Support for Ukrainian Refugees through the Media
The Support for Ukrainian Refugees through the Media project, funded by the Government of Japan, is an UNESCO initiative developed within the framework of the UN Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP) for Ukraine, coordinated by UNHCR. UNESCO defends and promotes freedom of expression, media independence, and pluralism, and the building of inclusive knowledge societies underpinned by universal access to information and the innovative use of digital technologies.
The project – lasting until January 2024 in three countries of Slovakia, Moldova and Romania, aims to increase access of Ukrainian refugees to reliable information on key issues of their concern, such as humanitarian assistance concerted by authorities and partners. This to increase their self-reliance and resilience and create favourable conditions for peaceful co-existence and possible integration of refugees into their host communities in Slovakia.
On 30 August, the project was officially launched with a Multi-stakeholder Dialogue Meeting, which included representatives of the Embassy of Japan, UNESCO, UNHCR Slovakia, the Migration Office of the Slovak Ministry of Interior, the Council for Media Services, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ukrainian journalists from partner media outlets, reflected on various challenges that Ukrainian refugees face in Slovakia, for example the reporting of the Slovak major media organisations.
Mr Tawfik Jelassi, the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information stressed „media is key to strengthening and promoting inclusive and fact-based public debates. As the fourth estate, news organisations hold the means to counter suspicion, fear and social stigmas. Journalists, editors and many other media professionals not only provide an overview of refugee situations, but also verify facts, provide context and offer diverse perspectives in service of the public. As the world continues to evolve, media organisations, the guardians of truth, need to constantly update their knowledge base to remain current and uphold the values we hold dear, and to safeguard information as a public good. The project is committed to involving various actors across sectors. We are pleased to see our partners creating opportunities, as this very event for networking and collaboration among media themselves and with other stakeholders, such as governments and humanitarian agencies.
Mr Hiroshi Nawata from the Embassy of Japan, reiterated „Japan’s solidarity with all people of Ukraine. Japan’s contribution to this project is part of its efforts to assist Ukraine. Refugees of Ukraine face difficulties and challenges when they are away from their home country. They can be and should be more self-reliant and resilient by successfully accessing reliable information and news. Media play a critical role to reach the refugees and provide them with useful information. This project will assist in building such capacity of media and assist Ukrainian refugees to care about themselves”.
Ms Danijela Popovic-Efendic, the Head of the UNHCR Office in Slovakia, underlined that „the war in Ukraine has resulted in forced displacement and humanitarian needs not witnessed in Europe for decades. Since February 2022 we are experiencing the biggest and fastest growing refugee crisis since the World War II. As of today, there are over 5.8 million refugees from Ukraine recorded in Europe - of total 6.2 million Ukrainian refugees recorded globally. As of today, more than 1.6 million Ukrainians and some third-country nationals in need of international protection have crossed the border into Slovakia. Out of this number, close to 125,000 applied for temporary protection and out of that number, currently 107,000 got a valid temporary protection status in the country.
One thing I would like stress here, is not to forget that refugees also with them bring their experiences, skills and attributes, and need to be empowered so that they can rebuild their lives and contribute to the local societies. And this is already supported by evidence.
Just for illustration, there is a report produced by the Institute of Finance under the Ministry of Finance - in 2022 the Slovak government spent 0.3% of GDP on refugees from Ukraine, while refugees contributed 0.1% GDP to the Slovak economy by taxes they pay, by services and goods they purchase. The projection for 2023 was that the government will spend 0.3% GDP, while refugees will contribute 0.3% GDP, through further employment, taxes, consumption, purchase. And in the years after 2023 the contributions coming from refugees will exceed the money that government has to pay for them. These are the very clear economic benefits of the refugee presence in Slovakia. And I think this has to be recognized, because very often you how much the refugees are expensive, how much they cost, but looking to the facts, they show this is different.
Media actors play a key role in sharing this kind of stories and information about refugees and asylum-seekers. In doing so, they keep illuminating the human realities behind the numbers. The media landscape has the ability to increase the public understanding of the situation”.
Mr Ján Orlovský, Head of the Migration Office, underlined that despite the migration influx of refugees in 2015 along the Slovak border, the country has not prepared for similar situations since, quite the opposite. Luckily, given the closeness of some Eastern parts of Slovakia to Ukraine this time, “it didn’t feel like a strange element. The response was faster, more human, and was actually lasting. Daniela has mentioned 125,000 people that received the temporary protection, but our estimated guess is that we have less than a mid-sized city of Ukrainians ,as most of them left to other countries, that there are about 50 to 60,000 people who are currently residing in Slovakia.
There are five main challenges I see here today – education, because we still have half of children of Ukraine in Slovakia who are not attending school. Second is housing, because this country is at the very very end of the EU in terms of public housing available to anybody, not just to Ukrainians. The third is job market – there is more than 70,000 job offers in the country, which nobody is taking. To access that labour market for Ukrainians, or any foreigner, is to get to know the language. But I think the country can do much more in easing the testing – if you want to be a cook, you don’t have to learn a perfect Slovak. The fourth is healthcare, and I think in many ways Ukrainians have much better healthcare situation back home than they have in Slovakia – one fourth of Ukrainians staying in Slovakia travel back home not to see their parents or grandparents, but to actually take healthcare back home. And the fifth is the reason we have actually met – the public opinion.
And it is absolutely right that Ukrainians living in Slovakia can listen to their news back home, but they need to know what’s going on in the country and they need to give their story out to the Slovak population. They are entitled that people know what their fates are like, what they dream about, what they care about, what they want. It’s not just an acceptance, after almost 600 days here they have absolute right to be integral part of the society.
Danijela mentioned the figures how much they contribute – almost nobody in this country knows that so far, the war in Ukraine cost us 11 EUR per citizen, it’s nothing. Because of the influx of the foreign resources via international organisations, via embassies, via European Union, Slovakia spends 11 EUR per citizen to fight the war in Ukraine, actually to assist the conditions. So I’m really grateful for this project, giving the voice to Ukrainians and also making sure that the public opinion wakes up to the situation, that the migration is here to stay, regardless if it’s a transitory one, that is now a big issue in the south of Slovakia, or the one filling the empty jobs that we have in the country”.
Ms Anikó Dušíková, a member of media regulator, the Council for Media Services mentioned “that since the beginning of the war the Council has the war-related complaints. But the main issues for listeners, viewers are images of violence, disinformation, not the portrayal of the refugees. Nevertheless, we all know that the refugees from Ukraine are mostly women and children, and they should be protected. And therefore there is a need to adhere to the ethical reporting guidelines, to stick to them, sticking to these standards is inevitable”.
As stressed by Mr Rasťo Kužel, MEMO 98 Executive Director, we were extremely delighted to implement the advice offered by the workshop experts concerning refugee-related reporting, suggesting that ”there is no report about us without us, very pleased to introduce one of the Ukrainian journalists working in the Slovak media, from which SME, the Slovak Spectator and TA3 stand high, as the outlets not only promptly providing the very objective coverage of what is happening in Ukraine, but they have been the first to actually start the Ukrainian versions”.
Ms Alina Graffyová, the Ukrainian journalist from the Slovak Spectator, from one of media partners mentioned that “coming to Slovakia some five years ago, I see Slovakia as my home. Personally, I think that the morning of 24 February 2022 will be hard to forget for any Ukrainian. Many people then as now are leaving their homes to save their lives and lives of their children, some people leaving behind literally everything they had. They are moving to the safer places. They don’t do out of goodwill or happy dreams, they are just trying to save the most precious thing they have, their own lives.
Ukrainians are studying Slovak language here, they try to speak Slovak, kids are capable to speak it relatively well in half a year. They are getting accustomed to Slovak traditions, they attend school and they work. They are trying to socialize and live at least partially the life they were living before the invasion. I’m thinking what I could do for these people and for my country, living here for some time already. One aspect is related to my work. From April 2022 with the help of the Slovak media outlet, the Slovak Spectator we are trying to create a feeling of home for people escaping from the war. We have started to publish materials in Ukrainian and I was extremely proud when we managed within a month to launch the website in Ukrainian.
I know that the native language helps in the most difficult moments. That’s why I try to dedicate all my attention to present the news about the life and events in Slovakia, which would be interesting and valuable for Ukrainians. Information in Ukrainian helps them to orientate in the new country and gives them the understanding that they are not alone here, that we are here with them. I personally think that the respect for true, fact-based and balanced reporting is the essence that all media content should be centred around. Additional important aspects that I have noticed, in the process of story building, is self-restraint and balance.
In the initial phase, UNESCO has partnered with the Norwegian Refugee Council to provide a baseline study on the media habits and information needs of the Ukrainian refugees in the three countries. The research used both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, such as focus groups, stakeholder discussions, and nearly 700 interviews with refugees, carried out in different locations such as schools, private households, and support centres. The research findings will guide the project's second stage: supporting host-country media organizations to create refugee-related media programs.
Mr Xu Jing, the UNESCO Programme Specialist, concluded that “he has much hope towards what will be achieved together. He reiterated the message of Mr Jelassi that the key objective of the project is to support Ukrainian refugees by assisting host country’s media organisation to produce, broadcast content for, with and by the refugees. Through the first phase, concluded before the summer, we learned how they access the information, watch or listen to the media, the issues they are concerned about and what they want to learn more about. The research found out that access to the reliable and relevant information for the Ukrainian refugees remains a challenge.
As UNESCO sees it, mainstream media are crucial in keeping Ukrainian refugees updated on humanitarian assistance available and other topics of interest and concern to them, especially because the refugees are spread around the territories. An integral part of the project is to work with national and local media, many of them located also in the areas with the large refugee populations.
They will be supported by the project to integrate Ukrainian media professionals into their editorial teams in order to allow them to participate in the planning and production of reporting in Ukrainian language. At the same time, the Ukrainian media professionals will receive on-the-job training and coaching to help them to enhance their skills. A key purpose is to achieve a greater diversity of sources for refugee-related media coverage.
Subsequently, on 30-31 August we organized first two workshops with presence of some 15 participants. The workshops that comprised representatives from media partners (TA3, channels from the LOTOS association, SME and Slovak Spectator), including their Ukrainian colleagues, were conducted under guidance of senior international expert practitioners and also with experts from the Deutsche Welle Akademie and UNHCR Slovakia.
Ms Esther Enkin, former Head of Newsroom and Ombudsperson at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation led a workshop on ethical journalism, while Mr Peter Du Toit, founder of the Conflict Sensitive Journalism Project at the Rhodes University in South Africa, led the training on conflict-sensitive reporting.
MEMO 98, working in Ukraine since 1999, will partner with several media organisations (at least one central media outlets, three local media) as well as one online media, which will collaborate with Ukrainian journalists to produce media content for Slovak audience and Ukrainian refugees. Moreover, through workshops, the media will enhance their knowledge about various aspects of journalism, such as ethical principles, conflict-sensitive reporting as well as solutions journalism, in order to improve their reporting on sensitive topics.
Activities to be carried out within the project:
-Organising two workshops on how to report ethically on conflict and refugees;
-Creating and maintaining a list of public officials, civil society members and representatives of international organizations that will work with refugees;
-Organising a workshop on Solutions Journalism;
-Assisting media in identification of topics and stories that relate to Ukrainian refugees; as well as assist them in the production of such stories;
-Creating and expanding a network of journalists covering refugees;
-Supporting media partners in incorporating Ukrainian media professionals into their editorial teams, receiving on-the-job training and coaching to improve their skills;
-Providing financial support to selected media in Slovakia participating in the project.
Here is the Press release in pdf.