Immigration through the eyes of the press

© UnB/Fernando Paulino

Migratory surges have come under the spotlight of the press over the past several years. But how has the press talked about the issue and what is the accountability for its coverage? What is the impact of this news not only on society but on the political scene of each country, as well as internationally? If we see it from journalism’s perspective and its informative function, the coverage of migration needs a focus sharpened by accountability, constant updating, evolution, and journalistic innovation.

These were the issues discussed during the symposia “Migration Coverage and Media Accountability”, held at the end of March in Florianópolis (25) and Brasília (29), by means of a partnership between the University of Brasília (UnB), the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), and the Technical University of Dortmund (TU Dortmund), with the German Center for Research and Innovation in São Paulo (DWIH São Paulo).

The DWIH São Paulo talked with experts from both countries, who took part in the meetings. They pointed out important aspects of this scenario:

The relevance and accountability of the media in covering migratory actions
The relationship between the media and migration activities is increasingly more important, due to the growth in the number of refugees, and the relevant role that the media outlets play in society. The agenda of social issues and the way they are developed in public policies derive directly from the media’s work. For that reason, the subject has gained its current importance, because the “migratory crises” have been exerting a significant influence on transformation in the media and, consequently, in the world.

UFSC Journalism Professor Cristiane Fontinha Miranda says that the complexity of this phenomenon, which has specific characteristics on each continent, makes it difficult to understand and, therefore, complicates the spread of precise information. “Generally speaking, the media treats the phenomenon as a national event, where the discourse is dominated by government sources. Therefore, immigrants are seen as a group, a mass of people, and not as individuals,” she explains. In that sense, she says that the media can play its role better by diversifying their approach, by also hearing unofficial sources, who contextualize the phenomenon, thus giving voice to other players.

In Europe, the emphasis in the news regarding the migratory crisis of 2015 sensitized public opinion, dividing Europeans, as well as the continent itself. German researcher Susanne Fengler, Professor of International Journalism at TU Dortmund and Director of the Erich Brost Institute of International Journalism says this movement profoundly changed Europe. “In many countries, populist parties have recorded large gains and Brexit is also linked to the concern held by the English regarding open borders. It is still difficult to perceive a European solution for the issue of migration. The UN Global Compact also stirred discussions across the world. For that reason, it is increasingly important that the media report on this phenomenon in a much broader and internationally connected manner. It is the only way people can get a proper perspective of this political challenge.”

Brazil: migration coverage within a new reality
In Brazil’s case, German researcher Susanne Fengler argues that the migratory pressure on the country’s borders does not compare with what we currently see in Europe; but it is facing an enormous challenge caused by the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. “So far, according to information from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNNCR), this represents 100,000 people in Brazil – and there are no prospects for a solution to the crisis.”

Continuing on the subject of the Brazilian migratory crisis scenario, Fernando Oliveira Paulino, Professor and Dean of the UnB School of Communications, adds: “Generally speaking, media outlets in Brazil are still getting used to the movement of people, as the country receives eventual contingents of other nationalities.” Paulino says that the subject has gained more space in Brazilian media and, besides a quantitative analysis, it has contributed to qualitative research studies that indicate the need for an approach that takes into account the multidimensionality of this issue. That is, he feels that it is essential to deal with the movements of people via articles that give space for the positioning of a larger number of players, including migrants and refugees in their daily lives and in their challenges for survival. “It is of fundamental importance to make room for dialogue between the media, professionals and the public, while also promoting activities for ongoing professional training,” the Professor added, while emphasizing the importance of events such as the symposia “Migration Coverage and Media Accountability”.

The evolution of the press in the coverage of migrations
The changes and evolution of the consumption of news are also significant points in the case of this coverage, says Fernando Oliveira Paulino, of the UnB: “If we look at it from an historic perspective, there is now a greater number of trained journalists and a public use of the news that is even more significant. However, it is necessary to take into account the recent changes in the media ecosystem. That is, as the means of producing, distributing, and accessing content are transformed, the procedures for determining and sharing journalistic materials go through a process of change, thus raising the challenge of finding a sustainable formula for investment and financial return in a field where the leading companies historically have ties to political and economic groups.” Within this context, the UnB Dean and Professor believes that it is of the utmost importance to improve international journalistic coverage via training, starting with undergraduate courses, and also including dialogues with experts in the area who can contribute more directly with suggestions of other types of approaches and the use of people who provide a more human aspect to the coverage being made.

Results of the research by TU Dortmund on the coverage of migrations
In the symposia, German researcher Susanne Fengler also presented the results of an international study performed by TU Dortmund on the political and media scenarios. The idea was to facilitate dialogue on the issue with the purpose of giving continuity to the discussions via a platform of bilateral scientific cooperation.

With respect to the results of the research, Fengler pointed out that fear of the migratory surges changed the political scenario throughout Europe and that migration policies have had a decisive impact on the results of the elections in a number of European countries, since the beginning of the refugee crisis in 2015, with the spotlight on France, Germany, Italy, Austria, and the United Kingdom.

The German researcher also added: “On the one hand, we compared the coverage of the migratory crisis of six European countries with that of five African countries. What stands out is that the media of the African countries informed practically nothing regarding the subject. On the other hand, the issue predominates European headlines. A completely different view prevails in the African countries, combined with the lack of financial resources in the newsrooms. In Europe, the subject is discussed mainly with relation to border security. We finished another study done in 17 countries, comparing the coverages in Eastern and Western Europe, in the United States, and in Russia. Those results will be published next summer (Brazil’s winter).”

More information regarding this subject and about the research done at TU Dortmund:

Media and Transparency – a Global Perspective

Journalism in a Global Context

by Ana Paula Katz Calegari