“The reality is that there’s more that unites us than divides us,” says Zino Akaka of Media Movers. “We all have shared values core to who we are as human beings.”
Akaka is the Project Coordinator for Media Movers, which is an arm of narrative change charity On Road Media. The charity brings together young people with migrant backgrounds to work with media and pop culture professionals in the United Kingdom. By emphasising shared values, they aim to influence and inspire better coverage on migration, shifting away from negative, toxic and divisive narratives that can often dominate the media landscape.
On Road Media also recently contributed to the
toolbox - a seven-step guide to rethink and change narratives on migration - developed by UN Human Rights and partners and launched last year as part of the
Akaka arrived in the United Kingdom in 2004 from Nigeria. Her own experience as a migrant, she says, helps her understand some of the emotions, frustrations and fears that people arriving to a new country may have, and assists in her work to encourage more positive media coverage.
“I don’t claim to fully understand everything – we all have our own individual experiences – but I think it creates a bond of trust between us.”
Akaka and her colleagues’ ambition to change the narrative on migration starts with focusing on popular culture outlets with audiences of over a million. They work with producers of TV dramas, soaps and podcasts, as well as with news media and celebrities, to analyse the messages that are influencing consumers’ subconscious and to inspire a different, more effective and positive way to speak about migration.
“The work is so valuable because you see the effects of it trickle down into policy, but also into people’s lives in the way they perceive themselves when they engage with media and with society in general,” says Akaka.
Towards a new narrative
“The issue with some of the fearful narratives,” notes Akaka, “is that, sadly, it drives people away from each other, and that causes people to really double down on what they believe.”
Akaka believes shared human values can turn this narrative around. “We all deserve to have a safe space to live,” she says. “We all deserve to live without fear, no matter where we’re from or how we grew up. We all deserve to have systems in place that work for us and with us rather than against us.”
When the media spotlights these unifying aspects, says Akaka, it helps people understand migration through a different lens and fully grasp the emotional element.
“From there can come real change, policy change. We like to say that we’re creating the foundation so that we can all build a big house together.”
Solidarity and kindness: core human beliefs
Exploring the everyday stories of migrants in the media is a key asset in highlighting shared humanity, Akaka says.
“As a society, we are people who care about people. Kindness and solidarity are core to our beliefs. If the media focuses on the bigger picture, while telling individual stories, as human beings, we can more easily identify and recognise the problems that a person may face are not their fault.”
While there are many organisations working for narrative change, Akaka believes a lot can be done at the individual level, too. It can simply be the way we have conversations with others, she says, by remembering our shared values and reflecting on how we frame our messages.
Akaka says she is often told by young migrants that they just want to see stories that show the reality of their experiences.
“Those experiences can be difficult at times, as for everyone else. But there’s also so much joy in being a migrant. There’s so much joy in the community they have. And I think that’s what they really want to see in the stories that are told.”
“They just want the truth.”
UN Human Rights launched the
#StandUp4Migrants campaign on International Migrants Day in December 2020
to reshape the narrative on migration. Ahead of World Refugee Day on 20 June 2021, share your stories and the vision of the world you want to see with us on social media by using the hashtag #StandUp4Migrants.
Disclaimer: the views, information and opinions expressed in this article are those of the persons featured in the story and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.