Media and Migration - Ambiguous relationship for complex debates
Media and Diversity Manager
Council of Europe
Today international migration has become a global phenomenon. The total number of migrants in the world multiplied at least by four over the last 40 years; the number of immigration, emigration or transit countries has been multiplied by two. International mobility has become a major socioeconomic issue for industrialised as well as for developing countries. At the heart of the issue is, on the one hand, the European countries’ necessity to meet their present and future population’s needs considering their demographic realities. On the other hand, we find the developing countries’ willingness to guarantee a certain circulation of labour forces towards industrialised countries to maintain, or even reinforce funds, technological and know-how transfers that contribute to the dynamic of their economies.
Yet, immigration is still perceived as an unfair concurrence and a security and/or economic threat by certain fringes of the public opinion in Europe. This negative perception of migration can only be counterbalanced by a professional and high quality press coverage that takes into account migrants’ provisions and contributions to the economic, social, cultural and political dynamics of our contemporary societies. In this sense media professionals have a primordial role to play towards public opinion: to stimulate and guarantee a pluralism of points of view and opinion, susceptible to ensure a real democratic debate over migration issues and their impacts.
For many years now, the media in some European countries developed various initiatives to make "the other" seen and heard, the one that is perceived as such, the one that comes from away; the migrant. This is the case for the so-called specific programs, developed and broadcasted notably by French public television channels, until the beginning of the year 2000. These programs are devoted to immigration issues and immigration people. Since the end of the 90s in Great Britain, or in France more recently, voluntarist policies about immigrants’ and minority access to media professions were put in place. These policies are aimed to contribute to a representation more in line with the diversity of our contemporary societies and to a content opening taking into account the transformations linked to the introduction of various groups of people into these societies.
Thus, at the dawn of the 90s began the debate on the representation of "visible" immigrants and minorities within the media. Outlining the principal initiatives in France, the United Kingdom, or even in the United States, clearly shows that the presence and the representativeness of immigrants raises complex issues that originate in the history of immigration peculiar to each of these countries; in the introduction models of the migrant populations in the concerned societies or in the regulatory modalities of the communications and audiovisual sectors chosen by these states. Yet, whatever the country, for political, economical or social reasons, this question continues to be perceived as an issue for the reinforcement of social cohesion.
However, we have to admit, that to this day, few or not to say no analysis exists that permit us to outline the impact on the media of more than 15 years of voluntary actions. Indeed, the research papers dedicated to the media field, notably in France, remain silent on the production of sense, on the symbolic discourse and the creation of a social imagination by the media regarding immigrants, visible minorities and global migration. Even if we agree to recognize that the visibility of ethnic minorities within the media has increased, notably in the United Kingdom, a high degree of dissatisfaction seems to persist within the minorities concerning their representation on the screen. This dissatisfaction is mainly due to the question that representation exceeds the simple fact to see a person with the same skin colour on the screen. People coming from minorities and recruited by the media are still not considered as professionals. They are often confined to the role of spokesman for these groups, which are thus presented and represented on air.
Concerning the content, it is regularly observed that migration and minority populations are still today presented as a threat to other people’s security as the "communitisation" of the news items shows. This is for example the case when we look at the common journalistic practice to mention the origin of a person who has committed a misdemeanour. However, at the end of the 90s, public media start to show examples of "successful migrants". These figures are, however, limited to the single dimension of the spectacle or the performance. Therefore, this new journalistic approach will not be able to counterbalance the often negative representations about migration flows, suburbs and Islam, etc… Scientific research shows public media generally treat migration themes in a sensationalist way and continue to think of immigration as a problem.
Finally, how does public opinion react to a greater visibility on the screen of migrants and minority people? What does the public think about it? What is the impact of a more visible presence and an increased expression of the minorities on the “live-together dynamics” and on the acceptance of the migration issue? It is difficult to answer this question because there is a serious lack of research on this in Europe, and particularly in France.
Yet, the linkages between media and migration refer to more global issues raised by international migration. The notions of sovereignty (connection to the territory), citizenship (place and status of minorities), discrimination (access to the right to speak) or social relationships (generation, gender) are challenged. At a time when the questions of diversity also reveal the actual political and cultural tensions at the national as well as trans-national levels, the issue of representation becomes even more important. A balanced representation on the screen as well as in the press and an adequate participation in the production of one of the most influential cultural institutions of our times – the media – is an important issue for the media but also, and especially, for a truly democratic functioning of the whole of society.
The issue today is to go beyond the single question of physical visibility, which is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a better representation of minorities in the media. Indeed it is urgent to look into the content produced and broadcasted about migration, its impact on public opinion, and the role given to visible minorities at the various stages of the development and distribution of media productions. But these different initiatives will only become significant, in particular regarding international migration issues, when media and the whole society have made the invisible visible and rendered the visible invisible. For all this will remain vain if society, while it accepts to see, refuses to hear and above all to listen.
Today Media & Diversity Manager by the Education, Culture and Heritage, Youth and Sport Directorate General, within the framework of the campaign Speak out against discrimination, Reynald Blion has been scientific and editorial director of the program Migrations internationales & media of the Paris Panos Institute until January 2008. His centres of interests are concentrated on questions linked to international migration and the inter-cultural diversity of our Europeans societies.
Over the last ten years, he has developed various Europeans projects aimed to highlight the contributions from migrants or visible minorities to inter-cultural and international dynamics of our contemporary world. These programs targeted primarily media professionals, leaders from civil society, or political decision makers. During these programs, Reynald Blion organised multiple seminars, workshops or lectures concerning these questions at national and European level.
He published or contributed to various works: MediaDiv – Le répertoire des media des diversités (Paris, Panos/L’Harmattan, juillet 07), Europe des migrations / Europe de développement (Paris, Panos/Karthala, mars 05), Histoires de savoir, migration, mobilité des compétences et développement (Paris, Panos/Karthala, avril 04), Ethnic media and diversity in Europe (in : Georgiou M., Transnational lives and the media, Londres, Routledge, août 07), Parler de l’autre / Parler d’ailleurs. De la visibilité à l’expression des diversités en Europe (in : Rigoni I., Les bannis des media, Paris, Aux lieux d’être, mai 07), Media des diversités en Europe (Agenda interculturel, n°239-240, fév. 06), South of North : European Immigrants’ stakeholdings in Southern Development (in: BRYCESON Deborah & VUORELA Ulla (Eds), The transational family, new European frontiers and global networks, Oxford and New York, Berg, 02)...
His main works are : Représentation des immigrés au sein des media : bilan des connaissances (Paris, Panos / Fasild, juillet 06), Media & Information, pratiques et réalités de la Diversité (Paris, Panos, avril 06), Immigration management in France – Strategic elements for a common policy on immigration (Bruxelles, Migration Policy Group / Panos, mai 03), Une politique d’asile en question – Le cas français (Bern, Forum suisse pour les Migrations / Panos, octobre 03), Epargne des migrants et outils financiers adaptés : le cas des maliens et des sénégalais de France (2 vol. , Paris, Ministère de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité, juillet 98).