Media Bias: Migration

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Migration is a controversial topic in the UK and we all know the stereotypes of its representation in the media; benefit scroungers, a drain on the economy, exploiting the UK’s soft touch to enter the country, whilst the numbers add up and up.

It is also a prominent topic, with 73% of people concerned about immigration voting Leave in 2016. It’s is also a misunderstood topic, with Britons believing that 25% of the UK population originates from another country when they actually only account for around 13% of the country. We also think that immigration from EU countries is three times higher than the actual level of 6%. Why is this? One factor lies in the bias of some sections of the British media.

Credit: Shannon Whitelock

Words like ‘surge’, ‘wave’, and ‘flood’ are common descriptors of migration, hoping to exaggerate the migration levels. One Daily Mail issue went beyond this in 2012, claiming that ’29 million Bulgarians and Romanians’ will be able to claim benefits in Britain, which ‘gypsies in the slums of Sofia can hardly wait’ for. This is the population of the two countries and, rather than reporting on the actual possible migration rate of Bulgarians and Romanians, the Daily Mail preferred to report a hypothetical situation, as if millions would migrate.

You may even be mistaken into thinking that the UK is under invasion, with a headline by the Express in 2015 partly reading ‘Shock Pics that Prove UK’s Migrant Invasion’. The proof of invasion? Eight men, or as the paper put it, a gang of illegals’, cutting their way out of a lorry, to be promptly arrested by police. One Daily Mail headline read in Churchillian fashion ‘Migrants Storm Kent Beaches’ describing the group of 66 asylum seekers as an ‘army’ despite there being women, children and a baby amongst them. Some army.

The media also highlights the nationality of migrants. An anonymous journalist in a study by Reminder admitted that:

‘there is more newsworthiness in a foreign criminal or a teenager […] so from our perspective it’s more newsworthy if people are abusing the system or exploiting loopholes […] because that triggers a reaction in readers’

But sometimes the media goes further than dog-whistles, as with a column by Katie Hopkins in the Sun, which described asylum seekers crossing the English Channel as a ‘plague of feral humans’ and ‘cockroaches’. Such language is disgustingly dehumanising and leaves me wondering how it could ever have been published. In the article, she also espouses another anti-immigrant media talking point: that migrants are ‘shelling out benefits like Monopoly money’.

One example is the Sun’s report that EU migrants took £4 billion per year in benefits in 2018, without considering how much migrants raise in taxes. Further, migrants do not make up anywhere near a majority of benefit claims. As of 2014, Britons made up 92.6% of benefit claimants, whilst EU nationals made up just 2.5% and non-EU nationals 5%. Yet, they tend to be the ones talked about most when it comes to benefit claims.

Moreover, The Express wrote an article in May 2016 claiming that migration costs the UK £17 billion ‘each year’. How they could conclude that as the average yearly cost is beyond me, given that the study conducted by anti-immigration pressure group Migration Watch UK only looked at the fiscal impact of 2014-2015.

There is also no mention of a previous study conducted at UCL, which found that between 2001 and 2011, A10 immigrants made a net contribution of £5 billion, European immigrants £15 billion and non-Europeans £5 billion. ‘Remarkably, over the same period, the natives’ fiscal cost amounted to almost £617 billion’, it was found.

Interestingly, Migration Watch UK also found that the native population made a negative fiscal contribution in their study… something that is unsurprisingly left out by the Express.

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