Stevie Palmer, Staff Writer
Immigration has been a hot topic of conversation for a while now. Not only in terms of public policy, but also in the media. The debate surrounding immigration in the media, raises the question to what extent does the media play a role in shaping our opinions of immigration, and subsequently public policy.
Migration can be broken down into multiple facets. Economic migration, family migration and forced migration to name a few. Since 1951, there has been an upsurge in legislation surrounding migration and the rights of asylum seekers in particular. This comes in response to increasing numbers of refugees seeking asylum, with the rise of war and the increasing number of displaced peoples.
It may come of no surprise to you that on average western news media frames immigration in a negative way. We need only look as far as the UK press to see the plethora of nasty headlines surrounding ‘invaders’, ‘terrorists’ and the economic downfall that will come from this ‘wave of immigrants. A study by the Migrant Observatory at Oxford found that of 43 million words used to describe migrants in British newspapers from 2010-2012, the word most commonly associated with Migrant with Illegal, with other most common words associated with security being ‘terrorist’ or ‘sham’.
But what does all this mean with regards to public opinion?
A Literary Review by Eberl et al. (2018) found that the media has a significant – perhaps even predominant – influence in shaping public opinion towards immigration. These beliefs may be economic, such as promoting fears that immigrants will come and ‘steal our jobs’, or cultural, thanks to the media’s propagation of the ‘West versus the rest’ mentality. However, the biased opinions that the media perpetuate fail to mention the other sides to immigration.
In most cases, immigration can lead to diversity, cultural growth and economic advancement, something that is all but left out of the media’s violent and threatening narrative of migration. The exclusion of this part of immigration has damaging consequences for people’s views on immigrants, their subsequent voting behaviour and in turn, public policy.
Increased anti-immigration sentiment in the media has led to a subsequent rise in anti-immigration positions in public policy: this means it is becoming increasingly hard for people to migrate, especially for those who have no option but to escape unrest or persecution in their homelands. The impacts of rising nationalism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in Britain and globally are keenly felt here as parties try to align their policies with public views, fulfilling the demands of their voters.. This is exemplified in the positive correlation between rising anti-immigration sentiments and the rise of new radical right parties across Europe (Hutter and Hanspeter, 2021), who preach for nationalism and against immigration.
Moreover, the media having a monopoly over the narrative of migration means many people remain blind to many of the underlying reasons for such forced migration, and the role that countries such as the UK play in fuelling the refugee crisis. As the UK helps to perpetuate the unrest which forces the people to leave, only to deny them entry to a ‘safer’ country.
I implore you, if nothing else, to think next time you see an anti-immigration stance in the media, to question the agenda behind it and the other side of the story they choose to omit.