Fighting Fiction with Facts: the BCN Anti-Rumour Campaign
City Council enlists community agents to dispel myths about immigrants and fight discrimination with facts and good humour
“Immigrants are invading…”
“Immigrants receive more financial aid to open their businesses…”
“Immigrants are overcrowding our health services…”
“Immigrants don’t want to integrate or learn our language…”
Whatever the turn of phrase or group targeted, misinformation has the power to create conflict and misery for its victim and send messages that can be difficult to dispel.
In November 2010, when the Barcelona City Council unveiled its long-term strategy to improve coexistence among local and new immigrants, it launched a clever public service campaign to dispel rumours, misconceptions and the prejudices that many local people held about minorities and immigrants.
Among the city’s weapons? They recruited and trained ‘anti-rumour agents’ to dispel myths and spread the campaign through local organizations and the city’s neighbourhoods. Their mission? To contradict uninformed ideas about immigrants and combat discrimination. How? To take action as needed while traveling though the ordinary business of daily life.
Campaign Tools: The Human Touch
Debunking myth and rumour, often the unintended products of misinformation, is the primary aim of the campaign. Since individual contact plays an important role in changing people’s minds, campaign organizers recognized that a key strategy to eliminate discrimination would be to put a human face on the message –and the messenger.
Based on a similar project enacted in 2003 by the regional council of nearby Vallès, the first part of the project identified the main stereotypes and prejudices that were circulating in Barcelona. These included five themes:
- the arrival of new migrants;
- abuse of social and health care services;
- failing to declaring income or paying taxes;
- anti-social behaviour in public spaces; and
- taking jobs from locals.
Next, they equipped the ‘anti-rumour agent’ with accurate information about migrants and techniques for addressing misconceptions with nimble situation-based action at work, home or in the street. So, when someone complained that ‘subsidized apartments go mainly to foreigners’, the city anti-rumour agent could quickly interject: “Today only one in 20 immigrants receive such a benefit.”
Recognizing that the greatest challenge was not framing the message, but getting it out into Barcelona’s streets, the city launched its campaign through a network of 80 local organizations that work in the field of social cohesion and coexistence. The Anti-Rumour Network members are all connected through a dedicated website offering information, free training sessions and online guides to address key challenges. Once trained, anti-rumour agents are able to spread their messages throughout their own networks as well as participate in public discussions and debates. More than 30 information and training have been held at local civic centres (casals) with more to come.
The Anti-Rumour Network also uses a variety of innovative approaches to carry its message – some more unusual than others. In addition to a city-wide advertising campaign, the project has hosted a public debates with leading local figures, supported street theatre and produced tongue-in-cheek videos for non-readers. However, its greatest success has been comic books.
Blanca and Rosita
One of the more unusal approaches used by the campaign used to publicize its message is a comic book series called Blanca Rosita Barcelona. Written by acclaimed-Spanish illustrator Miguel Gallardo, it tells the story of Rosita, an elderly woman from southern Spain who lives in Barcelona with her young Peruvian caregiver, Blanca.
Each volume explores a campaign theme through the context of everyday life. For example, the story of Rosita and Blanca’s visit to the doctor aims to dispel the myth that immigrants supposedly overuse or have easier access to health and social services. It also informs us that most immigrants are young people who use the health care system less than the older Spanish señora. The comic ends with a ‘Did you know?’ section that provides official data about the subject. The comic books are distributed for free at social service centres, libraries and Citizens’ Advice Bureaux (OAC).
Did You Know?
The ‘Did you know?’ part of the campaign is based on key messages on the BCN Anti-Rumours Network website. New on the site is an amusing series of four videos, based on sketch comedy, that poke fun at various stereotypes, such as losing cultural identity because of immigrants.
Since the launch of the Anti-Rumour Campaign and its network as part of the City of Barcelona’s Interculturality Plan (devoted to improving cultural diversity within the city), the campaign has celebrated a number of milestones. More than 350 people have been trained as ‘anti-rumour agents’. The first issue of Rosita Blanca Barcelona received a print run of 10,000 copies which was doubled for the second issue. A third volume (out of five) is underway. And a new guidebook to combat prejudices and stereotypes is now available online.
Barcelona City Council means business. Not only has it created a dedicated intercultural dialogue fund of €200,000 per annum for community led projects that promote anti-rumour campaign goals, BCN has also invested in a powerful partnership with local media organizations to educate journalists, promote awareness and be ready to respond constructively to negative news. A media monitoring group that includes organizations like Col•legi de Periodistes de Catalunya (Professional Association of Journalists) and the Taula per la diversitat (Panel for Diversity) on the Consell Audiovisual de Catalunya (Catalan Broadcasting Council), and others, will meet regularly to discuss how the media deals with cultural diversity and share good practices –and respond to bad ones.
Most importantly, the BCN Anti-Rumours Network is proving to be a travelling Good Idea. Other city councils in the state of Catalonia are working on establishing their own versions, such as in El Prat, Castelldefels, Tàrrega, Arbúcies and Mataró. Spanish towns in Granada and the Basque Region have shown interest as have other European cities, including Athens and Geneva.
For this Good Idea contact:
Ramon Sanahuja Director of Immigration and Interculturality, Barcelona City Council
Manager’s Office for Quality of Life, Equality and Sports
Passeig de Sant Joan 75