15/1/2017

Mediendienst Integration: Separating fact from fiction on migration

 

Migration is a hot and sensitive topic. In recent times, we’ve seen debates about the regulation of migration invoke emotions related to humanitarian responsibility, national security, and economic protectionism. And in a post-truth world, we’ve seen data manipulated to reflect a multitude of these viewpoints – from exaggerated claims about illegal immigration made by the Trump campaign to unproven predictions of EU migration throughout the Brexit debates. So how can we separate fact from fiction, or identify claims as simply unprovable?

In Germany, a service called Mediendienst Integration aims to help journalists and other researchers answer this question by promoting fact-based information on migration. We spoke to Rana Göroglu, Mediendienst Integration’s project manager, to find out more.

DDJ: Can you provide a brief outline of the Mediendienst Integration project and how it came about?

Rana Göroglu: The Mediendienst Integration (Media Service Migration) is a project of the “Council on Migration”, a registered organization composed by more than 130 researchers operating in the fields of migration and minorities. The service works as an information-platform for journalists, collecting and spreading information on the subjects of minorities, migration, integration of immigrants and instances of racism and discrimination. The service is entirely free of cost.

The Mediendienst Integration is an independent project financed through a public-private partnership between the Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration and seven private foundations - a complete list of the grant-makers can be found here.

The project was created in 2012 with the explicit purpose to promote a more fact-based coverage of these issues in the media. Its goal is to collect and share reliable, easily understandable, fact-based information and to highlight scarcely known aspects of migration and inclusion.

Through its website the Mediendienst Integration publishes articles and short dossiers on all facets of issues like migration flows, asylum policy, migration law, integration in schools and in the labour market, political participation, citizenship, religious and racial discrimination, religious fundamentalism, good-practice, and EU-migration. It also summarises academic papers and studies for the convenience of journalists, and double checks media reports in order to debunk unverified assumptions and “perceived truths”.

The Mediendienst Integration assembled one of the largest topical databases in Germany to offer an on demand service providing journalists with reliable and authoritative expert information; moreover, it brings together journalists, academics and other experts by organising guided tours and roundtables with the purpose of offering critical insights into the background of migration-related news stories.

How do you go about collecting data?

We usually collect data from verified sources such as the Federal Statistical Directorate (Destatis) as well as the European Statistical Directorate (Eurostat), institutional sources (Ministries and Federal Offices) and the Federal Office for Migration and Integration (BAMF). Moreover, we share the results of studies and polls conducted by high-profile academic and research institutions such as the Migration Policy Institute, the Expert Advisory Board for Migration and Integration (SVR), the Berliner Institute for the Research of Empirical Inclusion and Migration (BIM), and more. Data is always accompanied by a source register that allows journalists to double check - and eventually expand - the information we provide.

How do you ensure that the data you provide isn’t misrepresented?

We have no influence on what journalists will produce using the data we collect. What we can do is to provide a commentary or explanation that can help avoid misunderstandings. Therefore, we hardly ever publish raw data and prefer instead to embed the information we gather in articles, papers or factsheets. In order to contextualise the data, we also publish interviews with - or guest articles by - experts who can provide an in-depth analysis of the dataset at hand.

Migration issues can spur quite emotional responses. How does this impact the way the project prepares and delivers data?

We’re well aware of dealing with highly sensitive topics. This is why we put a lot of effort into making our service as transparent, scientifically accurate and easy to understand as possible. We were already confronted with extreme negative feedback from right wing blogs and forums. None of these attacks could in any way discredit the trustworthiness of the service or the quality of the information.

What have been the main challenges faced by the project and how have you overcome these?

The main challenge the project is facing is to keep up with a rapidly changing situation. When it started in 2012, the Mediendienst Integration employed only two editors. At that time the issues of migration and inclusion were relatively marginal for German media. Since then, the coverage of migration-related issues has been growing dramatically. This led to an overwhelming increase in the number of issues we’re covering as well as in the number of queries we receive from journalists. Fortunately, our team has been growing as well - from two to six editors.

What kind of impact has the project had on the discussion of migration issues in Germany?

The reach and impact of the activities performed by the Mediendienst Integration can be measured as follows:

In qualitative terms by monitoring the media coverage of migration and inclusion-related issues. Over the past years:

  • the variety of academics and other experts in the media has increased;
  • there are more factchecks on migration and discrimination-related issues following the example of the Mediendienst Integration; and,
  • there is a more differentiated approach to these complex topics than before.

In the context of the current debate about the rising number of asylum-seekers in Germany, the Mediendienst Integration has actively contributed to shifting the debate from the subject of “social anxiety” to a broader analysis of the structural flaws that led up to the current impasse in the asylum-system.

Quantitatively, in terms of visits to our website as well as through the increased number of media professionals who use our service, the Mediendienst Integration has become a go-to-address for most media professionals, politicians, NGOs, and others who are looking for reliable information on migration, inclusion and minorities. Hence, it doesn’t come as a surprise that our website attracts much more traffic than other “target-specific“ services of the same sort. The number of direct queries from journalists has also been increasing steadily. Moreover, the Mediendienst Integration has been quoted hundreds of times by German as well as international media, such as the Washington Post, Vice, Zaman, and To Vima, as a source for information.

What’s next? Are there any plans to bring the project to other countries?

We’re currently planning to establish ties with several like-minded projects throughout Europe. Our idea is to improve the exchange of information on migration-related issues throughout European countries.

Visit the Mediendienst Integration website here.

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