4.1 : As opportunities to travel shrink, opportunities to communicate across the world have improved rapidly.
While the opportunities for media houses to send journalists abroad have been shrinking, the ability of journalists to cover issues taking place on the other side of the world have been greatly increased thanks to recent advances in communication technologies. In fact, most coverage on global issues is now done from behind a desk. Fortunately, it is possible to produce high quality coverage on global issues, including migration, from this setting. All it requires is a fresh approach and a shift in perspective.
Media outlets must cover landmark events and issues. But at the same time they have the opportunity to do something more, to offer the audience a deeper and more diverse picture of the reality around us, even without being on the ground. And journalists, by following this approach, can enrich their portfolios with unique and groundbreaking stories.
There are a few preliminary steps you can take to begin with if you would like to enrich your desk-based coverage: starting with some broad research to give you an overview, compiling further resources to follow up, changing your routine a little and considering the criteria you want to select news coverage from agencies and other sources.
In the old days, reporters had to rely on expensive and unreliable communication services to develop their stories. Nowadays, journalists have a universe of new technologies to communicate across the world – reliably, instantly and for free (or almost). This is the ‘new normal’ for news coverage and journalists have to adapt to make the most of these new opportunities.
Covering culturally and geographically distant contexts brings a variety of challenges. How do you achieve the right balance? How can you feed it into the bigger picture? How do you avoid the dangers of depoliticization and other common pitfalls of Western coverage of the global south? How can you analyse a subject you are not yourself an expert in? And can you make these unfamiliar contexts relevant and accessible for your audience? Fortunately, there are tools which can help.
Planning is the essence of good coverage. Before you go anywhere or start your work, define precisely what you are interested in. Then do the research – find out what is already known about the topic. Do not forget additional, contextual information while doing so. Write down from where and from whom you could get information, and how could you use it. And finally, categorize your sources – from those simple to obtain to others more difficult to reach – and begin with the latter.
A hook is a technique to make your story engaging, going beyond the ‘five Ws’ of journalism: who, what, when, where and why. Put simply, it answers the question ‘So what?’. Another perspective relates to narrative technique to open your story to hook attention in order to keep reading/watching/listening. Here we deal with the former one. These can be, for example, various events or reports.
It is important to get voices of people whom the issue you cover somehow relates to. Therefore, it is important to enter the community itself when covering migration and/or development issues. Find tips and suggestions how to do that.
When you are attempting to challenge the dominant discourse, persuading media outlets to commission your stories can be more difficult. A good pitch could help. Journalists use pitches to persuade editors that their suggested topics are worth covering.
Being in the field is a unique opportunity to bring something special – such as live reporting. Find inspiration about what you can do and how to do it.
You are in the field – with all the challenges that brings. How can you proceed to find valuable content? Leave enough time to be able to distance yourself and gain perspective. Do not overestimate your memory and don’t forget about accompanying visual materials. And be flexible!
As journalists, you will often encounter stories taking place in unknown environments, in culturally unfamiliar or geographically distant contexts. In these cases, it is often useful to use an analytical tool to grasp the topic in a structured way. One useful approach is the concept of nonuniform modernization.
Fieldwork brings a variety of challenges and even dilemmas for journalists. Some common examples of these are covered here. They include cooperation with NGOs, international organizations, local representatives, community members themselves and fixers.
One of the ways to overcome the challenges journalists face in unknown contexts is to cooperate with a fixer who will be able to fill you in on the background and help you access the stories you need. There are websites such as www.worldfixer.com or www.hostwriter.org where you can find more information. Another option is to engage with groups on social media and ask other journalists for advice.
Despite recent controversies, migration has a long history. Human movement has always been a central strategy of adapting to environmental stress and social pressures. This chapter tries to shed light to this phenomenon.
Migration is not a new phenomenon: people have been on the move since the dawn of humankind. Indeed, the history of humanity is a history of migration – some have even argued that movement is our natural state. Migration has always been an essential part of our adaptation to environmental stress, social upheaval and other challenges. The same is true today, even though it has now become global in scale.
Simply put, migration is human movement from one place to another. It may involve a single individual or an entire community, internal resettlement within a country or a journey spanning multiple continents, forced flight from the threat of violence or a voluntary search for opportunities elsewhere. Indeed, in many cases it can involve a mixture of patterns and motivations: for instance, migrants may have to flee very real dangers to themselves and their families, while at the same time actively plan for a better life elsewhere. Migration has a variety of facets and there are plenty of reasons – some even seemingly contradictory – why people decide to leave or stay.
‘Migrant’ is an overarching term for anyone (with the exception of tourists) who moves from one country to another for a significant period of time. A refugee is a person who flees from conflict, persecution of a natural disaster and seeks sanctuary in another country. (In many situations of insecurity, many or even most of those forced to move may in fact remain within their country: these internally displaced people, also called IDPs, rarely receive the same amount of attention in international media, despite often facing considerable challenges). An economic migrant is a person who moves in search of education, employment and other opportunities outside his or her country. Asylum-seekers are people who have applied for asylum in another country. Finally, stateless people are those who have either been deprived of or were born without citizenship.
Technologies have not only enabled people to move across the world far more easily than before, but also to keep in close contact with families back home. In particular, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have facilitated the development of complex social connections, crossing national borders and spanning the globe. As a result, a growing number of migrants are now ‘transnational’.
Migration is often closely linked to processes related to development. There is no single definition of development, but in broad terms it can be understood as the potential for individuals and communities within a society to access services, employment and other opportunities on an equitable basis. If people do not have a chance to develop their potential, if they are excluded from participating in development, they might decide to move.
A minority may be a group numerically inferior to the rest of the population but also in some cases larger in number, but in a non-dominant position. Minorities usually possess certain ethnic, religious, linguistic and other characteristics differing from those of the rest of the population. Due to their marginalized position within society, they are vulnerable to discrimination, and are unable to secure an equal share of development opportunities. This all makes these communities more exposed to various challenges that they may attempt to resolve by deciding to move.
According to the UN definition smuggling “is a crime involving the procurement for financial or other material benefit of illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a national or resident.” In principle, it implies a level of consent among those being smuggled – as opposed to those subjected to human trafficking, who are effectively captive to their traffickers. Once a migrant is smuggled through a border to their agreed destination, the relationship is usually over, while human trafficking generally involves the continued coercion of victims, often over a period of many years.
Since the EU was established, the borders between its member states have been dissolving. Yet at the same time, its external borders have hardened – an approach widely known as ‘Fortress Europe’. Even for those fleeing persecution, entering the EU has become increasingly impossible for most refugees. As a result, many have been forced to take more dangerous routes, with a corresponding rise in the number of dead or missing people as desperation leads them to seek out smugglers and puts them at risk of human trafficking. Fortress Europe does not stop at its actual borders, but goes deep into neighbouring countries or even further in some cases in an attempt to create a buffer zone through a web of agreements, funding, detention centres and naval patrols.
Migration is an important issue in public debate and policy-making – across Europe and worldwide. And the media are part of it. Sometimes they build their narratives around migration on pure myths or speculation. At other times, however, they may reply on more subtle distortions and misconceptions: these may be, strictly speaking, factually correct but presented or interpreted out of context or misleadingly.
Migration is typically caused by a variety of factors, both ‘push’ and ‘pull’. People might decide to move because of a range of factors, be it employment, security, opportunities, education, even love, unavailable to them in their home country and ‘pulling’ them elsewhere. On the other hand, there can be compelling drivers of displacement such as conflict, persecution, natural disasters and other immediate threats, that push them to migrate. In this post we focus on the latter – push factors related to forced migration.