As publicly funded organisations, public media must be representative and accessible to all. This includes welcoming and helping refugees and asylum seekers to integrate as they adapt to their new homes.

From conflicts and  persecution, to violence and the intensifying climate crisis, people are displaced or forced to relocate for many reasons outside of their control. As many try to make new homes for themselves, they contribute to the melting pot of experiences, skills, culture, and languages that enrich their new communities. And since bringing communities together and helping to promote inclusive and intercultural spaces are core roles of public service media (PSM), diversity must be recognised within their coverage and content.

Accuracy, impartiality, and universalism are just some of the key PSM values that must be at the forefront of responsible and ethical reporting of refugee and migration issues to ensure that people are neither reduced to mere labels or statistics, nor stereotyped and sensationalised. Such values should help to provide the public with accurate information about refugee and migration issues and help them to better understand their new neighbours. While we acknowledge that press coverage – including public media – does not always get it right, we believe that PSM must learn from any shortfalls, set high standards of reporting and challenge hate speech and disinformation.

               RESOURCE: Refugee crises and migration reporting

But as this report explores, PSM responses to refugee and migration issues do not have to be limited to simply reporting them. Many PSMs have been diversifying their content offerings to welcome and integrate refugees and asylum seekers as they settle into their new homes. With the added health, economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also vital that these groups are not forgotten and have access to credible and relevant sources of news, information and services needed to fully participate in society.

Information for and about refugees and asylum seekers

As a blog by the European Federation for Journalists (EFJ) highlights, Information for and about refugees are two sides of the same coin: on the one hand, newcomers need to have access of basic information when arriving in a host country. On the other hand, local residents need to better understand the stories of these refugees. Informing both sides is essential for social cohesion and this is one of the [roles] of Public Service Media.”

Many public media organisations have multilingual news and information portals that are specifically designed to answer questions and provide information for refugees and asylum seekers as they arrive in new countries. An innovative example comes from WDR, a member station of Germany’s largest public broadcaster ARD, which launched an online information portal, WDRforyou, in January 2016. WDRforyou provides information for newly arrived refugees and migrants to help them to learn more about what life is like in Germany. It is available in four languages: Persian, Arabic, English and German, and is considered  “the largest public service channel on refugees in Germany”.

Isabel Schayani, head of WDRforyou’s editorial department, told PMA that “We also explain how expulsions and deportations work because this is also part of the story; we give a lot of information on all legal issues.” But, as Isabel adds, it is also about the day-to-day questions such as “How do I get a German passport?”, which are fundamental to their future in Germany. Other topics covered include women’s issues and family reunions.

The portal also has a community reporting element. Working with a group of community reporters, Isabel said, “We have material, which they send us. We have live links and live talks with people all the time.”

Content is available on the WDRforyou website and across social media, with some TV reports. But the portal has its largest reach via Facebook, where it broadcasts three times a day, exploring questions such as “How does home-schooling work?” and “How to get a laptop”. It has been a particularly useful resource for COVID-19 updates in minority languages.

Yet despite high levels of reach, Isabel questions how long the initiative can remain relevant. Her other concern is the need for greater diversity, especially in public broadcasting. Speaking to Infomigrants – another news and information service for migrants hosted by Deutsche Welle (DW) in French, Arabic, English, Dari and Pashto – she said: “If we want to report for everyone, we should represent this very reality, especially in public broadcasting. Because let’s not forget: public broadcasting is being paid by everyone.”

This PSM principle of universal access has been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic for those whose first languages are not that of the national public broadcaster’s.

Coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic

At the start of the pandemic, Swedish Radio ensured that information about COVID-19 was available in minority languages such as Arabic, Kurdish, Persian, and Somali.

SBS Radio in Australia also implemented a similar measure with its multilingual coronavirus portal, which is available in 63 languages. As the world’s most linguistically comprehensive broadcaster and Australia’s second public broadcaster, SBS has a specific mandate for integration. According to the public broadcaster’s extensive archive of reports on refugee crises and asylum seekers, “In the last twenty years, sixty thousand ‘boat people’ have arrived in Australia.” It is critical, then, that these groups are not forgotten and have access to vital information, especially during a global pandemic.

In its Annual Report 2019-2020, SBS explained that as part of its coverage of the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic it “also investigated the consequences for migrants, refugees, international students and those on temporary visas, to ensure a point of difference in its reporting [and provide] relevant information for the benefit of diverse communities and all Australians.” Weekly news stories broadcast across multiple platforms covered the success stories of migrant, refugee, and Indigenous business owners as well as those also dealing with economic challenges.

In the United States, a recent report in National Public Radio (NPR)’s special Coronavirus Crisis series revealed that last year, “Despite the pandemic, the U.S. admitted 21,533 refugees….” In an accompanying podcast it explored the difficulties that refugees have been experiencing while settling during the pandemic and its impact on social isolation, food shops, employment and mental health.

Meanwhile, BBC Radio 4’s flagship current affairs programme, the Today programme, heard a personal account from an asylum seeker who shared his concerns about his inability to social distance during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the accommodation he was provided while claiming asylum in the UK.

As these examples demonstrate, some public broadcasters have proactively responded to the needs of refugees and asylum seekers by providing access to reliable news, information and resources while continuing to report on refugee and migration issues during the pandemic. This includes identifying both success stories and challenges faced while seeking refuge.

But it is also important that new arrivals are given an equal chance to engage with public media and share their stories. By including refugee and asylum seekers’ voices as part of the national story, public media can help to further promote social cohesion and inclusivity. It can also help the public at large to better understand their situations and combat false portrayals or stereotypes.

Amplifying the voices of refugees and asylum seekers

In recent years, Swedish Radio has produced programming that gives refugees and asylum seekers a platform to tell their own stories. Syrien Inifrån was first broadcast in 2015 on Swedish Radio’s Conflict radio programme, and produced by five Syrian reporters who wanted to provide audiences with a unique insight into what life is like in Syria today  – the main source of the world’s displaced people. Meanwhile, Integration Inifrån (‘Integration from within’), a programme created by three Syrian journalists, was broadcast in 2016 and explores the varied experiences and realities of integration and the future for many Syrian refugees living in Sweden.

PBS also recently released a short video that pulled together the personal accounts of refugees and asylum seekers as part of its American Portrait project. It is one of several similar stories that effectively reveal some of the ongoing challenges faced by these groups when arriving and settling in the US, such as adapting to a new society and blending traditions from their old and new homes.

The UK’s public broadcasters have also created innovative content telling the stories of refugees settling in the UK. Recent episodes on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Food Programme’, such as ‘Flavours of Home: The refugees forging new lives through food’ not only document how refugees are creating new lives and careers but how the cooking and sharing of food can bring people from different backgrounds together. Other episodes like ‘Food stories from Syria’ have captured the challenges of those travelling from Syria.

Short video documentaries from BBC Scotland’s series, ‘Our Lives’ and ‘The New Scots’ include newcomers who share their stories of moving to and settling in Scotland to explore the diversity of Scottish society. In one episode of ‘The New Scots’, student journalist Marwa Daher shares her story of leaving her home in Syria and finding refuge with her family in Scotland.

Meanwhile, the UK’s second public broadcaster, Channel 4, renowned for its diverse content for young people and minority groups, has experimented with producing alternative, scripted content. ‘Home’, an aptly named 2-season television comedy series, was broadcast in 2019 and explores integration through the perspective of an asylum seeker who arrives in the UK and lives with a British family. The show uses humour to engage and inform audiences about the realities and challenges of claiming asylum in the UK.

Factual content produced by Channel 4 in recent years includes the award-winning documentary ‘Britain’s Refugee Children’, which depicts the experiences of six refugee children and their families as they attend new schools and the difficulties faced by families separated on their way to the UK. In other news reports, Channel 4 reporter, Jamal Osman – himself a former refugee from Somalia – speaks to asylum seekers about their new lives in the UK.

As many of these examples show, it is important that those from a refugee background have opportunities to contribute to public media productions both in front of and behind cameras and microphones. David Hua, a former executive at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), joined SBS last year as Director of Audio and Language Content. He was a former refugee, having moved to Australia with his family from Vietnam. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, one of his first tasks was to oversee the launch of SBS Chinese, “a new digital offering that incorporates and builds upon SBS’s existing Mandarin and Cantonese language services.”  SBS has also made available a wide range of programmes about cultural diversity on its On Demand service, including the innovative TV series, ‘Go Back To Where You Came From’. The series explored a group of Australians taking the refugee journey in reverse to some of the most dangerous places in the world, with an aim to challenge their entrenched beliefs about refugees. The series was accompanied by online resources outlining how audiences can help newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers.

READ MORE: From refugee to media boss: David Hua takes charge at SBS Radio


Increasingly, public broadcasters have been collaborating to co-produce programmes that promote intercultural media spaces and explore shared experiences across borders.

In 2017, WDR and the BBC World Service joined forces with Swedish Radio for a special broadcast of the BBC’s ‘Outside Source’ (OS) programme. Inspired by Syrien Inifrån and Integration Inifrån, the 90-minute special explored how well Syrian refugees have integrated into life in Germany and Sweden.

WATCH: TALKforyou: WDRforyou, BBC and the Swedish Radio

Another cross-border project includes ‘New Neighbours’, a collaboration between nine European public broadcasters (Czech TV, DW, HrT, NTR, Rai, RTBF, RTP, RTV SLO and RTVE), which have each produced a documentary to highlight the hopes and fears of refugees and migrants as they settle into a new country. The documentaries also highlight how local residents have welcomed them into their neighbourhoods. Running from January 2019 until March 2021, the project’s main aim was to “foster tolerance and acceptance for migrants and refugees in EU member states.” It also works closely with community media and civil society organisations to run social media campaigns, participatory community media productions and workshops, and publish country reports and reviews. Such projects demonstrate the importance of collaborating with specialist third-party or civil society organisations to produce relevant content.

As part of its ongoing work to celebrate the cultural diversity of Canada, public broadcaster CBC/Radio-Canada has partnered with public libraries to promote the country’s first-ever bilingual eBook club. The chosen eRead was the novel Vi by Kim Thúy, which is about the lives and experiences of Vietnamese refugees in Canada. CBC Radio and ICI RADIO-CANADA hosted virtual Q&A events with the author to answer questions from the public about the novel, but also to explain why writing about and trying to unpick the experiences of refugees was important for social cohesion and understanding. And for the virtual edition of last year’s Refugee Week, SBS Food Online partnered with the Refugee Council of Australia for their ‘Share a meal, share a story’ theme to provide a platform for refugees to share their stories as they cooked meals from their home cuisines and expressed what the dishes meant to them. Viewers could watch and cook along as RCA ambassadors shared videos and recipes.

So from international, cross-border projects to locally run community initiatives, it is clear that effective and sustainable approaches to welcoming and integrating refugees and asylum seekers requires a collaborative effort, in which public media must play an active part.

As refugee and migration crises develop, it is crucial that public media worldwide continue to respond to the needs of these groups, to hold authorities to account for their responses to refugee crises, as well as hold themselves accountable to ensure that they continue to report responsibly and ethically. This includes identifying and telling diverse stories – both success stories and challenges – throughout the process; from arriving in a new country to claiming asylum and adapting to life in their new homes.

Public media must also continue to amplify the voices that are still too often on the margins of society. They must pursue efforts to diversify their content and offer inclusive employment and engagement opportunities. By doing so they remain relevant for all groups in society, can deliver on their mandates to highlight our shared humanity, celebrate our differences, and reach everyone, everywhere. Beyond this report, the Public Media Alliance will keep highlighting public media’s best practices in this area.

As part of our work to continue this discussion, PMA hosted a special, virtual event during the University of East Anglia’s Refugee Week demonstrating the approaches taken by public media worldwide to welcome and support the integration of our new neighbours. The session was moderated by PMA CEO Sally-Ann Wilson and will be available on the PMA website very soon.

The Public Media Alliance is the largest global association of public broadcasters, based at the University of East Anglia.

Header Image: A man walks into Katsikas refugee camp, Greece 2016. Credit: AshleyWiley/iStock