Waheed Arian BBC refugee interview

Refugees and the media: why our words matter

In our latest blog, Senior PR and Content Executive Olivia, argues why we should be more considerate with our language when talking about sensitive topics – such as immigration following Waheed Arian’s latest BBC interview.

It’s my third week at High-Rise and now I’m up to speed – I’m pleased to see our client, Waheed Arian, answering some robust questions in his BBC interview on HardTalk last week.

Waheed, an NHS doctor who migrated from Afghanistan when he was just a boy, discussed multiple topics on the show, including immigration in the UK, the state of the NHS and the impact his own journey to England has had on his mental health.

For years, migrants have fled their own war-torn countries to cross the English Channel and seek refuge in the UK. But, despite its frequency, immigration is a divisive subject in Britain.

“The words ‘illegal immigrant’ is something we’ve created, humans are not illegal, migration has always been there for decades and centuries in the world as we know it.” – Waheed Arian, BBC HardTalk.

Whilst watching Waheed on HardTalk, it reminded me that in our conversations about immigration we often overlook the language and terminology we use.

You could argue that it’s all just semantics, but a study from King’s College London* suggests that the language journalists and broadcasters use about immigration influences the public significantly.

“The negative framing notably reduced support for, and increased opposition to, greater welfare spending,” – researchers from King’s College London.

The reality is that asylum seekers would not leave their home unless they had to and typically, their journey and arrival in the UK (and other countries) is the only way they can get here – and as Waheed argues on BBC HardTalk – there is often no other option for them.

The media commonly uses certain words to refer to refugees, such as ‘swarms’ and ‘floods’, which then adds to the negative perception of asylum seekers – portraying them as invading the UK and putting pressure on its services.  In fact, just this week a Holocaust survivor confronted Suella Braverman and condemned the Home Secretary’s ‘refugee invasion’ rhetoric.

So, what can we do to evoke change around the perception of refugees and asylum seekers?

Well, we can be more considerate with our language for starters (including people working in PR and the media) and avoid using terms that contribute to the negative portrayal of refugees and asylum seekers – in what we say and what we write.

I would also encourage people to listen to refugees like Waheed and their stories, find out about their experiences and how their situation could happen to any one of us.

And, most importantly, let’s remember:

‘Migrants are dreamers, migrants are people who contribute – once they have the opportunity.” – Waheed Arian.

If you want to raise your business’ profile, get in touch with us today.

*King’s College London, Portrayal of immigration in media can impact public attitudes to welfare spending, 2021