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Comparative Study

How European Media Report on Migration and Flight

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Verschiedene Zeitungen nebeneinander. © Jürgen Huhn​/​TU Dort­mund
The European Journalism Observatory at TU Dort­mund University has examined media in 17 countries in terms of how they report on migration and flight.

How do the media in western and eastern Europe report on migration and flight? An analysis in 17 countries finds blind spots, national peculiarities – and diversity of opinion. That is the result of a study funded by the Otto Brenner Foundation and conducted by the European Journalism Observatory at TU Dort­mund University.

For the first time, it investigates what role the media play in the discussion on migration in a large number of countries in different regions of Europe. The analysis concludes that quantity and quality of reporting differ widely. Particularly interesting as far as Germany is concerned: The perspective of the German media differs fundamentally from that of other European media. According to the data of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Germany is today one of the five most important host countries – alongside Uganda, Pakistan, Turkey and Sudan. This exceptional situation is reflected in the media: With the exception of another special case – Hungary – in no other EU country are migration and flight reported on so extensively as in Germany.

In the six weeks between  August 2015 and Match 2018 chosen for examination, the two German media analyzed – the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung – together published over 1,000 articles. By comparison: Above all in many eastern European countries less (or infinitesimally more) than 100 articles appeared in the same period. The exception is Hungary, whose prime minister Viktor Orbán made his mark as Angela Merkel’s opponent in the controversy on how to deal with refugees – as a matter of fact the Hungarian media published over 1,500 articles on the topic of migration and flight.

Study shows different reporting in Europe 

Germany’s special role can also be seen in the country comparison: No other government features as much in reports at in­ter­na­tio­nal level as Germany’s; Angela Merkel features more often as the central figure than any other politician. 

The study shows how reporting differs within Europe. For Germany – like for Italy and Greece – migration and flight have an immediate impact on their own countries and many reports are also concerned with events there. By contrast, these are treated as foreign affairs topics in the other EU countries: They are things taking place a long way from home, beyond one’s own borders. At least the French, British and Hungarian media highlight in­ter­na­tio­nal negotiations in their reports. Some reports are even concerned with specific groups of migrants: In Italy, the focus is on groups from Africa, in France they occupy just as much space as refugees and migrants from the Middle East. Immigrants from the Middle East are the media focus in most other European countries – in the Italian newspaper La Stampa they are not mentioned in a single article. For the media in Russia as well as in Poland, Belarus and Ukraine, migration and flight from Ukraine were also an important topic – one scarcely mentioned by “western” media in the period under investigation, although over two million people (according to estimates by in­ter­na­tio­nal organizations) have fled from there in the face of armed conflict since 2014.

Germany ranks top in reporting on refugee aid

The reporting emphasis also differs significantly. Problems with migrants and refugees as well as protests are more than twice as often the focus of eastern European media than of western ones. In contrast, reports on the situation of these people and on relief efforts find their way into western European media somewhat more frequently. Here, Germany yet again has a special role: In no other country under investigation is the topic of “support for migrants and refugees” reported on so extensively.

The European Journalism Observatory is based at TU Dort­mund University

The European Journalism Observatory (EJO), which conducted the study, is a network of 12 journalism institutes at universities throughout Europe and received the Günter Wallraff Critical Journalism Award in 2019 for its work. The EJO is based at the Erich Brost Institute of International Jour­na­lis­m of TU Dort­mund University. About 2,500 articles from six representative weeks under investigation between August 2015 and March 2018 were included in the EJO analysis.

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TU Dort­mund University has its own train station ("Dort­mund Universität"). From there, suburban trains (S-Bahn) leave for Dort­mund main station ("Dort­mund Hauptbahnhof") and Düsseldorf main station via the "Düsseldorf Airport Train Station" (take S-Bahn number 1, which leaves every 20 or 30 minutes). The university is easily reached from Bochum, Essen, Mülheim an der Ruhr and Duisburg.

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