“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Engaging with the media as a tool for addressing statelessness

15 March 2018 | Patrick Gifford, Political Science Honours Student at the University of New South Wales and Intern with the Statelessness Network Asia Pacific
Stack of newspapers

Since the beginning of 2017, the Statelessness Network Asia Pacific (SNAP) has partnered with the University of New South Wales (UNSW) on a project aimed at mapping media reporting trends with respect to statelessness in Asia and the Pacific.  By better understanding media reporting trends, the project also aimed to identify opportunities for engaging with the media on addressing statelessness. 

Based on these aims, undergraduate students worked together as part of their assessment for a course within the UNSW’s Bachelor of Social Research and Policy to develop two main outputs, a report analysing media reporting trends on statelessness in 11 countries in Asia (Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Japan, Nepal, Taiwan, Pakistan, and Myanmar) and a complementary toolkit for engaging with the media in these countries.

Since many in our class were not familiar with the issue of statelessness, the first stage of the project centred on learning about the issue of statelessness in Asia and the Pacific and identifying countries in which we could effectively analyse media reporting trends.  For the second stage of the project each student focused on analysing media reporting trends in particular countries.  A coding system was also developed so that students could effectively compare and contrast their research. The third stage of research involved students compiling their findings into a report for SNAP’s members to use in engaging with the media, based on the information compiled in stages one and two of the project.  For the fourth and final stage of the project, SNAP’s secretariat will consult with SNAP’s members to build on and implement the outputs from the project. SNAP aims to launch the media analysis and toolkit in 2019.  

Main research findings

The analysis of media reporting on statelessness in the above-mentioned countries revealed that restrictions on press freedom, and freedom of expression generally, as well as lack of understanding as to the issue of statelessness can be a barrier to accurate media reporting on statelessness. This can result in media consumers being misinformed as to the causes and consequences of statelessness, which can also in turn manifest in negative attitudes towards particular populations who are stateless or at risk of statelessness. 

It was also identified that media reporting in these 11 countries typically considered statelessness amongst one particular population that may already be subject to significant media attention, while neglecting to report on stateless amongst other populations living in the country or statelessness risks that can arise from gender discrimination and barriers to birth registration in Asia.   

Additionally, media reporting in the 11 countries often considered the impact of colonialisation and conceptions of national identity with respect to access to citizenship and citizenship rights.

Based on this analysis, the toolkit provides a number of initial recommendations for SNAP’s members and partners for engaging with the media on statelessness that are both country specific and geared towards different types of media outlets, such as print or social media.  Some of these recommendations include facilitating trainings for journalists and media organisations on key concepts such as the main causes and consequences of statelessness in Asia.  Other recommendations include taking advantage of the increasing use of social media in Asia as a way of sharing information about statelessness both with media outlets and more broadly. Finally, providing relevant safeguards and protections are guaranteed, highlighting the personal stories of stateless persons was also identified as potential mechanism for engaging media outlets on statelessness.

The above findings and recommendations must be considered in light of some of the restrictions we faced in this project.  For example, the class was limited to considering media reporting in Chinese (Mandarin) and English only, based on the languages known by class members. Another restriction was that we only had access to online media and therefore we were unable to analyse media reporting by outlets that don’t have an online presence and which may reflect the views of certain communities and interest groups.  

For many in the class, this was our first opportunity to test our capabilities as researchers after two and a half years’ worth of full time university study. Additionally, this was also the first opportunity for many of us to see our work have a meaningful impact. Undergraduate students in Social Research and Policy largely deal with policy design or research tasks that are heavily based in theory, and present solutions and recommendations based on controlled research that is often not implemented. Although controlled environments are great for learning the basics of policy and research design, the fact that our work had an impact beyond our grade point average was an incredibly powerful motivator.  I have never worked so hard or with so much interest on a project, and I feel that knowing that the work would be used by SNAP was a big driver behind this.

In conclusion, as a student who participated in this project I would encourage others working for NGOs and academic institutions to develop similar partnerships that both strengthen the capacity of students and develop resources for NGOs.

The Statelessness Network Asia Pacific (SNAP), launched in November 2016, is a civil society network with the goal of promoting collaboration on addressing statelessness in Asia the Pacific. There are many examples across Asia and the Pacific where civil society actors, in collaboration with governmental actors and UN agencies, have successfully addressed statelessness for specific populations. However, up until SNAP’s launch, there had been limited collaboration and information sharing between civil society actors on lessons learned and strategies used to address statelessness. Therefore, SNAP aims to bridge this gap. Collaboration and exchange between civil society actors enhances individual actors’ impact and creates opportunities for collective action. The author would like to thank Dr Charlotte Smedley and Davina Wadley, SNAP’s Coordinator, for developing the course and supporting the class throughout the project.

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