The International Press Institute (IPI) was proud to be an official partner of the 2017 UNESCO World Press Freedom Day gathering in Jakarta, Indonesia, where it convened a panel discussion on “Media coverage and public perception of refugees and migrants”. The panel took place on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.

Panellists included:

• Sawssan Abou-Zahr, Independent Journalist and Lebanon Peace-Building Expert for Peace Direct
• Paul Dillon, Project Manager/Media Officer, International Organization for Migration
• Tom Law, Director of Campaigns and Communications, Ethical Journalism Network
Margie Mason, Pulitzer-Prize-Winning Journalist, Associated Press; Part of AP Team Awarded for “Seafood from Slaves” Investigation
• Andi Muhyiddin, Head of Multimedia,; Previously Head of Current Affairs at SCTV and Indosiar
• Giles Trendle, Managing Director, Al Jazeera English

Moderator: Joyce Barnathan, Director, International Center for Journalists

A complete description of the panel is available below.

Panel description

Patterns in media coverage about forced migration vary according to the context and target audience, producing divergent storytelling on the same issue and potentially affecting public perception differently. The phenomenon of migration, a constant part of human history and development, has become the center of a harsh public debate with severe social and political implications.

The choice of words – asylum seekers, refugees, migrants or clandestine immigrants – has the potential power to influence public perception. The specific angle under which the phenomenon is analyzed – humanitarian crisis, security threat, effects on economy and welfare, emphasis on male rather than female asylum seekers – shapes the political debate.

Fast and short online news may create a superficial understanding, particularly because it often lacks in-depth analysis. Similarly, a tendency to sensationalism in some media may aggravate and exploit public fear, contributing to hate speech, discrimination, social exclusion and even violent repercussions.

Furthermore, media’s focus on certain issues and omission of others greatly affects public perception. Internally displaced people often face the same issues as migrants and refugees even without crossing national borders. However, not all of these issues are on the media’s radar.

Storytelling that ignores the voices of migrants does not contribute to public debate towards constructive and inclusive solutions. Through accurate reporting, informed by professional and ethical standards and humanity, journalists can highlight that there are moral, economic and cultural gains for host communities.

Points to Ponder
• How can the voices and perspectives of migrants and refugees be integrated in media coverage in the face of public perception of threat?
• What possibilities are there for media development amongst migrant communities themselves?
• What stereotypes should be avoided, and what stories can be told about how migration generally benefits host societies?
• How can coverage contribute to coherent policy solutions, share good practices of integration, and highlight international humanitarian law and responsibility for a recipient society?