The Global Compact’s controversy (3/4): Promoting independent, objective and quality information
On December 19th, the Global Compact on migration (GCM) was adopted by the General Assembly with 152 votes in favour. Several States have decided to pull out (or are still considering whether to join or not) after going through a lengthy negotiation process (see The Global Compact’s controversy). In this article we are going to debunk one of the arguments against the signature of the Global Compact: the influence of the Global Compact on how media report on migration issues.
Anti-migrant speech in the media and in the political area has become ordinary. Migrants are demonised, denigrated and accused of crimes, unemployment and taking advantage of the welfare system. This type of narrative can be found in traditional media but also increasingly on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.
Conservative parties in several countries argued that signing the GCM would mean the end of free speech on migration issues. This argument was used even in countries that ended up signing the Global Compact such as France or Canada and not only in the opt out countries. In Canada for example, Andrew Scheer, a conservative representative argued that the GCM “attempts to influence how our free and independent media report on immigration issues”. In France, Laurent Jacobelli, affiliated with the far-right party “Rassemblement National” published a series of tweets arguing that the signature of the GCM would institute a “crime of opinion” for those who refuse immigration and that it plans to "re-educate" the media to “convert” them to the benefits of migration.
These criticisms are related to Objective 17 of the GCM and particularly to point 33.c which states that the GCM will
“Promote independent, objective and quality reporting of media outlets, including internet-based information, including by sensitizing and educating media professionals on migration-related issues and terminology, investing in ethical reporting standards and advertising, and stopping allocation of public funding or material support to media outlets that systematically promote intolerance, xenophobia, racism and other forms of discrimination towards migrants, in full respect for the freedom of the media”. (emphasis added).
We can agree that using the word “educating” is of poor choice, however, this word can not be taken out of context and it is important to see that throughout the text of the GCM, the media are given a specific role and that the freedom of expression and freedom of media are recognised, starting with the criticised disposition. Objective 17 also clearly mentions that the GCM aims to “protect freedom of expression in accordance with international law, recognizing that an open and free debate contributes to a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of migration”. (emphasis added). Moreover, the GCM drafters recognized the role of the media to “address migration in all its dimensions” and considered them as partners in the implementation of the GCM.
Some work has already been done towards that direction. The Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence mentions the “often extraordinarily negative portrayal in many countries of migrants, but also of minority groups by the media” and underlines the role of media in diffusing reliable and fair information as they reach large audiences.
Additionally, in May 2016, the European Commission established with Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube a “Code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online” to support users reporting illegal hate speech on these social platforms. In 2018, Instagram, Google+, Snapchat and Dailymotion revealed their intent to join the Code of conduct.
Finally, it should be noted that these types of actions do not, and should not, lead to restraining opposition or critical remarks against migrants. What is promoted in Objective 17 is quality reporting by the media on migration issues and the use of proper terminology in order, for example, to avoid the amalgam between economic migrants and refugees as it can lead to problems, and sometimes even have deadly consequences, for refugees and asylum seekers.
Author: Dr. Fanny Tittel-Mosser