Framing the migrant crisis in Greece and Macedonia: a comparative content analysis

Ivo Bosilkov, Dimitra Drakaki

Abstract


European citizens have serious barriers to acquisition of information about immigration (Freeman, 1995) and most of the time grossly overestimate size of immigrant population (Nadeau, Niemi & Levine, 1993). A major reason for this is the portrayal of immigrants in the press. Previous studies confirm that media are a major factor in shaping immigration attitudes (Boomgaarden & Vliegenthart, 2009). In the context of the ongoing unprecedented migration crisis in Europe, as fears about terrorist attacks are rising rapidly and the debate on multiculturalism versus assimilation is more intense than ever, different ways of presenting sociopolitical phenomena lead to different ways of processing them. The focus of this study is to establish how news content about the migrant crisis is framed by media. Framing theory is a suitable analytical framework for this analytical task, as it holds that by using different problem definitions and suggested remedies, news provide meaning of the issues, capturing their essence. By applying Bensons (2013) paradigmatic security/threatand humanitarian/victimframe dichotomy in migration coverage to the concept of issue framing (Nelson & Oxley, 1999) we explore deeper into the different subframes and framing devices within the scope of the two overarching frames, as they are being employed in conceptualizing the crisis.

 

The arena we chose for this analysis are Macedonia and Greece, whose border has emerged in 2016 as a breaking point for the migrant flow, European unity and solidarity, and media representations of the crisis. A comparative content analysis of six major print media outlets in both countries (N = 660) investigates how different journalistic cultures, political traditions and ideological postures affect the framing of the migration issue in the period leading to the shutdown of the Western Balkans route in February and March. Preliminary results show dominant portrayals of refugees as illegal trespassers, potential terrorists and social burdens in both countries. However, these early findings also demonstrate an unequivocal difference between the Macedonian and Greek print media in their coverage, confirming our suspicions derived from the stark difference between the countries’ political and media systems. Positive depictions of migrants are much more common in Greece, driven by greater media pluralism and the absence of ideological consensus compared to Macedonia. While left wing media in Greece have embraced the welcoming culture historically exhibited by the strong progressive segment of society, the ideological slant for victim and intruder frames is non-existent in the case of Macedonian media, which regardless of ideological posture hardly ever address the issue of xenophobia and focus largely on the implications of illegal border trespassing.

 

Keywords: migration, refugees, media, framing, Greece, Macedonia, content analysis

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