Storytelling for inclusion and human rights in Malaysia: strengthening the role of the media
Distinguished Members of the diplomatic missions; representatives of the media;; Representatives of Civil Society Organizations; UN Colleagues; Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I address you today at this workshop focused on the crucial role of media in promoting a culture of tolerance and building more inclusive and equitable societies.
It is through the media that individuals receive information, form opinions, and engage in crucial conversations that shape the course of our societies.
In an era where information flows at an unprecedented speed, media play a pivotal role in constructing narratives that can either unite or divide us.
So not only is it vital that the media report accurate, reliable and verified information, but it is equally important for the analyses, perspectives, and platforms for public engagement to champion a culture of inclusiveness, empathy, and respect.
Since ancient times, migration has been an integral part of Malaysia's historical narrative. It has enriched the nation's cuisine, arts, music, and languages, and infused the country with diverse cultures, traditions, and perspectives, creating a vibrant society.
Malaysia has embraced its diverse and multi-ethnic history as a source of its strength and unity.
Today, Malaysia is host to approximately three and a half million international migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless and undocumented persons. About one person in ten is a person on the move or away from home or lacking legal identity and therefore lacking the right to a life of dignity.
Values such as tolerance, respect for diversity and acceptance of different cultures, languages and religions are enshrined in Malaysia’s Federal Constitution.
But are those values also the foundations upon which societal attitudes and public opinions are built?
In recent times, particularly at times of heightened anxiety in society, we have witnessed the harmful impact of hostile speech on communities, exacerbating division, fear, and prejudice.
Hostile narratives perpetuate stereotypes, stigmatize vulnerable populations, and create an environment that hinders social cohesion and inclusion. They not only harm individuals and communities directly affected, but also have far-reaching consequences for policies and decision-making processes.
As journalists and media representatives, you hold immense power to influence public opinion and shape the discourse on human rights, tolerance, solidarity, and inclusiveness.
Through the power of storytelling, you can shape public perception, challenge misconceptions, and inspire action for positive change.
By portraying migrants and refugees as individuals with unique stories and aspirations, you can promote empathy and generate a shift in public discourse that humanizes their experiences and recognizes their rights and dignity.
By amplifying their voices and experiences, you can counteract stereotypes and foster a narrative that celebrates diversity, promotes inclusion, and builds bridges across communities.
It is in this spirit that the UN Human Rights Office, through its #StandUp4Migrants campaign, is seeking to replace narratives of fear, division and exclusion with those of hope, inclusion and the change we want to see in our societies.
Together with untitled kompeni the UN launched the Dari Dapur campaign (“Story from the kitchen”) earlier this year to build human rights-based narratives on migration and migrants in Malaysia.
The campaign was designed based on rigorously collected evidence, and an innovative approach to understand why and how Malaysians formed attitudes about migration and migrants; who are the ‘swayable’? where and how do they form their opinions? and which messaging and messengers appeal to them?
Please allow me to briefly share with you some of the main findings of the study which was conducted in partnership with Love Frankie Ltd, an Asia-Pacific social impact communications agency.
While confirming some level of anxiety about the cultural and other implications of migration,
- 52% of Malaysians believe migrants contribute positively to society and economy.
- 63% agree that communities are stronger when everyone is supported.
- Around 68% of Malaysians are in the 'swayable middle' and respond favorably to messages from trusted celebrities, social media influencers, and online news media.
These findings served as the basis of the Dari Dapur campaign.
The campaign featured short videos on social media platforms with Malaysian influencers and migrants cooking together, sharing stories, and highlighting commonalities.
Influencers and prominent personalities such as Lisa Surihani and Chef Wan were involved in the campaign, which reached nearly 1 million people on social media and was featured on various media outlets, including a 30-minute special program on Astro Awani.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When we gather around a shared meal, we not only nourish our bodies but also create an opportunity for cultural exchange and storytelling.
The act of sharing food becomes a gateway to sharing stories, traditions, and experiences, fostering understanding and appreciation for different cultures.
It is through these interactions that we can challenge stereotypes, break down barriers, and build bridges of empathy and connection.
"we share more in common than what divides us, no matter where we come from" was the message that resonated best with the audience.
As I conclude, I thank you for your commitment to ethical journalism and I call on you to embrace the transformative potential of storytelling to advance a narrative on migrants and refugees that upholds human rights, solidarity, and inclusiveness.
By disseminating stories that promote balance and empathy, you can highlight the shared humanity, resilience, and aspirations of individuals on the move.
By amplifying diverse voices and showcasing the rich contributions made by migrants and refugees to their host communities, you can foster understanding, and a sense of shared responsibility.
It will take the whole-of-society to challenge toxic narratives and create a more inclusive society where the rights and contributions of migrants and refugees are respected and, why not, celebrated.
Finally, I thank my colleagues in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Organization on Migration, and across the UN family for your unwavering dedication to upholding and promoting human rights.
It is through our engagement, all of us, with all stakeholders and our shared commitment to universal values that we can make a difference.