The European Parliament elections were supposed to be about migration. Anti-immigrant and far-right parties were preparing to topple the status quo thanks to popular discontent over immigration, reforming the EU in their own image. However, the actual results of the vote are proving to be much more nuanced.
It’s true that anti-migrant parties triumphed in some of the largest EU Member States, including France and Italy. However, the anti-immigrant AfD fizzled into fourth place in Germany, and across Europe there has been no clear breakthrough by the far-right.
So, did European media overstate the importance of migration? The think tank Friends of Europe has been looking at the issue of migration as part of its Migration Action programme. They recently held an event in Brussels looking at fake news, disinformation, and media narratives on migration in the context of the European Parliament elections. We spoke to some of the participants and put a couple of our readers’ questions to them to see how they would respond.
First, though, do journalists have a negative view of migration? In a series of interviews with over 200 journalists from across the EU, researchers from the University of Oxford, the Budapest Business School, and the European Journalism Centre looked at attitudes to migration in European media. Unsurprisingly, they found a great diversity of attitudes influencing how migration is reported.
In the UK, for example, one tabloid journalist explained that the term “migrant” had been loaded with negative connotations by the press partly because it helps to sell papers: “[T]here is more newsworthiness in a foreign criminal or a teenager who’s being looked after by the council than, say, a brilliant academic who’s come here to further their career … so from our perspective it’s more newsworthy if people are abusing the system or exploiting loopholes or abusing the hospitality being extended to them by British society … because that triggers a reaction in readers.”
Of course, there isn’t really such a thing as the “European media”. In truth, the media landscape across Europe (and, indeed, within individual Member States) is diverse and pluralistic, with a range of political views and opinions expressed. Many of the journalists interviewed in the research above were much more neutral (or even positive) about migration.
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Emrah, who believes the media is promoting a negative view of Islam in Europe, leading Europeans to think that every refugee from a Muslim-majority country is a potential terrorist. Is he right?
To get a response, we put his comment to Tom Law, Deputy Director of the Ethical Journalism Network. What would he say?
I think that, unfortunately, that is true of many media organisations in Europe. I think that is largely to do with the political biases and affiliations of some media organisations, but also in relation to their business models. Media that rely on sensationalism to sell newspapers or to get clicks will often be driven towards this kind of reporting and away from more nuanced and balanced and fair reporting of migration.
I would also say that we have to be careful about generalising about the media. There are many very good organisations that are reporting on migration and winning awards for their coverage. So, I don’t think it’s fair to generalise in that sense, though I do share his concern, absolutely. I think it’s up to audiences to make sure they reward journalism that they see as being fair towards migration and all the different aspects of it, and not engage in hate, sensationalism, or Islamophobia.
So, I do agree with Emrah, but I think we also have to look at the good coverage of migration and not see ‘the media’ as one entity. There are many different variations and different standards between different organisations in different countries.
We also had a comment sent in from Gustav, who thinks today’s media are obsessed with the number of views they get and so they focus on the most extreme and shocking stories. Is he right? Do (some) European media sensationalise the migration issue in order to get clicks?
We put this comment to Inma Vazquez, Representative to the EU and NATO of Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF), an organisation that works on the ground with migrants and refugees. What was her perspective?
MSF does a lot of public communication. It’s always been one of the pillars of our organisation and, historically, the public communication we’ve done has been about denouncing the horrors we witness.
However, there has been a change in the way migration is being reported. For example, something that has shocked our communication people is that when we put out stories about the situation inside Libya (which are horror stories, as you know) these are not reported on. We put it on our website, we send out press releases, but they are not reported. To us, it feels like this kind of story is no longer considered ‘sensationalist’ today in a way that journalists are attracted to. It’s not news anymore to talk about the horrors inside Libya.
However, it is news today to talk about the ‘collusion’ of NGOs with migrants and traffickers. That is news, still, and still comes with condemnation from politicians. So, is it really because the media only want to highlight sensationalism? Because, the thing is that there are many sensationalist stories out there in terms of news about migration. There is shocking news about violence towards migrants. It is available. Yet it is not picked by the big media today.
Are journalists responsible for the negative view of migration? Do the media sensationalise the issue of migration in order to sell papers? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!