05 May 2019

What impacts the way media organizations across Europe report on migration? Does what happens behind the scenes in media organizations affect reporting on migration and even the migration policies? Rob McNeil, a researcher at the Centre on Migration Policy and Society, discusses the findings of a research project conducted by three institutions, the University of Oxford’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, the Budapest Business School and the European Journalism Centre on precisely those questions. The project, which consisted of interviewing more than 200 journalists and professionals from other media sectors, focused on analyzing the relationship between media and the phenomenon of migration in nine different European countries. In this article, the following key questions are highlighted:

  • How journalists across Europe perceive their work as journalists;
  • How journalists perceive the phenomenon of migration when reporting it in the news;
  • The relationship between the press and the shaping of contemporary political and societal landscapes. 

When it comes to the first question, it has become evident that journalists in different European countries have contrasting conceptions about their profession and the role of journalism as a whole: while a Swedish newspaper reporter will hold a positive opinion on the two points mentioned above, this will not be the case for his or her British counterpart. Furthermore, the two interviewees will adopt different approaches to tackling the issue of migration in their articles, so that the view which will transpire from the Swedish reporter’s work with regard to migration will be a positive one, while the UK journalist will focus more on the negative aspects related to the phenomenon, so as to cause “a reaction in readers”. 

Reporting the issue of migration in the context of media and newspaper poses, inevitably, the question of bias. Either because of national, political and social factors or due to reasons related to what the editor or the owner of the newspaper think of the issue, the standing point of the journalist is very likely to be influenced one way or another when writing about migration and migrants. A further problematic aspect is represented by the use of certain terminology in referring to the phenomenon. For instance, the term “migrant” used in a Hungarian newspaper will carry a negative, political connotation. In countries such as Spain and Italy, the emphasis will be placed on the recipients of the news and thus on the emotional grip associated with the phenomenon on the audience, while in countries such as Germany and Sweden, the reporting of what may be defined as contentious news will employ more technical terminology and will attempt to be as accurate and closer to the reality of the facts as possible. 

Finally, one very important issue raised in the original article is the relation of mutual dependency between the media and the cultural practices of one particular country: certain cultural practises will determine the type of news the journalist is likely to write about and, equally, the news reported on the issue of migration are likely to influence public opinion, society and the process of policy-making. An example made by the researcher is that of Hungary, where the relationship between media and politics is of the “patron and client” type, this to underline the extent to which the latter can influence and exploit the former as a tool for propaganda. 

Series this is part of: 

This project is funded by: