Ahead of UNITED’s upcoming conference near Torino, where she is scheduled to speak, UNITED interviewed Carta di Roma‘s Martina Chichi to ask her about how civil society and media organisations can work together to improve coverage of migrant and refugee issues in the mainstream media. Associazione Carta di Roma (Charter of Rome Association) is an Italian organisation founded in 2011 by the Italian Council of Journalists, the National Press Federation and a network of civil society organisations.
UNITED: What are the aims of your organisation, and how do they relate to the issue of migration and asylum in Europe?
Martina Chichi: Our goal is to promote the implementation of the code of ethics concerning migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and victims of human trafficking. We try to do it through systematic dialogue and debate between media representatives and civil society organisations. The code is a really simple one, comprising four principles: 1. Avoiding inaccurate terminology. 2. Offering balanced, accurate and complete information. 3. Protecting the identity of asylum seekers, refugees and victims of human trafficking. 4. Giving voice to those experts who are often forgotten by the mainstream media. Our main activities are: 1. Trainings for professional journalists and journalism students. 2. Media monitoring. 3. Compiling our annual report on media representation of migration.
We can state that our aim is to promote a correct representation of the migration phenomena. Thanks to the synergy between journalists, media companies and civil society organisations that is the basis for our organisation, our experience in this area is unique.
How would you describe the situation concerning migration in Italy, and the media’s response to it?
Italy, with its position in the middle of the Mediterranean, is experiencing the arrival of many migrants and refugees, especially by sea. The Italian authorities treat this situation as a “constant emergency”, even though these migration flux are something systematic, and as a consequence need a structured answer. This means that the reception and asylum system is still quite chaotic and that the promotion of integration and diversity as a positive force is not yet widespread.
The perception of these migration flows, and of the migrants and refugees themselves, among Italians is even worse. They are confused: migrants and refugees are often seen as potential enemies, as someone who came to steal our money and our jobs, as a threat to our culture, religion and “national identity”. Most of them don’t really know what is happening on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea – they do not even know much about the ethnic and religious minorities on this side. To some extent, we can blame them for their laziness in independently seeking information and data, but the main cause of this wrong perception can be found in how the media represents migration and migrants: sensationalism, superficiality, repetitiveness, lack of contextualisation, as well as the dehumanisation of migrants and refugees, are very common.
In recent years, migration came out from the ghetto of “specialised information” – it is now on the front pages and in the headlines of every kind of media. According to our annual report in 2015 Italy experienced an increase of the articles regarding migration on the front page of the national newspapers of between 70% and 180%. The national newscasts ran 3,437 segments, the highest figure in the last 11 years. The Italian media speak a lot about migration. But how?
47% of the newspaper headlines we analysed were anxiety-inducing. We often read or listen about EU policies and summits, about the national debate, about the number of arrivals and about the overcrowded reception centres. We cannot find as much attention on the people or about the wars, the conflicts and the persecution from which they are fleeing. Statements from politicians and other personalities of public relevance which spread hate are also very common and we are now making an effort to counter hate speech.
What do you think is the role that civil society organisations can play in challenging the mainstream narrative on migration?
Associazione Carta di Roma strongly believes that dialogue among civil society organisations and media representatives is an essential step in improving the current narrative of migration.
The lack of a constructive communication between media and civil society organisations is one of the reasons behind some of the Italian trends: the use of a inappropriate terminology; the under-representation of migrants and refugees (especially in an active role, since they are too often depicted in a passive condition); the fact that only a few stories reach the mainstream media and they are reproduced by most of the media outlets at the same way.
Both civil society organisations and media representatives should make a small experiment – they should try to exchange their roles, in order to deeply understand each others’ needs. This way, they will be able to identify the goal they have in common (for instance, spreading of stories and data), but also to pinpoint the best methods to collaborate, and the right attitude.
How do you think civil society organisations can work with the mainstream media to improve public debate on migration and refugees?
As I mentioned, the first step is to know the “other”. Civil society organisations should know how the media works, from the working conditions (the pressure etc.) to the fundamental elements of an article, a news segment etc. – this process is not one-directional, journalists should do the same to understand how civil society organisations operate.
Once you understand who is in front of you and what their needs are, you can offer something. Your help, for example. Proposing newsworthy stories – the newsworthiness doesn’t depend only on the story itself, but also on the elements that journalists can effectively use and on how you “pitch” the story. Proposing debates which directly involve the media and give them visibility. Proposing useful and appealing trainings about specific topics or about creative forms of storytelling.
Important support can often be found in the national and local professional organisations of journalists.
What do you hope that the UNITED conference in Torino will achieve?
I imagine this UNITED conference as a “piazza” where we will share best practices, ideas and innovative approaches and learn from each other, with a common goal: the promotion of a more accurate and balanced representation of migration, migrants and refugees through alternative or innovative forms of media coverage and storytelling. I imagine it as the starting point for the building of an international network of proactive civil society organisations and media which want to share their experience and expertise even after the end of the conference.
The next UNITED conference “Moving Stories: Narratives of Migration Crossing Europe”, will focus on the situation of migrants and refugees in Europe, and seek to challenge the prevalent media narrative on migration. Follow all the news on the conference on Twitter, Facebook and the UNITED website.