The image of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the media

Doc. 10280
20 September 2004

Motion for a recommendation
presented by Mrs de Zulueta and others

This motion has not been discussed in the Assembly and commits only the members who have signed it

            The media can play a considerable role in promoting the values of the Council of Europe and reinforcing the respect for human rights and dignity. Unfortunately, the portrayal some media give of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers is often such as to perpetuate racist and xenophobic views in the public opinion, in opposition to Council of Europe values and established principles. Headlines such as “Kick out migrants” (Daily Star, 23 February 2004), “Immigration shambles (Daily Express, 24 February 2004), or “How health tourist will bleed our system dry “ (Daily Express, 25 February 2004) are examples of a certain media attitude stigmatizing migrants and asylum seekers.

            The Assembly has already addressed this problem in Recommendation 1277 (1995) on migrants, ethnic minorities and media, which recommended the Committee of Ministers to take a series of measures including, amongst other things, supporting the elaboration by professional associations of an ethic code of conduct for media professionals, supporting the creation of a pan-European prize for media professionals who have distinguished themselves in the fight against intolerance, and promoting the production of movies dealing with migration through the Eurimages Fund.

            Since 1995 the attention that the media devotes to migration has increased, in parallel with the growing importance that this phenomenon has acquired in the political debate. Even if many of the Assembly recommendations have been put into practice, the “misrepresentation” of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the media has become an increasing problem, as signaled by a number of actors, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance of the Council of Europe (ECRI).

            According to some research commissioned by Article XIX, a UK-based non governmental organization campaigning for freedom of expression, the misrepresentation of migration and asylum issues consists most of the times of an excessive emphasis on numbers – which are frequently unsourced, exaggerated or inadequately explained- the use of the stereotype of migrants as “threatening young men flocking into the country” and the absence of interviews or quotes of migrants, asylum seekers or refugees to explain their situation and counterbalance other sources of information. In addition, the tone of the language used both in the headlines and in the text of articles relating to migration and asylum generally has negative connotations.

            In the last five years some national professional organizations as well as the International Federation of Journalists have introduced guidelines on how to report migration and asylum news. The aim of these guidelines is not to limit freedom of expression, but to ensure that migration statistics are reported accurately, with adequate interpretation and in context, and that a balanced image of migrants and refugees is presented to the public. Unfortunately, the awareness of the importance of specific guidelines is not felt with the same intensity in all Council of Europe member states, and compliance with existing guidelines – in the countries where they have been introduced – is not always ensured.

            The stigmatization and criminalisation of migrants by some media cannot but reinforce anti-immigrants attitudes and xenophobia in the European society, which has become even more sensitive to such arguments since the escalation of Islamic terrorism. Similarly, the enlargement of the European Union has spawn a plethora of news reports speculating over a mass influx of immigrants from the new accession countries, in particular Roma, accused of coming to drain resources from western welfare systems.

            For these reasons, the Assembly calls on the Committee of Ministers to:

i.          adopt a recommendation to members states on ethic reporting of migration and asylum seekers;

ii.          support the elaboration of guidelines on reporting of migration and asylum issues in Council of Europe member states where they are not already in existence, and invite member states to put in place appropriate bodies to monitor the compliance with these guidelines;

iii.         through its competent bodies, promote the creation of courses or workshops on how to report migration and asylum news within schools of journalism and media professionals organizations;

iv.         in co-operation with relevant actors, launch a campaign to promote an ethical approach to the reporting on migration and asylum issues, addressed to the media;

v.          organize a Council of Europe campaign on migrants and refugees, addressed to the general public, also through the publication and dissemination of information material;

vi.         further encourage the activities of Eurimages, namely the production of movies, documentaries and other audiovisual material by directors of immigrants background or providing a fair and balanced image of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

Signed [1]:
de ZULUETA, Tana, Italy, SOC
CILEVICS, Boriss, Latvia, SOC
GLIEK, Ali Riza, Turkey, SOC
IWINSKI, Tadeusz, Poland, SOC
NESSA, Pasquale, Italy, EPP/CD
PLATVOET, Leo, Netherlands, UEL
STOISITS, Terezija, Austria, SOC
TEKELIOGLU, Mehmet, Turkey, EPP/CD
TKC, Vojtech, Slovakia, EDG
WILKINSON, John, United Kingdom, EDG
ZAPFL-HELBLING, Rosmarie, Switzerland, EPP/CD



Socialist Group
Group of the European People’s Party
European Democratic Group
Liberal, Democratic and Reformers’ Group
Group of the Unified European Left
Not registered in a group