Migrants depicted as criminals and a burden by media

Migrant groups are under-represented in media coverage and are often framed as economic, cultural or criminal threats and covered in a “highly unfavourable way,” a study has found.

The words ‘migrants’ and ‘immigrants’ are “closely associated with the frame of economic threat – for instance, threat of increased competition on the labour market –, while ‘refugees’ and ‘asylum seekers’ are associated with an economic burden – such as a burden on the welfare system”.

Among others, a research paper on the media discourse on migration found that Eastern Europeans are more often depicted as a threat to the economy and welfare system, while non-Europeans are seen as a threat to the host countries’ culture.

Roma were found to be more frequently depicted as an economic threat than other groups, while North-Africans are seen to be more of a cultural threat than Eastern-Europeans. North-Africans are most closely associated with the security threat frame, and as a cultural threat, but not at all with an economic threat frame.

It pointed out that most studies dealing with news coverage about immigration focus on issue-specific frames and analyse the importance of economic, welfare, cultural, or security considerations within migration coverage.

The study pointed out that the visibility of migration issues varies across time, media outlets and genres.

The importance of immigration issues in media coverage eventually influences audiences’ political attitudes and party preferences. “Threats concerning the economy, culture, or security are especially influential on attitudes toward migrant groups or immigration in general”. Mostly negative coverage of immigration can lead to activation of stereotypical cognitions of migrant groups and repeated exposure to might in the long run “influence perceptions of political actors and even audiences’ voting behaviour”.

Also, ignoring social media and entertainment discourses on immigration and migrant groups is a part of the media reality “that a large portion of European audiences use exclusively or in addition to news stories”. Even less is known about the impact of social media or entertainment media on citizens’ immigration attitudes

As anti-immigrant parties are on the rise throughout Europe, and given that the open border policies within Europe are increasingly challenged, research needs to understand immigration discourses in the media and its influences on public opinion with a more holistic approach.

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