“We now have more tools than ever that can help to challenge the media narrative.” Statement from Ron Salaj

Ahead of the upcoming UNITED conference in Italy, where he is scheduled to speak and lead a workshop on deconstructing narratives, Ron Salaj writes about the narrative of migration in Europe today, and how civil society organisations should respond to the refugee crisis.

I think that the current narrative around migration in the mainstream media in Europe is very much influenced by number of factors, or rather sequences of events: it started with the financial crisis which led to austerity measures across Europe; continued with Syrian war and refugee crises; and expanded with the recent terrorist attacks. These three sequences of events have completely changed the socio-political dynamics across Europe, and have tremendously influenced the narrative around migration in the mainstream media.

But the questions we should ask are: what can we do under the current media and political constellations (let’s also not forget and neglect the rise of far-right political parties across Europe)? Is there any space left to challenge them? I believe that yes, there is.

In my opinion, the best answer we can find is in the following description of the ‘event’ by French philosopher Alain Badiou: “An ‘event’ is the creation of new possibilities. It is located not merely at the level of objective possibilities but at the level of possibility of possibilities.” It is precisely in this sense that NGOs, civil society organisations, collectives and individuals should think of their role towards challenging this media narrative; creating new ‘events’, which open up new possibilities by seeking out the Truth.

German philosopher Theodor Adorno was right when he said that the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. And the figure of suffering today in Europe is the figure of the Refugee, whose freedom of movement is being violated by walls, barbed wire and teargas; who is being attacked (discursively and physically) by far-right parties and groups; and most importantly who is being stereotyped—often through racist and discriminatory narrative—by the mainstream media. Giving a voice to refugees and migrants, allowing them to speak the truth; capturing and documenting their suffering, and breaking the media-constructed ‘myths’ that “all refugees are terrorists or rapists” or “they are bringing disease to Europe”, is one way to respond to the narrative of the mainstream media.

Of course, without entering into technical details, there are no exact recipes on how to achieve this (context matters a lot), but certainly today, thanks also to the internet, we have more than ever a great number of tools that can help to challenge the media narrative. Ultimately, I think that through a combination of construction of counter-narratives, which can take the form of the organised pan-European network of a coalition of NGOs, civil society organisations, collectives and individuals; and media experiments, which can be more local or singular but transmitted across Europe, we can assure a new existence of the figure of refugee and migrant, and thus respond to the current mainstream media narratives.

I do hope that the UNITED conference in Torino will not be only a space for speaking, networking, and educating, but also a starting point for the creation of a broader network of activists and organisations across Europe whose mission will be to create new emancipatory possibilities that can seriously challenge the narrative around migration in the mainstream media in Europe.


The next UNITED conference “Moving Stories: Narratives of Migration Crossing Europe”, will focus on the situation of migrants and refugees in Europe, and seek to challenge the prevalent media narrative on migration. Follow all the news on the conference on Twitter, Facebook and the UNITED website.

This event has been made possible with support of the Council of Europe (European Youth Foundation), the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, and the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.

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