Distorting the Truth to Fit Their Own Narratives.

The Demonisation of Migrants in the British Media

It is no secret that, for as long as can be remembered in recent history, the British media have had a vendetta against immigration and migrants. The misinformation and scaremongering tactics employed by our tabloids and news channels reached their climax in 2019 – a year in which not only did the British public confirm their desire for Brexit (and the empty promises of reduced immigration that accompany it), but also one in which this desire was confirmed by the election of possibly the most overtly racist and prejudiced Prime Minister yet. For now, the media have triumphed in their battle with the truth. If truth is to prevail, however, then it is important that we understand exactly how the media portrays migrants and immigration in a negative light.

While inevitably some newspapers reach larger audiences than others, there is still little hope of escaping the negative language used to describe migrants. A 2013 studyfrom the Migration Observatory analysed articles on immigration across Britain’s daily and Sunday newspapers between 2010 and 2012, looking for any correlations in the language they use to describe migrants. Across all of these articles, the study found that the most common word used in conjunction with “immigrants” was “illegal”. Furthermore, links were often found between the discussion of migration and asylumwith numerical descriptors (such as “thousands” and “millions”), issues of security were accompanied by words like “terrorist”, and migrants were associated with economic vocabulary (such as “jobs” and “benefits”). More specific examples are difficult to digest due to the venom and falsity of the accusations at hand; the most alarming of these came in a column from Katie Hopkins, in which she described asylum seekers as a ‘plague of feral humans’and ‘cockroaches’.

What these studies shows is that the British media follows a systematic formula of demonising and vilifying migrants, immigrants and those seeking British citizenship. However, these findings alone do not explain the intention behind this campaign of scaremongering. Rather than simply examining the negative language used to describe migrants, we must also question the frequency of those articles which include it.

One of the most recent decisive moments in the UK was the general election of 2016. In the build-up to the election, a study foundthat two issues came forward most often in the print media: the first, the number of migrants entering the UK, appeared in 13% of all articles analysed; the second, the views of Nigel Farage and the effect of UKIP on the election outcome, was found in 15% of articles. On top of the blatant pre-eminence such topics were given is the fact that a whopping 46% of all the articles analysed in this study framed migrants and migration as a damaging and subversive force, with some going so far as to name them as “villains”.

The most burning question that can be taken away from the many studies undertaken to expose this media bias against migration is: why?

One of the key elements behind the British media’s bias against immigrants may lie in the workplace environments of newspaper journalism. A 2018 reportconducted interviews with several journalists of different backgrounds and found that while men reported generally high levels of job satisfaction, women and minorities were not as happy in their workplaces. One female interviewee gave an invaluable insight into a typical day in her workplace: “There’s a clique of laddy, white men, who go for a drink, pass around big jobs between them… [the] people that survive best are psychopaths [laughs]… or don’t have other outside interests, or family. [It] maintain[s] a kind of toxic structure…”.

Another interviewee, commenting on the management style of their editors, explained that they can be particularly authoritarian in deciding what stories should be followed and how they should be presented to their readership. If the editor’s understanding of the story is found to be inaccurate, they then try to bend the story to its limits, asking “how far can we go?” in distorting the truth to fit their own narratives. Because of this, there is a certain pressure put on any journalist with a shred of aspiration to get their stories approved by their editors above the rest of the competition; it is much easier to conform to the wishes of the editor and earn a living, than to tell the truth and never progress through one’s career.

With the opinions and perspectives of quite a considerable demographic left underrepresented by this toxicity (which is regretfully abundant in such a male-dominated profession as journalism), it is no wonder that the presentation of migrants and immigration in the British media is so one-sided. Considering the recent effects this distortion has had on the nation’s political trajectory, though, it is a facet of the news industry that cannot be allowed to survive any longer. If we are to prevent the further scapegoating of migrants as the cause of our country’s many woes, then we must learn to appreciate the process by which our news is presented to us. A greater awareness of the reality of the journalistic process may allow us to break free from the lies of the billionaire press and think for ourselves. All we have to do, the next time we read of cockroaches and invasions, is to stop our emotional reactions to such news and ask a simple question: why am I being told this?


This article was written by Harry Sanders, a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration solicitors

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