Migration Coverage Study: National Interests Frame Media Debate


By Moran Barkai, editorial assistant, DataDrivenJournalism.net.

“Migration predominantly tends to be viewed through the lens of the particular interest of the host country. Because of this, the media does not sufficiently treat migration as an issue that relates to an international, cross-border framework.” This is the conclusion of the Comparative Pilot Study on Media Coverage of Migration, a joint project of the European Journalism Centre (EJC) and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), conducted in collaboration with five academic and media research institutes in Europe and North America, and supported by the Open Society Foundations.


Figure 1: Type of migration per country in percentages

The pilot project, which analysed and compared the content and tone of press articles about migration published in Canada, France, Germany, The Netherlands, and the U.S. around election periods, indicated that the focus of media coverage is heavily influenced by the societal problems specific to each country. The media in France, for instance, tended to concentrate on the strain migrants allegedly put on the social system, while in the U.S., the press largely reflected on the voting power of migrant groups.


Figure 2: Migration type and topic co-occurrence

An analysis of the co-occurrence of migration types and migration-related topics in the press also indicated the media tend to correlate irregular migrants with law and policy topics, and minorities with issues of citizenship and political participation. These two clusters, in turn, are strongly connected with themes of culture and religion, indicating a trans-national preoccupation with questions of security, identity, and new, ethnic epicentres of political power.

Finally, a study of the articles’ tone revealed an attempt on the media’s part to maintain a neutral perspective towards migrants, an attempt that was at times offset by a tendency to cite one-sided studies or offensive political declarations, without putting them in perspective or counter-balancing them with other sources.

About the pilot study

For this study, the EJC partnered with the University of King's College (Canada), Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (France), Deutsche Welle Akademie (Germany), Christelijke Hogeschool Ede (The Netherlands), and the University of Missouri (United States). The research team took snapshots of press reports on the subject of migration, analysed and coded them according to the related migration topic discussed and the overall tone of the report. All in all, 650 written press articles were collected in the five countries within a four-week time frame surrounding national and regional election periods.

The findings of the study were presented at the 2013 UNAOC Global Forum in Vienna, on 28 February 2013. You can watch a video recording of the panel discussion here.