Migration coverage is not taking often front pages in Tunisia and when it does it is mainly to tell about another tragedy at sea, the study How Does the Media on Both Sides of the Mediterranean Report on Migration discloses.
“Media coverage of migration does not play a major role in the editorial life of journalism in the country and where it does; it revolves around news about shipwrecked migrants and the leaving conditions of Arab or sub-Saharan communities in Tunisia.”
EUROMED Migration IV, funded by the Directorate General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations of the EU, commissioned the Ethical Journalism Network to conduct the study for which 17 journalists are examining the quality of migration media coverage in the 17 European Neighborhood Policy countries in 2015 and 2016.
In Tunisia, the interest to the topic of migration is mainly news driven and the media has neither the resources, nor the understanding of the complexity of the migration phenomenon, the report reveals.
Partially, the weak interest in the topic could be explained with the fact that the North African country is among the few spared of the migration movement. Only 0,5% of the illegal migrants registered in the EU in 2016 have left from Tunisian coast.
However, from national perspective economic migration to Europe is still considered a problem and is drawing the attention of the media, especially when it comes to young Tunisians, leaving to neighbouring Libya to take the insecure Central – Mediterranean route. According to the EU statistic agency Eurostat around 6000 Tunisian citizens are migrating to Europe every year.
The news coverage of migration in Tunisia is centered on limited narratives, the report underlines.
Apart from the stories about the risky crossing of the sea and news about dramatic shipwrecks involving Tunisian citizens, migration is finding place in the newspaper and onTV and Radio with publications about the living conditions of Syrian and Libyan refugees in Tunisia and about racist attacks against sub-Saharan migrants. The latter often leads to negative messages as migrants are blamed for the state of the economy and the living standards of local people. This is particularly true about the sub-Saharan migrants who are often presented through stereotypes. Reports on hate speech are sometime related to political and business interests influencing the media, the study finds.
At the same time, the human rights of migrants are not a topic of the media coverage and their voice is not presented apart from rear interviews with migrants focused mainly on their accommodation and living conditions.
A Tunisian-specific aspect of migrant coverage are the debates linked to the new law allowing foreigners to buy land.
The report finds that “there is no common approach and individual media tend to report on their own assessment of the issue which may vary from organisation to organisation”.
Migration coverage is not always consistent as journalists are not aware of the international terminology and are experiencing difficulties to access reliable data. There are media that relying on foreign (mostly Italian) media for their coverage.
Another challenge for journalists is the lack of interest on the issue among editors and chief editors and producers. Underrating the topic translates to insufficient resources for in-debt investigations, inadequate editing, use of stigmatising vocabulary and shortfalls on precision.
Among the positive examples and new trends presented in the report are social media channels run by young journalists; and social media run by the foreign communities themselves trying to convey their messages to the Tunisian society.
The report suggests a training strategy for journalists needs to be developed to improve professionalism of journalists, as well as awareness campaign for the senior management of the media to raise their attention to the importance of the migration topic. Establishing partnerships among the media and with the regulatory bodies is considered helpful. The study finds that developing alternative media managed by migrants would contribute for the diversity of the media landscape and advices to promote the Ethical Journalism Guide and the professional charter of the national press agency Agence Tunis Afrique Press to help media and journalists improve the quality of migration coverage.
Study How Does the Media on Both Sides of the Mediterranean Report on Migration (Summary)
Chapter on Tunisia: Single-minded Media Fail to Grasp Opportunities to Go Beyond Tales of Woe
Statistical data on migration of Tunisian citizens to the EU
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