Framed migrants (1)
Are repressive criminal policies towards migrants matched by media content that frames them as criminals and security threats? A comprehensive discourse analysis of over 65,000 newspaper articles should find out.
Two decades ago the penal climate in the Netherlands was still described as a ‘beacon of enlightenment.’ However, just after the turn of the century the country made a swift change of direction and became yet another Western country where governmental policies are driven by a public obsession with crime and security. A particular characteristic of the Dutch ‘culture of control’ (a term used by American Criminologist David Garland) is the drawing of a link between social problems (crime and nuisance) and immigrants. The adoption of repressive criminal policies is matched (and possibly driven) by a rather negative political and public discourse towards minorities. The proposed criminalisation of illegal stay (about which I wrote my first blog) is a prime example of this process in which migration and migrants are increasingly criminalised.
To better understand the rationale underlying this proposed criminalisation and the climate in which it has come about, it is essential to get a better picture of how migrants are framed in the political arena and in the media. After all, if migrants are perceived as criminals and/or security threats, this will justify a harsher – criminal – response. This framing is particularly relevant in light of the claims that governments in several Western countries have actively contributed to public feelings of insecurity and fear, precisely by framing social problems in a way that reinforces existing negative stereotypes. This would of course have serious implications for the legitimacy of new legislation.
65,000 articles, 32,500,000 words
In my current research project I will therefore take a comprehensive look at the framing of migrants in the Dutch media since the turn of the century. To do so, I will create a database with all Dutch newspaper articles (2000-2014) that mention migrants (including refugees, asylum seekers, aliens, specific national/ethnic groups, etc.). Based on a first and very conservative estimate, this means at least 65,000 articles, consisting of 32,500,000 words. With the help of specific computer software a quantitative analysis will be carried out to find out which words frequently appear near one these aforementioned key terms, or as an adjective right before it (think of illegal as an adjective to immigrant). By using statistical tests to identify these patterns, the influence of a researcher’s subjectivity is kept to a minimum. The results will be specific terms that are used by the media when reporting on migrants, with the opportunity to identify comparisons and/or differences over time and between newspapers. One question I hope to answer in this way is whether references to crime and nuisance have indeed increased in the reporting on migrants.
Obviously, these quantitative results do not look at the context of a sentence or article. To say more about the meaning of the words, but also who is being quoted, a selective qualitative discourse analysis will subsequently be carried out to identify more complex language patterns. An interesting next step would then be to draw a link between issues of framing and actual legislation. Although many studies have been devoted to the relationship between media content and governmental policies, definite evidence of such a relationship – and more particularly, a causal effect one way or the other – has been found to be hard to establish. Hopefully this media analysis can form a starting point for further investigating such a relationship on this issue, and also make more comparable research across Europe possible by offering a standardised approach. Undoubtedly to be continued…
For a more detailed description of the method outlined above, see the Oxford Migration Observatory report that heavily inspired this research.