“Without naming migrants, media contribute more to hostile environment than fake news,” says LSE professor

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Nameless, jobless and genderless, migrants are told in a deshumanised way by stream media. Crédito: ACNUR

Myria Georgiou, director of the Communication and Media Centre at the London School of Economics, found in a study on 1,200 European reports published in 2015 that migrants were rarely represented by name, gender or profession

By Victória Brotto, in Strasbourg (France)
Translation by Natália Valverde Jatobá

Read the Portuguese version here.
Read the Spanish version here.

“Why do we still have to discuss how to change people’s perception of arriving migrants if today organizations to treat the subject are much more developed than they were decades ago? The provocation is from Myria Georgiou, professor and director of the Communication and Media center of the London School of Economics, 49th in the world ranking of universities, during a conference promoted by the Commission for International Cooperation and Development of the European Union. 

The event, held in Strasbourg (France), attracted more than 500 people, among them the report of MigraMundo and other journalistic teams, besides humanitarian agents around the world.

It takes place at a time when the United Kingdom, where Georgiou teaches, as well as the European Union, sees an important flow of migrants reaching its borders, most recently in the English Channel since the beginning of this year. The aim of the activity, according to the Commission, was to “reflect on how to develop projects on migration to counterbalance negative stories about migrants”.

“But why do we still have to discuss the same subject?”, insisted, rhetorically, Georgiou, who was born in Greece.

Myria Georgiou talks about how to positively impact talking about migration in an event promoted by the European Union.

Hostile environment

According to the expert, after analyzing 1,200 articles published by the major European media in 2015, a year of intense migratory flow towards the continent, it was found that the environment on the continent is hostile to migrants. And not only to the emergence of populism in the bowels of Europe, but also to the fact that the big media misinforms about migration – and that, on the other hand, the tabloids spread the fake news. 

However, contrary to what is imagined, the study points out that the impact on the negative opinion of European citizens on the subject is due much more to the big media, which misinforms, than to sensationalist journalism, which spreads false or distorted news.

This is because, according to Georgiou, bad information does not bring the main element to understand the phenomenon of migration: the human factor. 

“What we identified in 74% of the stories is that, when represented, the migrants had no name, no gender, no work,” he says. “What we see is a dehumanization of the migrant, it becomes more and more difficult to identify them as human beings, so we will have difficulties to sympathize with them”, summarizes the researcher.

Another element identified in the process of “misinforming” is the almost total absence of the migrant’s voice. “Only 15% of the 1200 subjects contained migrant lines”. The teacher adds that not listening to the migrant helps in the delegitimization of their voice.

In contrast, the survey found that most newspapers heard European experts and political authorities, “people who know very little about the experience of migration itself, who have never lived what that population lives, what an asylum seeker lives for example”.

Thus, when the mainstream media doesn’t listen to the migrant, it would stop passing on to its reader the experience of migrating, no longer bringing it to what Georgiou called the “human level of experience”.

“What is said about migration is something very academic or politicized, far from the level of experience, which makes difficult the solidarity of the reader with the migrant person”.

Giving voice to migrants and spreading positive stories about them would improve the local population’s perception of migration, says an event expert with an audience of 500 people.

Poor journalistic quality

Another element identified was a recurrent treatment of migrants as “vulnerable”. “If you constantly refer to them as vulnerable, rarely bringing positive stories about such a population, it sends the message that such people are only worth mentioning because they are somehow inferior to us,” she explained.

But, according to the researcher, the great media doesn’t inform badly because it is hostile to the migrant, but because it would be “conditioned to a digital environment where journalists need to publish fast, which damages the quality of the material”.

The impact of this poor quality journalistic material, deshumanizing migrants, was classified as “strong and important” by the professor. She refered to the data from the French foundation for Ipsos research, showing the negatively inflated perceptions of the population of the host countries towards migrants.

One of the main findings of the survey was that in most South American countries, populations thought they had 30% more migrants in their territories than they actually did.

In European countries like Spain, Italy, France and Germany, the population claimed to have 19%, 18% and 15% (respectively) more asylum seekers in their respective national territories than they actually had.  In Brazil, society indicated a figure 30% higher than the reality. When asked about the presence of Muslims, the European population had an inflated opinion by 15%.

British tabloids call the arrival of migrants through the English Channel a “crisis”, which makes the environment hostile to the subject, says the expert.

Fake news

Although not as influential as the traditional media, according to the professor, sensationalist tabloids also contribute to the relativization of issues such as human rights and social justice.

“Frequent fake news impoverishes the debate and important issues are relativized, which become a matter of opinion.

According to Georgiou, such relativization of everything is increasingly seen as something normal by everyone, including the more moderate part of the population and political agents, responsible for thinking about public policies and the laws that govern their countries. Such a process is what she calls “powerful dynamics of misinformation,” where there are “many voices that compete with the voice of the migrant on a matter that is entirely suited to them.

Outputs

In addition to pointing out the gaps in media coverage on migration, the LSE researcher also indicated avenues to be taken that could help reverse this picture. And also to “make people aware of the danger of misinformation.

  • Take into account the opinion of the migrant person in the reports;
  • to increase the dialogue between public authorities and all types of media (traditional and alternative);
  • to share in a simple and didactic way the data about migration for the population;
  • bring the subject to the “human level, speaking to humans stories about other humans”.

“We know that changing the perception of the population about migration is something complex because it is a delicate subject, but it is possible if we change the way we talk about it, make the stories of migrants more human and real, closer to the reader, if we listen to migrants, if we do not treat them only as vulnerable people, if we develop projects of public access to relevant and serious information, in addition to creating spaces for meetings between local population and migrants,” concludes Georgiou.

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