Specifics of working with topics of migration – recommendations for journalists

Before an interview

About them ALWAYS with them
Do allow the main persons involved in the story to have their say and include their statement/opinion in your reportage. You will achieve balanced reporting and the main persons involved will not be excluded from informing about them.

Do have the right contact
Contacts for members of minorities are very valuable, use them whenever possible. In Slovakia these are for instance the representatives of migrant communities who have lived or worked here for a longer period of time, they understand and speak Slovak and help members of their ethnic group during their stay in Slovakia and with their integration. Ask them for advice if you do not have enough information. They can provide you with information either directly or arrange a contact with another member of community. If they refuse to provide you with information, it may not necessarily mean that they are ignoring you or that they want to hide things and hold back the information. Maybe they just to not feel competent to respond or they do not have relevant information.

Speak one language
If you do not understand the language of your respondent sufficiently and you want to avoid misunderstandings caused by improvised interpretation but especially serious errors and wrongly interpreted information which may result in unpleasant consequences, ensure services of a professional interpreter. You will also obtain the information which you may not be otherwise able to understand or which the respondent would not share with you due to the lack of confidence. However, at the same time it is necessary to select a good interpreter with relevant experience who does not tend to shift the meaning of the interpreted words of your respondent or speak on his/her behalf. The interpreters can be recommended to you by the non-governmental organisations working in the area of migration/integration.

Things to have in mind during the preparation

  • Where do the migrants come from? What are the most common countries of origin of migrants and why?
  • What is the situation in the country of origin?
  • Why do they migrate – what are their reasons for moving and settling in the country?
  • How did they get into the country (in case of new migrants)?
  • Who are they? (Nationals of the EU countries or third countries? Illegal migrants? Asylum applicants? Migrants with residence permit for the purpose of employment, conducting a business, study, family reunification etc? Experts?
  • What do the migrants bring? What do they mean for the culture, economy, knowledge and expert level of the society?
  • What are their rights and which laws they have to abide by?
  • What are their stories?

During an interview

Respect personal space and customs
Pay attention to the cultural customs of foreigners – their serious violation or violation of their privacy – even if unintentional – may lead to their declining the interview. Cooperation stems from respecting the cultural differences.

Patience
Migrants mostly do not have any experience with appearing in the media. Some of them have never met a journalist in their life and they do not know what they can expect from you or what can be the consequences of their actions. People seeking shelter (e.g. victims of human trafficking or refugees) will be suspicious of any form of power including the media. During the interview provide the migrant with enough time to get to know you, create his/her own opinion about you and decide for himself/herself whether he/she will tell you his/her story. Sometimes it is more suitable to conduct the interview only during the second or later meeting.  

Clearly explain your intentions
Introduce yourself and notify the migrant of your intention to publish his/her story or statement in the media. If the migrant started to trust you do not abuse it. Ask the migrant for his/her permission to publish the information obtained during the interview. Respect his/her request if he/she asks for anonymity and does not want to make some information public or does not want to be photographed – do not put people at risk only because of getting the story. When publishing sensitive information, change the names and other details which could in any way lead to identification of the person.

Responsibility of a journalist for consequences
Depending on the topic you are working on, you may come across a migrant who can by his/her statement in the media put even his/her life in danger. However, such vulnerable person may not always be able to assess to what extent his/her statement in the media can put him/her at risk. Publishing the names and other details may lead to a situation where a human trafficker will track his/her victim down, people will identify a person who had been humiliated in various ways, the pursuers will learn about the asylum applicant etc. Ill-considered publishing of an exclusive story may not only be risky for migrants themselves but also their family members in the country of origin. We recommend, when contacting the vulnerable groups, to approach organisations which provide assistance to them. It may happen that in certain cases they will refuse to give you a name and other personal data or contacts of the client in the interest of whom they act – justifiably due to the above mentioned reasons.

Beware of the things we do not see
A migrant or his/her relatives may be in the vulnerable situation – they might have been victims of human trafficking, they were in danger of life or infringement of personal liberty or human rights in the country of origin, they could suffer a physical injury or psychological trauma at home or on the way, they are in the new country and experiencing a culture shock, they are afraid that the host country will expel them, they may be persecuted or accused of committing a crime. Therefore be perceptive. Ask the questions which will not disturb a fragile balance. Talk to children only with permission of their parents. If you feel that with your questions you are opening the secret chamber, the details of a child´s story can be provided indirectly by a parent, migrant´s story by a lawyer or assisting organisation. Pushing too much for talking about events which stigmatise them can result in migrants´ refusal to talk to you but it may also lead to deepening of their trauma.

Further recommendations for working with topics of migration and integration of foreigners

Objectivity and neutrality
Informing about minorities should be objective and neutral, as it would be in case of informing about majority society. Also important is the effort of a journalist to understand the cultural specifics and present a complex view with accurate, substantiated and updated information: reasons, context, facts, opinions of the parties concerned and consequences of particular situations.

Vocabulary
Use the right and neutral terminology. References to origin, religion, colour of skin, nationality, belonging to ethnic minority should be used in connection with an individual or group of people only in case that this information is relevant in the context of a given report (not accidental when we run out of synonyms, neither intentional to cause sensation from something exotic). Also beware of expressions like fundamentalist, ethnic gangs, criminality of migrants (as a whole without connection to an act of a particular person). Reports using generalisations and incorrect naming can support prejudice, instigate negative attitudes to minorities, hatred, hostility and discrimination on the part of the majority and on the side of minority degrade its members, cause negative feelings, exclusion from society. In this way they can damage the whole migrant community and the whole topic/discussion on migration and migrants.

Overcome stereotypes and prejudice but not your own judgement
Beware of stereotypes which are present in our society, in people whom we quote, in our colleagues and also in ourselves. State accurate information even if it may surprise you. It is the only basis for objective and open discussion.

Verify the facts and details
Your sources of information may provide distorted or incomplete information. A migrant can see his/her situation subjectively and without context. Question and critically assess his/her statements. Rely on credible statistics and facts, state sources of quotations and use more sources (migrant, representative of assisting organisations, other persons emerging from the context).

At the end – ask yourself

  • Did I listen to what the people on both (more) sides say? Did I give space to all persons involved to have their say so that the story is not dominated by one-sided information or unsubstantiated feelings?
  • Did I verify the negative statements? Did I use more sources which confirmed truthfulness of the facts?
  • Are the accusations substantiated by credible evidence?
  • Were certain facts which are missing in the overall mosaic of the story un/intentionally withheld? Does the statement of each side make sense?
  • Did I find all the answers, even those to the most unpleasant questions?
  • Is the migrant status of the main protagonist of the story relevant?
  • Did I state the facts which question stereotypes and prejudice?
  • Did I draw from the reliable statistics and sources of data/facts?
  • Do I state the sources of quotations (with the exceptions due to preserving anonymity of the source)?
  • Am I sure of accuracy and origin of all the facts and data in my article?

Freedom of expression is a human right. Human rights also include the right to preservation of human dignity and right to protection against discrimination.

The document was prepared within the project Migrants in the Spotlight which was implemented by IOM in 2011. Thanks to Ms Marie Stracenská a Mr Richard Cookson for the suggestions when preparing these recommendations.