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From security to human rights: the much needed shift in media narratives around climate-induced migration

Media coverage of climate change in the United Kingdom is missing out one of its major consequences: migration. The latter is rather presented as a security issue, with serious implications for policy and public understanding of the issue. The IKETIS project has been aiming to revert this trend.

Society

IKETIS essentially revolves around one question: Is there a bias in the way the media perceives and discusses climate-induced migration? Looking at daily headlines, it would be tempting to say so. On Google News for instance, the association of ‘migration’ and ‘security’ leads to four times as many results as the association between migration and climate change.

Changing the narrative on climate-induced migration

“People migrating in the context of climate change are understood as victims of a changing climate, but relatively little coverage is given to the human aspects of climate change. The fact that developing countries, the least responsible for climate change, are most affected is mostly ignored, and the media in developed countries rather emphasises how immigrants’ statelessness can become a security threat to host countries,” explains Maria Sakellari, whose project IKETIS was funded under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship scheme. This is shaky ground to say the least. First, there is currently no evidence to support this line of argument. Then, the press plays a critical role in constructing public narratives. The emergence of progressive migration policies is not only hindered by the focus on security aspects, but there is a serious risk of these narratives working in favour of xenophobic sentiment, nationalism and populism. Even climate action NGOs – which rely heavily on the media to convey their messages – have been mimicking their framing of climate change-induced migration to maximise impact. There is also very little research on the topic, which explains how the IKETIS project came to be. “The project focused on capacity building of journalists, NGOs and policy-makers. My objective was to help raise public and policy awareness of the issue in the UK, and ultimately to change how climate change-induced migration is perceived” comments Sakellari. To do so, the IKETIS project investigated the interplay between media narratives, policy and societal trends and tried to identify the best possible angle to change its course. Interviews and behaviour surveys revealed, for instance, that journalists, NGOs and policy-makers in the UK do not believe that audiences would react positively to a campaign on climate change-induced migration. They are, however, willing to engage the public in new ways to raise awareness about this issue.

New tools for better public engagement

Sakellari developed e-learning tools with this objective in mind. The tools can be summarised in a five-point guide which will help communicate the story of migration in the context of a changing climate. The first four points cover the use of fact-based communication, avoiding the victim/threat oversimplification, considering the circumstances leading to migration and allowing migrants to express themselves. The last point is more of a paradigm shift: it requires letting go of the ‘us vs them’ dichotomy in favour of social justice, fairness and human rights for all. “As media coverage of climate justice slowly emerges, I hope that IKETIS outputs will help shift the media discourse towards protection and rights. The idea is to counter anti-migrant narratives and break ground for fair and inclusive policies,” Sakellari explains. IKETIS research was completed in April 2019, and Sakellari now intends to pursue her work by focusing on education: “My follow-up plans notably consist in integrating knowledge about social movements related to climate change into climate change education and putting climate justice at the centre of its programmes.”

Keywords

IKETIS, migration, climate change, security, migrants, UK, United Kingdom

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