Contact Rayyan Sabet-Parry via Email
Former Consultant (Former title)
Rayyan Sabet-Parry coordinates and implements digital media strategies and campaigns for UNICEF Innocenti. Before that, he was a policy officer and a broadcast journalist for the BBC in London. Rayyan has previously worked as a correspondent for major media international outlets including The Associated Press, The Times of London and Canal + among others and speaks Russian and Persian (Farsi).
Can researchers and journalists find a common language?
Main stream media outlets are facing threats from all sides. Often criticised as sensationalist, news media preoccupation with scandal, corruption and violence is increasingly being called into question. The latest challenge - fake news - has led many to question the reliability of the entire news media profession. Developing deeper relations between the news media and the research community in today's political and social climate takes on added urgency. Can better cooperation between researchers and journalists provide a lifeline?The journalism and research communities have long had an uneasy relationship. The former is criticised for exaggerating research findings based on a small amount of data while important science and research developments fall far from view. Media houses argue that research findings lack news value and are not packaged correctly. Academics charge that journalists are only interested in shiny bright objects.It begs the question: Where and how does quality social science research on children fit in today's competitive and chaotic news landscape? Or viewed from the other end of the spectrum: What is news media's role in promoting quality research? Packaging important yet highly contextual, often incremental advances in knowledge for the world's media powerhouses is no easy task, especially in the current media landscape, where facts and alternative facts are seemingly put forward on an equal footing.Traditionally, journalism is concerned with the reporting of new or fresh information on matters of public interest, relayed accurately, speedily and impartially. However, the news industry requires editors to switch from one story to the next at a rapid pace, depending on the issues of the day. In the scientific community, the most 'newsworthy' events arise after research findings are repeatedly validated through independent replication. Well-crafted social science research does, however, make the headlines. UNICEF's most recent Innocenti Report Card, published in 2016, shone a bright light on inequality among the most disadvantaged children in high-income countries. Report Card made international headlines, but did that result only because of the sensation created by UNICEF turning its gaze toward children in the wealthiest countries?Another important piece of research on children didn't fare so well.These findings could potentially help educators in many countries understand that far from helping students, beatings actually retard student achievement.In 2015 UNICEF Innocenti in collaboration with Oxford's Young Lives longitudinal study published a research discussion paper on the effect of corporal punishment on children's educational progress. Up to 12,000 children were profiled in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Viet Nam for the study, marking a significant piece of research.Between 50-90 per cent of children, depending on the country, had witnessed corporal punishment being carried out in schools. Most importantly, students who were physically punished by teachers at age eight showed decreased achievement in studies at age 12, compared with students who were not beaten. This is important evidence of how beatings by teachers undermine long-term learning.New research is providing solid evidence that corporal punishment in school undermines children's progress in school. How can journalists turn this data into impact?These findings could potentially help educators in many countries understand that far from helping students, beatings actually retard student achievement. With corporal punishment in school still legal in 76 countries, and often widely practiced where it is outlawed, had these findings become global headlines, they could have sparked important changes in the way millions of school children are maltreated around the world.Developing deeper relations between media and research is crucial to ensuring research uptake. Quality research can enrich the news agenda considerably and contribute to the global discourse around children's rights on a wide scale. The power of the media rests in its ability to reach the eyes and ears of policy makers and development actors instantaneously.One way to start building better communication between journalists and researchers is to look for shared values. Journalists are experts at taking complex matters and breaking them down into bite-sized, easy to digest packages. Innately curious, they share many similar characteristics with researchers. Both are trained to base their reporting on multiple reliable sources and both professions take great pleasure in bringing facts to light.Trust and respect are two essential principles if we are to build better relations. There are excellent media professionals and organisations who have a sound grasp on data, science and research and who care deeply about the rights of children . Research and journalism are two complimentary spheres of endeavour both aiming to increase knowledge and define truth. We need to create many more in-depth opportunities for these spheres to align.Here are two lists of tips: one for researchers who want to communicate their findings in the news media and another for journalists who aspire to develop better reporting based on evidence and research.For researchers:Become familiar with the day-to-day challenges and pressures of news reporting in today's world.Become active on social media. This is where the media community gathers and provides a direct line of communication with them.Start blogging to widen your circles and instantly connect with important streams of discourse anywhere in the world.Be a thoughtful consumer of news and blogs and identify/follow those who understand data and science.Practice translating your research into common language and craft a short pitch, if possible including the scale of potential impact on populations.Explain how your research relates to the prominent issues of the day and present your findings concisely. Practice breaking the research down into a few key sentences.Reach out to specific journalists by name, not to media organisations, preferably by phone or direct message or social media messaging. Have your pitch ready to go.Seek to build long term relations with the media based on trust and respect.Research findings may not have the same news value as other stories and they are not to be treated as breaking news stories. Take your time in identifying which media outlets are best suited for the research and how you will structure your pitch.For journalists:Treat any outreach from the research world as a potentially high value news source. Bona fide social scientists are uncovering evidence to reveal something previously unknown or poorly understood.Researchers are often deeply absorbed in their data and not always adept at making it understood to everyone. Spend a bit more time than usual and work with them to understand their pitch.Understand the difference between single journal articles and systematic reviews of evidence, especially those using meta-analysis of research literature.Look for research that employs randomized control trials, a robust method of defining impact.Before deciding that a particular research story has limited news value make sure you understand its place among a body of evidence.A single research study rarely proves causation: ("Coffee causes cancer!") Learn how and when to apply the terms: "associated," "correlated" and "caused" in reporting.Where necessary explain that findings are preliminary, need validation/replication or add weight to a developing body of evidence. Rayyan Sabet Parry is a digital media consultant with UNICEF Innocenti. He has worked as a journalist with AP, The Independent, BBC, AFP and The Times of London. Follow him on Twitter here. Explore the UNICEF Innocenti research catalogue for new publications. Follow UNICEF Innocenti on Twitter and sign up for e-newsletters on any page of the UNICEF Innocenti website.
Why research should be a priority in the global response to the child migration crisis
With world leaders gathering at the United Nations for high level deliberations on the global migration crisis, the need for solid evidence to develop better policies on child migration has never been greater. As a response, UNICEF has released a new report, "Uprooted: The Growing Crisis for Migrant and Refugee Children," which includes comprehensive data on child migrants and refugees around the world. In addition UNICEF Innocenti has devoted the latest edition of Research Watch to the theme: Children on the Move. Rayyan Sabet-Parry, Consultant at UNICEF Innocenti, spoke to Bina D'Costa, a contributor to the new Research Watch portal and soon to join UNICEF Innocenti as a migration specialist. Rayyan Sabet-Parry: What are the main drivers pushing children to migrate, and why do we need to understand them better? Bina D'Costa: Children cross borders - within and outside states - for different reasons and in varying circumstances, both voluntary and involuntary. In a broad sense, economic, socio-political and environmental motivations influence children to migrate. Poverty has traditionally been one of the main drivers of migration of children, particularly from rural to urban locations. However, there is now a recognition that the poorest cannot so easily migrate to another country. Children are also trafficked to provide labour, forced to move because of political violence and environmental disasters. Although internal/domestic migration of children occurs persistently, it is perceived, albeit incorrectly, as ordinary, everyday migration. On the other hand, international migration of children is now more evident and because of conflict induced migration, understood as distinct, dangerous and traumatic. The mobility pathway deeply impacts on a child's development and the future of our world. We need to understand the migration patterns, because it matters. RSP: We see a lot of coverage of unaccompanied children in migration. Are more children migrating on their own? Bina D'Costa, scholar and researcher focusing on human rights, human security and migration issues.BD: This multifaceted and global humanitarian phenomenon involves children who are either sent by their families for protection, or are compelled to move following a loss of family in a crisis. Unaccompanied and separated children have long been a feature of migration flows. However, historically, in the context of official resettlement programs in developed countries, they have not been associated with refugee status. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, scores of children, including unaccompanied and separated children, started to arrive in Europe. Catastrophic events in different parts of the world have prompted many children to leave their homes alone. In part due to a lack of understanding of how serious this phenomenon is and in part due to the absence of any coordinated formal responses from the states and the international organizations, the horrific ordeals of unaccompanied and separated children have been largely overlooked. Recent research and advocacy has turned its attention to the experiences of children travelling alone. Because of sympathetic media coverage, and increasing interest from regulatory bodies, we now know that the numbers of unaccompanied children to developed countries, particularly the United States and Europe, has escalated dramatically due to poor economic conditions and protracted conflicts. Children are also crossing international borders at much younger ages. The number of unaccompanied girls has also been increasing at an alarming rate. RSP: Why is research on children migrants so important right now? BD: Child-sensitive and child-responsive research is incredibly important and could explain the dynamics of migration not captured by more general research on migration. Although vast data now exists chronicling the lives of migrants, we have less understanding of the movement of young people. Historically, receiving and origin societies have been more supportive of the migration of children and youth for a range of reasons. At one end of the spectrum, societies often have an exploitative interest in child migrants, who are valued for their labour, and at the other end, there exists genuine compassion and recognition that the international community must commit together to support child migrants. RSP: How can better evidence improve the situation for children in migration? BD: Children should be given the opportunity to become productive and valued members of the society through careful adaptation and integration which respects their cultural diversity and be sensitive to the profound trauma that these children have suffered. We have limited literature that includes perspectives of child migrants. Evidence based research can also help us distinguish between the needs and protection strategies for the hyper-visible and vulnerable child migrants from the independent and invisible child migrants. RSP: What are the main challenges for legal systems in terms of protecting the rights of children in migration? BD: The failure of legislative measures to address the specific circumstances and vulnerabilities of children, the lack of sincere commitment of parties, particularly those caught up in conflicts and a failure to form strong and unified regulatory regimes capable of dealing with child migrant rights are among some of the major challenges in protecting children. Legal systems focus on protection from the most egrarious violations of children's rights and fall short in providing for children's wellbeing and development. The reach of laws is often poor due to a lack of awareness, lack of respect and lack of enforcement and because children are uniquely susceptible to exploitation. Children are often harmed by those who should be protecting them. Child migrant agencies are frequently ignored or manipulated in the interest of state parties. RSP: How do you end the detention of children seeking refugee status? What are the alternatives? BD: States must ensure humane and appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect children seeking sanctuary. We need to recognize that one of the most inhumane ways of assessing a child's refugee status is housing children in detention facilities. Advocacy and evidence based research reveals the harmful consequences of detention on children. The outputs of such research need to be communicated effectively to state parties. There are alternatives to prolonged and mandatory detention. Children could be provided with community care following appropriate assessments of risks and benefits. Usually community care is far easier and cheaper, and involves fewer risks to the mental health and wellbeing of children. RSP: How can we protect child refugees and migrants from exploitation and violence? BD: Approximately half of the 19 million registered refugees globally are children and youth. Advocating for protection becomes a much more complex process for children who are forced to flee their homes and have their citizenship stripped. Almost without any exception all child refugees experience severe stress and anxiety. Many children, who are forced to flee are taken by armed groups and can be used to perpetrate violence against others. Four specific advocacy approaches are critical in ensuring the protection of child refugees: publicly naming those who target children; establishing children's 'peace zones'; lobbying for a more rigorous normative framework of protection; and establishing international alerts to ensure that states and non-state actors comply with existing humanitarian and human rights norms. RSP: Finally, is there a role for research in making societies more welcoming and receptive to child migrants? BD: We need systematic analyses to understand the dynamics of child migration. There also has to be close collaboration between researchers, policymakers and activists allowing us to express the nuances of child-sensitive and child-responsive migratory processes. Research, in particular evidence-based research, can persuade international, regional and state actors that the migration of children is a humanitarian issue not just a political issue. Research can dispel myths and anxieties surrounding migration, and could help design strategies that are effective in resettling children. Good research can also explain to advocates for child migrants how and why certain political decisions are taken, and support the explicit integration of children's rights and protection in the migration agenda. ------------- Bina D'Costa will soon take up her duties as research and evaluation specialist (migration) at UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti. Before that she was the Director of Teaching in the Department of International Relations for the Australian National University in Canberra. Rayyan Sabet-Parry is a consultant with UNICEF Innocenti. The Office of Research - Innocenti is UNICEF's dedicated research centre undertaking research on emerging and current priorities to shape policy and practice for children. Subscribe to UNICEF Innocenti emails here. Follow UNICEF Innocenti on Twitter here. Access the complete Innocenti research catalogue: unicef-irc.org/publications