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Talking about human rights: how to identify and engage a range of audiences

September 12th 2018

The Equality and Human Rights Commission commissioned research to help them understand public attitudes to human rights and to specific human rights issues, and inform their work to promote understanding of the importance of human rights. The research has focused in particular on gaining a more detailed picture of people with mixed views on human rights – a group identified in previous research – and their values and motivations to support human rights. This is a summary of the key findings and recommendations for talking to the public about human rights.

Why is this important?

Great Britain has a long tradition of protecting and promoting human rights at home and abroad. Human rights are fundamental to our way of life, and we must guard against anything that weakens them, including the laws and mechanisms that allow individuals to enjoy and enforce them. Yet, human rights can seem like a difficult topic to discuss with the public. Certainly, they have suffered from a bad reputation in recent years, with a review from 2013 finding that ‘human rights’ was only used in a positive context in 30% of articles, blogs and parliamentary speeches in Great Britain. Our own media analysis found that articles about human rights published by six major news outlets over the course of 2017 were dominated by a discussion of Britain’s relationship with Europe and immigration.

We have a statutory duty to promote awareness, understanding and protection of human rights. Our objectives are to safeguard and enhance the human rights legal framework.

Although human rights compete with a number of other issues on the policy agenda, public opinion can often influence policy-makers and government priorities. We believe that if we can increase public understanding of what human rights are and the positive value they bring, then people become powerful stakeholders and supporters of the work we and other organisations are doing.

Key Findings

  1. Audience: Attitudes towards human rights are complex and nuanced. It is important to identify different audiences and how to talk to them.
  2. Understanding of human rights: The more informed people feel about human rights, the more likely they are to think human rights are important. Educating the public about human rights, what they mean and how they work, may help address the lack of knowledge that can lead to negative and resistant views.
  3. Attitudes towards human rights: A key drivers analysis is a powerful means of identifying the views that drive support for an idea. The research identified which ideas motivate each audience to believe that human rights are important, and also those ideas which have a negative impact on their perceived importance. Brexit and universality are two key drivers.

Recommendations

  1. Talk about human rights positively
  2. Connect people with what they value
  3. Set out a long-term strategy for demonstrating the importance of human rights

For Equinet work on these issues, please see the publications below, talking about positive framing and values-based communciation respectively.

Framing Equality: Communication Handbook for Equality Bodies (2017)
Framing Equality: Communication Handbook for Equality Bodies (2017)
Valuing Equality (2012)
Valuing Equality (2012)


Download the EHRC report here.