PIN RESEARCH: HOW DO THE CZECH, SLOVAK AND ESTONIAN MEDIA REPORT ON MIGRATION?

PIN RESEARCH: HOW DO THE CZECH, SLOVAK AND ESTONIAN MEDIA REPORT ON MIGRATION?

3. 11. 2019

How do the Czech media inform about migration topics more than three years after the outbreak of the so-called refugee crisis? A team of analysts led by the sociologist Pavel Pospěch from Masaryk University Brno investigated this question in a study for People in Need´s Migration Awareness Program. The research results show, that the current media reports on migration are depersonalized; their number always rises before the elections, they almost solely focus on asylum seekers or holders and ignore migrants actually living in the Czech Republic. 

Mostly politicians are commenting on the topic in the media – experts are being asked much less often and migrants hardly get any space. The main themes of migration news are migration policy and immigration-related problems or unrest – the latter is dominating the news coverage about Germany. The research conducted in Czech Republic, Slovakia and Estonia included interviews with editors revealing the background and context of news reporting.

The comparative report EXPOSED: Media coverage of migration in Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovakia is available here (in English)

The research report MIGRATION WITHOUT MIGRANTS? The media image of migration and immigrants in Czech Republic is available here (only in Czech)

The research focused on the three most widely read print media (MF Dnes, Právo and Lidové noviny) and the three most widely read online news sites (iDnes, Novinky, Aktualne) in 2015–2018 and for a more in-depth analysis in 5.8. - 4.10.2018, which means two months before municipal and Senate elections. A long-term analysis has shown that the term 'refugee' is disappearing from the media and being replaced by 'migrant'. Overall, however, both terms relating to migrants have diminished - in contrast to the general term 'migration', which stays in focus of media attention. This shows that interest is shifting away from humans towards an abstract problem. Frequency of reports on migration and migrants has shown to be increasing regularly before the elections - whether presidential, parliamentary, regional or municipal. It usually declines again after their completion. The interviewed journalists confirm the finding that migration is a topic of political struggle in the Czech Republic. Moreover, it´s politicians who most often get to talk about this topic in the media. Compared to them, the voice of experts and migrants themselves is strongly overshadowed.

“With some simplification we can say that there are two groups of migrants: those who are living in or coming to the Czech Republic, and those who appear in the news. Basically, these groups do not overlap: media is not interested in foreigners who really live or want to live in the Czech Republic and on the contrary, we see many reports on a kind of migration which only marginally affects the Czech Republic,” says the main researcher Pavel Pospěch. This is evidenced by the countries of origin of migrants, which are most frequently mentioned in the Czech media - Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Eritrea. From these countries, only a handful of people migrate to the Czech Republic. However, migrants living there in larger numbers such as Ukrainians and Vietnamese hardly appear in the news and most journalists do not consider them an attractive topic. Mainly foreign countries are in the focus - after the Mediterranean region, Germany is the most frequent scene of migration reports.

The analysis of the most common thematic frameworks in the news also confirms that migration is perceived mainly as a political issue. In the print media, the topic of migration appears primarily in the context of the migration policy of the EU or its member countries. At this point, print and online media differ: on news websites, most news fell under the thematic framework 'Migration-related problems and unrest in another country', followed by 'Migration policy'. Conversely, articles on the topic 'Life of Refugees and Migrants' accounted for only a marginal share in the whole migration reporting.

This tendency is even more pronounced when we look at the reports on migration from Germany - especially in the online media, but also in the press - 'immigration-related problems and unrest' make the vast part of what is written about migration and Germany. "The media tells us almost nothing about the majority of migrants who just live their lives and integrate into society - for example, why they came, how they live and what they, the state and civil society do for their integration," says Adéla Jurečková from PIN´s Migration Awareness Program. 

According to surveys, most Czechs do not have personal experience with asylum seekers or people who have been granted asylum, and thus their ideas about these people are mainly being shaped by what they learn about them from the media. “Media that strongly favor negative issues - such as failed integration and crime - give their readers an image of troubled and dangerous migrants. This picture corresponds to the dominant political discourse in the Czech Republic. The media and political constructions of the topic thus confirm each other, although the resulting picture of migration may not reflect reality,” adds Pospěch. The interviewed journalists explain the popularity of 'crime news' connected to migrants by, among other things, the fact that the negative and fear-provoking reports on migration are attractive for their readers. They often click on these articles and share them, which brings the online media commercial benefit.

Photographs showing migrants and refugees in the researched period mostly depicted larger groups, clearly dominated by men. Only a small number of photographs showed the lives of migrants after their arrival in their destination country, almost none their situation before coming to Europe.

Field trips, training, clarification of terminology, sufficient amount of time – availability of resources that journalists could use in their work on such a complex issue as migration is, according to their own words, only limited. None of the editorial offices of the journalists we talked to has been debating about whether their reporting on migration issues is in line with their own code of ethics.

Similar research was carried out in Slovakia and Estonia and confirmed similar tendencies, but there were also differences between the Czech and Slovak news. In Slovakia (and partly also in Estonia) the topic of the labour market and labour migration to both countries was more pronounced and the media reports as well focused on migrants e.g. from Ukraine, while the Czech media depicted migration almost solely in the context of the so-called refugee crisis. In the Estonian and Slovak media, migrants also slightly more often got a voice. 

“The aim of our research is not to criticize the media. Journalists work under great time pressure and the media often lacks the financial resources needed to send editors to the countries of origin of migrants and refugees, or to give them opportunity to get a better understanding of the complicated issue of migration - including its legal, political or economic context. Therefore, we want to give them a chance to look at their work on migration from a distance and have a discussion with them”, Jurečková concludes.

The research was funded by the European Union's Rights, Equality and Citizenship Program (2014-2020) under the project “People between the Lines: Building Skills for Quality Migration Coverage”. 
The comparative analysis was developed in cooperation with partner organizations MONDO (Estonia) and People in Need (Slovakia).

Author: Varianty - Program migrace