Western European newspapers became significantly more sympathetic towards migrants and refugees immediately after photographs of a drowned boy on a Turkish beach were published at the beginning of September, but within one week most had reverted to their original editorial position. By the end of the month all were less positive than at the beginning.
Most newspapers in Eastern Europe and Baltic States did not publish the photographs and barely covered the story, according to a study of recent media coverage of the migration crisis.
The first detailed analysis of how newspapers in eight European countries reported the movement of nearly 750,000 people across the Mediterranean to Europe this year, revealed distinct national trends, but also political bias in some newspapers that transcended national boundaries.
It found that newspapers in Western Europe were generally more compassionate towards the plight of migrants and refugees, compared to Eastern European and Baltic countries which remained generally “negative, unemotional and anti-EU”.
The cross-border research, conducted by the European Journalism Observatory (EJO) in the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, UK and Ukraine, examined how three newspapers in each country – representing broadly left, right and tabloid newspapers – covered three pivotal events concerning migrants and refugees in September. Researchers graded coverage of humanitarian and domestic stories as positive (i.e. compassionate, sympathetic, humane, ‘contribute to society’ etc), negative (describing migrants as economic or ‘illegal’ migrants, possibly infiltrated by terrorists, violent, ‘mobs’, ‘drain on society’ etc) or objective (neutral reporting of facts). EU policy stories were graded positive where they highlighted EU members working together to solve the crisis, negative where they highlighted the failure of EU members or policy to collaborate, accept quotas etc.
The events studied were: the photographs of the body of three-year old Aylan Kurdi, (2 September); the day Germany introduced border controls (13 September); and the EU summit aimed at agreeing a common European approach to the crisis (23 September). Six time frames were examined – two days before and two days after each event. Print, rather than digital, editions of newspapers were chosen as they were more comparable across the eight countries.