European Federation of Journalists

Ethical reporting on migration and refugee crisis

The video broadcasted on 8 September around the world has surprised many people especially journalists. The Hungarian journalist, Petra László, was videotaped for tripping a migrant, who tried to escape the police in the Serbian-Hungarian border. A few months earlier, Der Spiegel’s journalists have adopted a totally opposite approach, publishing a welcoming message to refugees on their front page.

The migration-refugee crisis raises the question of journalist’s commitment and responsibility. How to cover this touchy subject? How to interview migrants? How to be objective while showing empathy and respect? How to counter stereotypes?

The answers to these questions are not easy. While there are bad practices which may show aggressive approach towards migrants and refugees, there are also  good practices that should be highlighted and shared in order to improve the professional standard in covering migration and refugees. Below you will find a collection of best practices and interviewing tips on reporting migrants and refugees.

During the interview :

  • Establishing a professional relationship : showing respect, rules of politeness (EFJ, MDI, Article 19, EJI, Getting the facts rights, Reporting ethnicity & religion)
  • Respecting rights to privacy, anonymity and confidentiality
  • Be sensitive and avoid aggressive approach in interview. Inform the interviewee that he/she can refuse to answer questions and stop the interview at any time if he/she doesn’t feel comfortable
  • Being structured : methodical, preparation, giving every possible control on the interview’s course to the interviewee
  • Being sensitive, careful attitude and sharing human feelings. The quality of information depends on your ability to develop trust. “Don’t be afraid to open the conversation with, ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ or ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you’. Even if those remarks sound canned to you, chances are that the victims will appreciate hearing them. Moreover, it is better to stick with a rehearsed comment than to risk blurting out something that may be unintentionally hurtful. But being considerate does not mean that you suspend all disbelief. (…)The challenge is not to let skepticism become cynicism, since that can translate into a lack of compassion and concern. The wisest course is to extend the benefit of doubt to a victim, until or unless proved otherwise.” (Sue Carter, Bonnie Bucqueroux, Interviewing victims : Tips and techniques)
  • Respecting the individuality of responses to traumatic situations : ” Victims often express anger, fear, denial, remorse, frustration, and sadness, but they can have surprising reactions as well. Victims who suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can appear emotionless and unaffected by the experience, but these are symptoms of the disorder and reporters should not mistake their lack of affect for not caring.” (Sue Carter, Bonnie Bucqueroux, Interviewing victims : Tips and techniques)

Before & after the interview :

  • Respecting rights to privacy, anonymity and confidentiality
  • Having legal and political knowledge about migrant issues (For more information about choice of words, reliability of figures : Jean-Paul Marthoz, Couvrir les migrations, NUJ, UNHCR, Reporting on refugees, guidance by & for journalists)
  • Promote balanced representation in reporting. “To avoid misleading or distorted reporting, care should be taken when quoting third party comments — and the prominence given to them. Publishing unsubstantiated claims or comments is poor journalistic practice. In the case of asylum issues, publishing hostile allegations can generate fear and hostility that is not borne out by the facts. When citing official or government sources include quotes from organisations representing refugees/asylum-seekers for fair and balanced coverage.” (NUJ, UNHCR, Reporting on refugees, guidance by & for journalists)
  • Long-term coverage
  • Moderate comments : The EFJ called on media professionals to be aware of the danger of discrimination being furthered by the media through hate speech following recent debates and media coverage on “migrant crisis”. Media and editors have to moderate comments of Internet users in order to prevent racist, discriminatory, insulting and hatred comments.

Photo Credit : AFP, Aris Messinis