Migrant Media Bias

The Unjust Portrayal of Migrants is Well-Established. Is this Caused by a Lack of Migrant Voices in the Media?

The mainstream media’s skewed portrayal of migrants is well documented.

Much has been written about the culture of hostility that exists, with various media outlets seemingly determined to depict immigration as a damaging, subversive force. Migrants are blamed for many of society’s ills, whilst at the same time the plethora of positives brought about by immigration is conveniently forgotten. Although it is vitally important to call out such biased coverage, it is also crucial to assess and investigate why it is so prevalent.

By understanding the root causes behind the media’s ideological crusade against migrants, change becomes possible. Problems can be identified, and the necessary steps can be taken towards their eradication.

To this end, it is relevant to examine the journalistic practices and routines of media outlets.

A report from the International Organisation on Migration (IOM) hones in on the factors responsible for the continued lack of balance in the media’s reporting on migrants, paying particular attention to journalistic practices and routines. Recruitment processes are pinpointed as a key area in which improvement can be made.  

The IOM’s research looked at nations with very different relationships with immigration. The UK and the Netherlands were studied, two nations with extensive histories of accepting migrants and providing sanctuary to refugees and asylum seekers. Forming the median of the research were Greece, Italy and Ireland, all of which have only recently become host countries. At the other end of the spectrum was Poland, a nation with very little experience of immigration and more commonly associated with emigration.

What became apparent was the demonstrable link between the country in which the media outlet is located, and the implementation of anti-discrimination measures in recruitment. Over half of the journalists and media managers in the UK and Netherlands stated that anti-discrimination measures are in place within their organisation’s recruitment practices.

This evidences the strong correlation between a nation’s ethnic diversity and history of immigration and its likelihood to champion inclusive workforces. It is important to note, however, that the research only pertains to the media industry, and it cannot be used to draw conclusions regarding the presence of anti-discrimination measures in other sectors.

Further corroborating the link between history of immigration and likelihood to implement anti-discrimination measures, none of the media professionals surveyed in Greece, Italy and Ireland were aware of their existence.

This complete lack of awareness is somewhat surprising. As touched upon, they are nations who do host immigrants, just not on the same scale as the UK and Netherlands. However, given the apparent absence of anti-discrimination measures, it could be that only countries with an extensive history of immigration take steps to ensure that their media industries are accessible to those from a diverse range of backgrounds.

With this in mind, Ireland, Greece and Italy have much work to do in order to create a culture of inclusivity. Having said this, whilst respondents were unaware of anti-discrimination measures, this cannot be taken as a proof that media outlets in these nations are opposed to employing migrants.

It would be interesting to examine whether mainstream media in these countries are more biased in their coverage of migrants than in the Netherlands and UK. Whilst the extent of bias is often subjective and hard to gauge, this would help establish whether the apparent lack of anti-discrimination measures directly contributes to the unjust portrayal of migrants. Still, given the complex interplay of factors at work behind media bias, it would be impossible to state that recruitment processes are what have a direct causal effect.

Despite media professionals reporting the implementation of said measures, national regulations obstructed the recording of diversity in some cases. In the Netherlands, staff received employment forms that asked the question of ethnic background, but answering was optional. A lack of robust ethnicity data makes the situation hard to combat, as it is difficult to gauge the extent of the challenge faced.

The IOM’s research asked media managers about the role played by ethnic bias in recruitment. Some respondents stated that their sole intention was to get the right person for the job, a positive answer in relation to the quest for diversity. It implies that positive discrimination is not a factor, as a candidate’s suitability for the role is what determines the decision rather than a decision to adhere to ethnic minority quotas. Additionally, if a manager is wholly focused on a candidate’s attributes and credentials, the likelihood of unconscious bias playing a role is reduced.

There is a lack of migrant voices in the media
Image: The Independent

A simple way to bring about more balanced reporting of migrants is to implement and improve anti-discrimination measures in recruitment. However, there are a number of additional obstacles that prevent migrants from being employed in the media. One such obstacle is nepotism.

The IOM state that, in the Netherlands and Ireland, migrants perceive the media industry as a ‘white bastion’.

This makes it hugely difficult for migrants to break into the industry, as jobs are given not only to those of the same ethnocultural background as the employers, but also those who have a personal connection to them. Even if nepotism is not a major issue in the countries mentioned, the perception of the media as a ‘white bastion’ will deter migrants from applying due to a belief that it is largely pointless.

It is apparent that issues surrounding recruitment play a key role in the absence of migrant voices in the media. From the absence of anti-discrimination measures to prevalence of nepotism, migrants are obstructed from working in the media industry. The extent to which this is responsible for the often hateful and politically-charged words written about them is unclear, as there are multitude of factors that could contribute to this. However, ensuring that the media accessible to migrants can only bring about positive effects, one of which could be more accurate coverage of their impact on society.

Recruitment practices are crucial here. When jobs are awarded based on aptitude and ability rather than background or connection to the employer, progress can be made. Further to this, migrants need to be provided with avenues into the industry, such as through appropriate traineeship and study to work schemes.

Written by
Cameron Boyle
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