"Media Reporting on Migration Rarely Includes Voices of Migrants"

Human Wrongs Watch

New York, 13 October 2014 (IFAD)* – News coverage of two of the world’s biggest migration stories in recent months rarely included the voices and stories of migrants themselves, according to a report funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and presented at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on Friday, 10 October at a media briefing entitled “Food + Migration: Untold stories”. Those missing voices could be sounding an alarm about an impending food crisis.

Zimbabwean migrants at a temporary shelter in South Africa. Photo: Guy Oliver/IRIN

Zimbabwean migrants at a temporary shelter in South Africa. Photo: Guy Oliver/IRIN

The report, prepared by Sam Dubberley, a fellow of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, looks at how 19 large global and regional news organizations covered issues related to migration and, in particular, food security and agriculture and how it impacted on migration.

It focuses on two stories that made headlines over the summer of 2014 – the US/Mexico border crisis and the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, which created a large numbers of migrants.

The Untold Stories

“In nearly all of the stories we looked at, migrants are placed together in one group,” said Dubberley. “The reasons they leave their homes to seek new lives are frequently either ignored or widely generalized by news outlets.” As a result, Dubberley said, little was reported about the bigger impact these massive movements of people is having on the communities and countries they leave behind.

The story not being reported, according to IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze, is that the migrants themselves are often poor farmers and whether they flee because of conflict or leave in search of better economic opportunities, their absence leaves a void that puts food production at risk.

To make his point, Nwanze talked about the extreme droughts that preceded uprisings in parts of the Arab world. “The rural population were completely destitute,” he said. “In Syria and Tunisia they migrated by the thousands to urban areas in search of food and in search of work. In Egypt the price of bread skyrocketed  by 60 percent in four months.” Each of these things contributing to the growing unrest.


With over three-quarters of the world’s poorest people living in the rural areas of developing countries, Nwanze told journalists, small-scale farmers are always impacted by the latest global crises – whether it be violence and conflict, the rise of extremism or the spread of disease, such as Ebola.  To build stability and resilience in rural communities Nwanze said “governments must invest in agriculture in rural areas.”

Other findings in the report show that a negative view of migration permeates throughout news reports and across publications and regions, and when sources are quoted they are almost always voices of power and authority, such as government officials.

Key principal findings from the analysis were:
  • Issues of food security, agriculture and economic opportunity relating to migration were mentioned in 28% of reports over the two stories covered in this report. When disaggregated, stories focussing on migration that spoke of food and agricultural security accounted in only 5% of stories, whereas the economic opportunity of migrating came up in 23% of reports. Stories from both South Sudan and the US/Mexico border rarely cited food and agriculture issues as either a reason for or a consequence of migration. Food and agricultural issues were spoken of in the US/Mexico border story considerably less than in the South Sudan story.
  • Migrants rarely had a voice or were mentioned as individuals in reports analyzed. Voices of authority (government, UN, NGOs) always spoke. The more “senior” the voice of authority, the less likely the report was to include the voice of a migrant or to name an individual migrant. Journalists interviewed spoke of the importance of hearing the migrant voice, but frequently cited access issues as a reason for not including these in their reporting.
  • The  more geographically distant a news organization’s headquarters were from a migration story, the less likely it was to report the story and journalists said they would require a stronger argument to get such stories into their newspaper/bulletin. The further the news outlet is located from the story, the less likely its editors are to consider issues of food, migration and agriculture.
  • A  negative view of migration permeates through reports and across publications and regions. Power voices heard from in reports have a predominantly negative view of migration. (*Source: IFAD Release).

2014 Human Wrongs Watch


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