Comparing to other countries in Europe, British newspapers are the most negative when talking about the migrant and refugee crisis, a study from the Cardiff University’s Journalism School has shown. The study looked at the coverage of the 'migrant crisis' and in particular the types of sources used by the press, the terminology used and the themes highlighted and the range of explanations given for the crisis and suggestions for how it could be resolved.
In most countries surveyed, both right and left wing newspapers tended to report using the same sources, themes and explanations for the crisis. In contrast, British reporting was much more polarised and aggressive.
With a few exceptions, such as the Guardian and to a lesser extent the Daily Mirror, only a low proportion of UK articles featured humanitarian themes e.g. Daily Mail 20.9%, The Sun 7.1%, while the EU average was 38.3%. The right-wing press consistently endorsed a hardline anti-refugee and migrant, Fortress Europe approach. And the UK right-wing press tends to publish more articles describing refugees and migrants as a threat to the United Kingdom's welfare and benefits system. (Daily Telegraph 15.8%, Daily Mail 41.9%, The Sun 26.2%, EU average 8.9%).
But it is the way the British press angle the stories, which is also of concern. While in the EU press, the journalist may challenge negative commentary on refugees and migrants or balance it with other sources, British right-wing press continuously reinforce anti-refugee and migrant themes through the angles taken in stories, editorials and comment pieces.
Looking at the study, we can see a UK press which is comparatively more polarised and more negative on migration than in other EU countries. It seems (parts of) the British press miss the chance for an open a discussion about the contribution of a multicultural society and also about the country's humanitarian responsibility. It is missing a better coverage about what is happening in Syria and reports explaining the reason for people are fleeing from other places where Human Rights are not respected, such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan and Iraq.
Generally in all the countries surveyed including the UK, very little reporting – especially outside the German and Swedish press – focused on the positive economic, social or cultural contributions that refugees and migrants could make to EU states. Additionally most papers did not focus on the root causes of the crisis, but rather on its symptoms such as search-and-rescue operations or attacking smugglers.
The Cardiff University study also highlights recent research into attitudes to migrants which found that: “Italians (57%), Greeks (56%) and Britons (48%) were found to be most in favour of more restrictive asylum policies, while Germans, Spaniards and Swedes tended to say that their asylum policies were either about right – or should actually be less restrictive.” The study is careful to attribute attitudes exclusively to media reporting, but point out that other “research has demonstrated that the kind of media messages that we found in our British press sample – repetitive, negative, narrow and derogatory – can be highly influential.”
The study also analysed and has found some controversy regarding the use of the words: migrant, refugee and illegal immigrant. “While Germany (91.0%) and Sweden (75.3%) overwhelmingly used the terms “refugee” or “asylum seeker”, in Spain the most widely (67.1%) used term was “immigrant” and in Britain (54.2%) and Italy (35.8%) the word was “migrant”.” It is interesting to see the clear use of the words refugee or asylum seeker in Sweden and Germany, given their also welcoming policy stance towards these individuals in 2015.
The study highlights how important and necessary it is for the press to commit to factual, critical, nuances reporting, doing more investigative journalism and listening to all parties involved, not only one side of the story in order to contribute to a more inclusive and fair society, It is crucial that the readers get the real facts and understand why people keep moving from one place to another. It will help to create a stronger and more united Europe for all.