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Media against hate

IN EARLY April more than 30 media practitioners and NGO representatives gathered in Vienna for a two-day workshop run by Community Media Forum Europe (CMFE), an EU-funded organisation which represents not-for-profit community media around Europe.

Refugees and Immigrants Welcome graffiti; Matt Salusbury

Graffiti that appeared in Stamford Hill, London, immediately after the June 2016 EU Referendum vote

As part of CMFE's Media Against Hate campaign, sessions focused on how media practitioners can counter the rising hate speech in Europe. Two sessions had particularly useful advice on how to create more diverse, inclusive stories around immigration and multiculturalism.

Mukti Jain Campion, an Indian-British independent producer for BBC Radio 4, presented her list of "positive pathways for creativity from diversity" - ways to tell media stories by and about under-represented communities which go beyond just interviewing diverse sources. Her "Seven I’s" (from the more superficial to the more meaningful) are:

  • Incidental: a news reporter happens to be from an under-represented group
  • Inclusive: a vox pop has a diverse range of accents/contributors or mainstream coverage is given to a "minority" activity, such as women's football or the Paralympics
  • Inspirational: extraordinary achievements or role models from marginalised groups
  • Identity: a little-known group or individual shares their experiences of gaining recognition within the mainstream (Here is where it gets meaningful.)
  • Illuminating: stories that shed light on a little-known area of national life thanks to a diverse perspective
  • Iconoclastic: overturns traditional historical narratives or prevailing stereotypes (e.g. British-born Chinese people speak about their experiences of heterosexuality within their communities and in wider British society)
  • Interconnected: shows hidden connections between mainstream and minority experiences - such telling the stories of Indian soldiers who fought for the British during World War One.

In her session on countering hate speech on social media and in online comments, Vienna-based journalist Ingrid Brodnig discussed the importance of "re-framing" language around immigration, challenging problematic metaphors and false analogies, and creating new "frames" or images to counter xenophobia and Islamophobia. Rather than debating the metaphor that the state is a boat and "the boat is full", challenge the validity of that metaphor and offer an alternative to change the debate.

Ingrid noted that, although responding to abusive comments or social-media posts is unlikely to change the minds of trolls or "true believers", doing so can educate other readers who are less sure in their beliefs and more likely to be swayed by information and statistics. She described several effective strategies used by media organisations to address hate speech online. One of these is to clearly frame the discussion below an article rather than encouraging an open-ended debate - such as "What are your experiences of moving to a new place?" rather than "What do you think?"

Other advice included:

  • allow comments only when a moderator is available or when an issue is getting a lot of debate
  • invest moderators' time in the first half-hour after an article is published to set the tone of a debate
  • it's more effective to delete hateful comments before they are published rather than after, so replace a deleted comment with a brief explanation of why it was deleted, so that the community understands the reasoning behind that decision

Another effective tactic is to require commenters to answer one or two simple questions about the article before they can leave a comment (to prove that they actually read it: see an example here).

Finally, workshop participants Ehab and Lama, who are both Syrians now living in Luxembourg and working for the radio programme Salam Show, contributed valuable insights on how to report on refugees in Europe. They advocated, for example, that stories look at people's pasts and futures in addition to the present: what were their lives like before they had to flee their homes, families and workplaces, and how do they see their futures now that they live in Europe?

There's more detail on the CMFE's Media Against Hate campaign at www.cmfe.eu

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