Migrants in the newspapers: An influx of illegal, failed, economic terrorists?

8th August 2013

A comprehensive analysis of more than 40 million words used by British national newspapers to describe immigration and migrants over the past three years has been published today by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.

The Migration in the News study took every article that mentioned 'immigrants', 'migrants', 'asylum seekers' and 'refugees' (and variations on those words) from 20 national daily and Sunday newspapers over three full years (2010-2012) to create a 'corpus' of 58,000 articles made up of more than 43 million words. The team then used computerised linguistic analytics to identify the words most commonly and regularly associated with the various different terms in different types of newspaper.

The newspapers analysed were:

  • Tabloids: The Sun, The Sun on Sunday, The Daily Star, Daily Star Sunday, The Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror, The People.
  • Mid Market: The Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday, the Daily Express, The Sunday Express.
  • Broadsheet: The Times, The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, the Financial Times, The Independent, the Independent on Sunday, The Guardian, The Observer.

Key findings from the report included:

Descriptors (words which immediately precede the search terms):

  • By far the most common descriptor of IMMIGRANTS across all newspaper types (tabloid, broadsheet and mid-market) was 'ILLEGAL'
  • The most common description of ASYLUM SEEKERS across all newspaper types was 'FAILED'
  • The most common descriptors for MIGRANTS across mid market and broadsheet newspapers were 'ILLEGAL' (top in mid markets, second in broadsheets) and “ECONOMIC” (top in broadsheets, second in mid- markets) while in tabloids the most common descriptors were 'NON-EU' (top) and 'ILLEGAL' (second)
  • There were no consistent descriptors of REFUGEES across all newspaper types, though language tended to focus on escape from conflict or places of origin.

Consistent collocations for the word IMMIGRANT (words that consistently appear within five words of the search terms over the entire 3 year period):

  • Tabloids: ILLEGAL; INTO; MILLION; NUMBER; STAY; EU; THOUSANDS; COMING; STOP; SEEKERS; EASTERN; TERRORISTS; WAVE; SUSPECTED; ARRIVED; HOUSES; INFLUX; HOUSING; SHAM
  • Mid-market: ILLEGAL; BRITAIN; NUMBER; MANY; EU; AMNESTY; MILLION; EASTERN; THOUSANDS; EUROPE; BENEFITS; SEEKERS; JOBS; INFLUX; NUMBERS; SON; COUNTRIES; NON; ARRIVED; IRISH.
  • Broadsheets: ILLEGAL; BRITAIN; SON; CHILDREN; JEWISH; NUMBER; AMNESTY; EUROPEAN; GENERATION; EASTERN; AFRICAN; MILLION; THOUSANDS; BORN; IRISH; RECENT; MUSLIM; JOBS; DAUGHTER; RUSSIAN.
  • Notable patterns emerged involving language of numbers (e.g. THOUSANDS), security and legality (e.g. TERRORISTS, SUSPECTED), and, in broadsheet coverage of refugees, vulnerability (CHILD, DESTITUTE).
  • Words related to flows of water, such as INFLUX, and less frequently WAVE and FLOOD, were used by all types of newspapers in association with migrants.

Dr Scott Blinder, Acting Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: "Immigration is a very prominent issue in British national newspapers, and these media outlets play a major role in the nation’s political dialogue, so it is very important to have a comprehensive picture of this discussion. Our data show that illegality, the failure of asylum claims and the size of migrant inflows and populations are clear focal points for newspapers of all types."

"It is extremely difficult to untangle whether media drives public opinion about a subject, or whether it is politics or public opinion that drives media coverage, or some of each. But understanding the language newspapers use to describe migrants helps shine a light on how they are playing their role in the complicated relationship between media, politics and public opinion."

Ends

Read the full report here: http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/reports/migration-news

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