Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

By Leonard Doyle

WHEN migration hits the news, the outcome is often unnerving. The way the subject is handled by journalists can be either inflammatory or reassuring and is all too often the former.

Often the subtext of what gets reported concerns local stability and the underhand suggestion that migrants are eroding a country's prosperity or even its national identity. Yellow Journalism got its start back in 1883 when publisher Joseph Pulitzer filled his New York World with crime stories running under headlines like "Was He a Suicide?" and "Screaming for Mercy."

Today's yellow journalists like to treat migrants as scapegoats, stigmatize them or blame them for existing problems. As people migrate in greater numbers than ever before, the global melting pot of cultural and ethnic diversity also brings with it an ugly stereotyping.

It's something the Global Editors Network grappled with recently at a high-level seminar of editors, journalists, media and migration experts from Europe and the Mediterranean to discuss challenges, best practices and opportunities in the media coverage of migration. The accompanying video offers key insights (as well as eyebrow-raising moments) about improving migration coverage in the media.

The "takeaway" surely goes to Aidan White of the Ethical Journalism Network. He counsels that "when we talk about migration we don't talk in dry numbers, we don't talk about it in dry political terms and we don't talk about it in the high flown rhetoric of political combat, but we talk about [migration] in human scale."

How right he is. If more people could get their arms around that concept, migration might be better understood. It was cheering then to read Ireland's Peter Sutherland, the UN's Special Representative for Migration, channeling IOM's Director General William Swing when he said: "Migration is the original strategy for people seeking to escape poverty, mitigate risk, and build a better life."

But listen also to Amy Selwyn of News Xchange in the video: when communicating about migration, she advises “telling a story that gives context and understanding to what’s being told,”

You should tell it in an engaging way, she says, so that the reader the listener, the viewer thinks: "I see how that affects my life and I have a different view point and as a result I learned something."

The seminar was organized by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations UNAOC in partnership with GEN. The video is also produced by UNAOC. 

Leonard Doyle is the head of Online Communications for IOM