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Shaping the public narrative on migration


On 21 April 2016, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) organized a one-day expert roundtable on the theme “Changing the public narrative on migration: promoting tolerance and confronting xenophobia against migrants”, to discuss the way that migrants and migration are being framed in the public narrative, and to examine possible collaborative efforts to re-frame the current toxic narrative on this issue.

More than 35 experts engaged in this discussion, including journalists and other media professionals, social media experts, film-makers, photographers, academics and representatives from non-governmental organizations, regional organizations, and international organizations. Please see informal summary below.

In the course of the roundtable discussion, as well as subsequently, participants provided a wealth of suggestions and recommendations for further action, on the part of OHCHR but also more broadly, and including in terms of taking forward the Secretary-General’s intention to convene a UN-led ‘global campaign’ as reflected in the report In Safety and Dignity: Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants (A/70/59), and focused on what this initiative might encompass and how it might be taken forward:

  • Focus on story-telling through the stories, testimonies and images of migrants as well as of people who have not migrated but are impacted by migration (e.g. families of migrants in countries of origin, classmates of migrant children, migrants’ employers, neighbours …) in order to build empathy and confront prejudice and discrimination against migrants. Ensure also that these stories go beyond just 'victim' stories or those that see migrants only as economic contributors, and try and ensure in the telling of the stories that they are accessible to a lay audience.
  • Bring together, highlight and support existing storytelling platforms, potentially under a common umbrella. Bring together all relevant stakeholders (those with specific expertise on content, format and outreach) for the purpose of identifying the various target audiences, and developing strategies on this issue.
  • Explore the possibility of a global campaign that is built on local pillars. Localize the issue in a particular context acknowledging that global messages might not respond to local framings. Seek to identify the “added value” of the various stakeholders involved, and to target communications strategies at particular audiences (e.g. youth). Remember that the messenger is often as important as the message in terms of reaching specific audiences.
  • In addition to bringing together existing initiatives, encourage the targeted development of new content that gives a human rights-based perspective on migration, particularly those that fill gaps in current coverage of the issue within mainstream media, as well as using content developed in the field of art and through humor (e.g. satirical comedy), inter alia using such initiatives to take the ‘sting’ out of anti-migration rhetoric. Promote the use of grant-making as a way to encourage interaction between photographers/film makers and actors interested in reframing public narratives on migration.
  • Collate existing educational and awareness-raising material, including on hate speech, responsible communications, and migration and human rights issues. Further encourage capacity-development initiatives for media professionals and other relevant actors.
  • Encourage better interaction between those who are working to shape public narratives and the UN human rights mechanisms, including the CMW, to periodically provide information on this issue, and encourage the development of standards as relevant.

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