Moderating between two sides can be a problem – Reporting the refugee crisis suffers from false balance

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Public service media, especially in Europe, currently faces the challenge of balancing a massive amount of stories about refugees and migrants. How does it ensure fair and balanced reporting amidst the changing political rhetoric?

Finding a fair and balanced point of view can be challenging. Public service broadcasters try to accommodate all views. Problems arise when the media is simply moderating between two sides, one of which might be very extreme and overrepresented.

“The role of the media is not to take a political stand. We have to tell the story how it is, despite the political debates on, for example, over the terms like ‘refugee’ or ‘migrant’,” says Charlotte Harder, international editor in the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.

During the World Press Freedom Day, Harder spoke at an event about the impact the refugee crisis has had on public service media values.

Media has a tendency to focus on human aspects, because human interest stories attract audiences. However, Naomi Sakr, Professor of Media Policy and director of the CAMRI Arab Media Centre in University of Westminster, warned that these stories often lead to a discourse that views migrants and refugees as victims.

“We need more in-depth reporting about the real background issues, to make people understand all dimensions of the crisis. This helps create real empathy.”

 

Depicting refugees in the public media

Opening the event was a member of Finnish parliament, Nasima Razmyar. Razmyar left Afghanistan in 1989 and arrived in Finland in 1992.

“I used to be one the people seeking refuge and safety, so I understand how it feels to be afraid. But I don’t understand how it is for them right now, with the situation in Europe and the new walls being built,” Razmyar says.

Razmyar felt that the discussion about refugees in Finland, and throughout Europe, is headed into a wrong direction.

A lot of media coverage concerning refugees concentrates on crime, terrorism and disorder. Positive news are few and far between.

Ali Jahangiri, a radio presenter at the Finnish public broadcasting company YLE, wished for more focus on the positive aspects of the crisis.

“Journalists follow expectations. If people expect to see terrorism, media will cover it,” says Jahangiri.

Internationally, public service media is not always well funded. In the Middle East, public broadcasters are sparse. In addition to Finland, the public broadcaster in Denmark has also dealt with issues relating to the refugee crisis.

“Danish public service media has a strong tradition,” says Charlotte Harder. “A majority of Danes actively consume public media, the challenge is in getting these stories to younger audiences and less educated people, or to those very afraid of current developments.”

 

Text: Kholoud Helmi, Henri Koponen

Photo: Jenni Toivonen

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