The worldwide migrant, refugee, and human trafficking crisis has reached such catastrophic and alarming proportions that media often find themselves unprepared to handle the coverage effectively, professionally and ethically.
Reporting on these topics requires good training, knowledge, stamina, physical and financial resources, patience, empathy, various journalistic skills encompassing digital storytelling across multiple platforms, a desire to create awareness about a problem likely to make news for years to come, and the presentation of possible solutions to mitigate the disruption created by migration, asylum seeking and human trafficking.
A serious setback for journalists in the Arab world and beyond is they are not dedicated to the topic – i.e. not beat reporters covering it on a daily basis. Media, faced with regular budget cuts, staff layoffs, a steady diet of ever-changing technology, and competition from “citizen journalists,” social media denizens and activists, are hard- pressed to keep up, notably amid a swirl of xenophobia, hate speech, populism and economic/political unrest.
Moreover, it is difficult to cover a labour-intensive story when one is trying to make ends meet on a shoestring budget, often as a freelancer, juggling multiple assignments with pressing (if not conflicting) deadlines, and at great personal risk.
Based on the findings of the first EuroMed Migration Communications Study “How does the media on both sides of the Mediterranean report on migration,” a mutually reinforcing relationship exists between media, public attitudes and policy making, in regards to migration as an increasingly salient topic of public discourse. In a 2006 report titled “Migration and public perception,” the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA) of the European Commission already sought to highlight the link between perceptions and policy, arguing that: “... public perceptions of migration may strongly influence the effectiveness with which migration can be managed” and ultimately that “public perception has the capacity to block progress on developing effective policies ...” In the 2015 European Agenda on Migration (COM(2015) 240 final) the Commission notes that: “Misguided and stereotyped narratives often tend to focus only on certain types of flows, overlooking the inherent complexity of this phenomenon, which impacts society in many different ways and calls for a variety of responses.”
Based on the observation of simplified and sensationalist narratives that are currently dominating migration reporting, several organizations, such as ICMPD and the OPEN Media Hub, launched actions such as the Migration Media Award with the aim to promote narratives that are balanced, fair and evidence-based, in line with standard requirements of ethical journalism which in turn would create space for increased evidence- based migration policy development.