British coverage of refugees dubbed “most hostile” in Europe

British coverage of the refugee crisis is the most xenophobic in Europe, Cardiff University researchers pointed out yesterday.

Presenting a research commissioned by the UNHCR, Mike Berry, Kerry Moore and Inaki Garcia Blanco said Britain received the most inaccurate, dehumanising and hostile coverage of the refugee crisis in the entire continent.

According to Kerry Moore: “The national press has represented asylum seekers as a threat to society and social resources, and dodged humanitarian categories whenever possible.”

The research, called “Saving refugees or policing the seas? How the national press of five EU member states frame news coverage of migration”, analysed press coverage of the refugee crisis in Britain, Germany, Sweden, Italy and Spain, taking into consideration a sample of over 300 articles from the most read national newspapers – Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Guardian and Telegraph for the UK.

According to the researchers, British coverage has been “abnormal”, in that it has been far more negative than in countries more hit by the refugee crisis.

Threats to benefits and social security have been a far more prominent theme in the UK than in the rest of Europe, where they are hardly mentioned at all, despite the very generous benefit systems in Sweden and Germany.

Iñaki Garcia Blanco said, “The Daily Mail is the only media outlet in Europe mentioning benefit tourism as the main reason why refugees come to Britain. It mentioned it in 40% of its articles.

“While other countries focused more on rescue operations in the Mediterranean [Italy] or post-arrival integration [Germany], in Britain the debate revolved around Calais, fueling the impression the migrants were a threat ‘just across the border’.”

The death of child Alan Kurdi was one of the only stories not related to Calais. Most British articles have focused on the camp across the border, contributing to portray refugees as a lurking threat to the country
The death of child Alan Kurdi was one of the only stories not related to Calais. Most British articles have focused on the camp across the border, contributing to portray refugees as a lurking threat to the country

The researchers also bashed British coverage for letting domestic politicians set the news agenda, leading to a polarised and populist debate.

“Some British papers went as far as referring to UNCHR proposals as ‘left-wing garbage’, trying to ‘interfere with our sovereignty of state’ and willing to ‘give us lessons’.”

Researchers found that Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden enjoy a more engaged public debate driven by humanitarian and war themes rather than economic threats.

In Sweden, for example, many papers represented the refugee crisis as an economic opportunity for the country, and have sympathised with asylum seekers reminding the public that Swedes were in the same conditions in the 1940s.

Every country failed to talk about “push factors” – why asylum seekers are leaving their countries.

The research will be published in the coming months and will guide the UNHCR in its attempts to set the agenda to tackle the crisis.

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