This is a Chapter of the Study “How does the media on both sides of the Mediterranean report on migration?” carried out and prepared by the Ethical Journalism Network and commissioned in the framework of EUROMED Migration IV – a project, financed by the European Union and implemented by ICMPD. © European Union, 2017.


Politics, Distorted Images and why the Media Need to Frame the Migration Story

Jean-Paul Marthoz

The “migration story” was one of the most vividly discussed issues in the French media in 2016. It received front-page newspaper coverage, took centre stage on flagship television news programmes and made the buzz on social media. The European Union-Turkish agreement, the drama of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, or the closing of the so-called Calais Jungle were major stories and, in between these highly charged events, migration in all its forms was a permanent fixture of French journalism.

The coverage was mostly driven by events, the way conventional journalism describes breaks in the news routines, and statements by government officials or their political opponents. The themes evolved as some stories suddenly emerged in the news while others lost their prominence and became repetitive.

More fundamentally, the way most media approached migration was also the result of an ominous trend: the extreme politicisation of the migration issue in the context of the rise of xenophobic populist movements. While in years past the economic ideology and the left/right divide largely determined the media’s political line, migration has become one of the most crucial “revealers” of their core values.

The migration issue is a “marker” in the battle of ideas. It crystallises broader views on other societal challenges. It defines editorial lines and puts the media’s professional norms to the test. In a country where the National Front is credited with 30% of the vote and is being increasingly “normalised” by mainstream media, the discussion has even moved away from the conventional hot button issues brandished by the far right of alleged “illegals’ over-criminality”, “social security profiteering” or “job thefts from nationals”, to deeper and more intractable questions of national sovereignty and ethno-cultural identity.

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How do media on both side of the mediterranean report on migration?

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