Looking at press coverage, the Observatory has been particularly active, analysing media using as its benchmarks its own code of conduct and the Charter of Rome. For the past year, the research by the Observatory was conducted on the following newspapers: La Stampa, Avvenire, Repubblica, Corriere della Sera, il Giornale, l’Unità.
What emerges most clearly is the centrality of the migration topic in the papers: during 2016, 1,622 news stories were dedicated to the subject of immigration, 10% more than in 2015, a year that had already registered a peak in visibility (and landings). Furthermore, according to the Observatory, there is continuity in the treatment of the phenomenon, because in the newspapers that have been analysed there have been only 12 days without any headlines on migrants.
However, the Observatory found an important change compared to the previous years: there was a significant easing of the alarmist tone, down to 27% of the articles (compared to 46% the year before). This can be explained by the wide visibility of the political scene and the improvement in European and national management of arrangements for handling migrants on their arrival.
Yet some anxiety-provoking topics, as defined by the Observatory, remain: especially in order to mark a difference between “us” and “them”, but these themes that highlight the different interests of communities in sometimes adversarial tones, are reduced. Where the problem persists it is, in particular, related to those cases in which there seems to be a relationship between migration and terrorism, criminality and insecurity. In some cases there is a sarcastic and dismissive style directed towards migrants and refugees, but according to the Observatory this form of coverage and sentiment is found mostly in the coverage of a single right-wing newspaper, il Giornale.
Considering issues related to migration, the Charter says that the most frequent keywords are “hospitality” (34% of the information) and “migration flows” (24%). The theme of humanitarian corridors, which is very relevant on a geopolitical level, remains unexpectedly marginal: only 12 headlines (articles) were fully dedicated to the subject, nine of them in the Catholic newspaper Avvenire. Instead, three times more articles were dedicated to social and cultural issues related to the phenomenon, with a negative slant.
Finally, there are significant differences in intensity regarding the treatment of migrants and immigration issues, with a particular focus and peak interest in the months of January and June.
What was mostly covered in January was the New Year’s incidents of violence and attacks on women at the train station in Cologne (Germany), while in June all newspapers gave extensive coverage to stories concerning the wearing of the so-called burkini on French and Italian beaches and the three worst tragedies at sea that happened at the time.
In Primetime Television News the Observatory also conducted research on prime time television news across seven networks: TG1, TG2, TG3, TG4, TG5, Studio Aperto and TgLa7.
The subjects “migration” and “migrants” received, according to the Observatory, ample space on the prime time editions of television news: according to the research, the sample size was of 2,954 news stories in 10 months. And there were only eight days when the subject was not present on any of the seven networks analysed.
Also in this case, as for the press, the Observatory found that the first issue connected to the subject matter was hospitality and the conditions for dealing with migrants on their arrival (36%) followed by reporting on migration flows (27%) and issues related to security (24%). This last issue was mainly dealt with by Mediaset, the major private media company, with 37% of news reports on security matters. During 2016 there were altogether 2,954 news stories on migration on Italian prime time television news, which is 26% less than during 2015.
The issues that found more space were the most striking ones to receive widespread coverage: in particular, the cases of sexual violence and assaults in Cologne during the New Year celebrations of December 31, 2015, and the murder case in Fermo, a small town in central Italy, on 5 July 2016 when a Nigerian man was beaten to death.
He and his wife had arrived in Europe from Libya in 2015, after reportedly fleeing the terrorist group Boko Haram. His wife was immediately granted asylum status as a fresh debate erupted over how society and lawmakers should respond to racism.
There was also extensive media coverage of how a dozen migrant women had to be relocated after residents of Gorino, a small town in Ferrara in northern Italy, put up a barricade to stop them entering and chanted anti-migrant slogans. The protestors created road blocks at three entrances to the city against the asylum seekers on October 24, 2016. Interestingly enough, the observatory points out that the landings are not as central anymore for the media as the issue of borders is.
There is also no proven correlation between the high exposure to the migration phenomenon and citizens’ perception of insecurity or threat, but on the other hand there is a correlation between the sensationalist way in which the matter is told and the increase in fear. A glaring example is the connection between migration and jihadist terrorism of Islamic origin.
One last detail is finally very important regarding television news reports: immigrants, migrants and refugees are represented with their own voices only in 3% of the reports. The issues regarding them is present on television news through the stories told by institutions, citizens and special episodes, but what is almost completely missing is the self-narrative of those who live migration in the first person.
One of the main concerns for the Charter of Rome has been to work on the language of newspapers. The alarmist tone adopted by the main newspapers regarding migrants is seen as counterproductive for the purpose of a constructive debate on integration. The use of words such as “irregular” or “immigrants” entices racial hatred, according to the Charter, especially when they serve the purpose to give visibility to articles that cast a shadow on refugees. When the ethics protocol was written, it said that migration as a subject was dealt with only in dramatic, negative terms. The journey of migrants too often became “an invasion” in newspapers and the political debate used sentences like “problem of national interest” to describe it. Also, there was a lot of reporting on the request for “security” to face what was considered by the press, a “problem”.
The problem of terminology is also found in online sources. A post on Google Trends up until 2015 noted the use of the terms “clandestines” and “migrants” in searches with a substantial humanisation of the terminology. Limiting to the Italian media outlets which are gathered by Google News, a comparison of researches on the words “Refugees”, “clandestines”, “extra communitarians” and “migrants” shows the confirmation of this last description for all of 2016 (exceptions only in June and November). And in the presentation of Carta di Roma Observatory, La Repubblica wrote that there are “… more moderate tones by 20 per cent in the media (TV and newspapers) but racism explodes on social media”.
But as Valigia Blu, the independent news outlet, http://www.valigiablu.it/razzismo-media-social-network/ explains this has to be seen in context: “The semantic analysis of 73,000 tweets posted between July 6th and July 20th on what happened at Fermo, is a small microcosm on Twitter with very low numbers, which do not allow extrapolation about social networks in general (sic)”.
One of the key issues in media coverage has been the need to give voice to the opinions of migrants themselves. In Italy there are some participatory journalistic projects that involve readers in a chorus of storytelling on migration in our society. One is Migranti by Valigia Blu, a constructive journalism project which has produced storytelling on migrants in the media, racconto dei media sui migranti; another is Open Migration, created by the Italian Coalition on Freedom and Civil Rights – Coalizione Italiana Libertà e Diritti Civili (CILD). Also at La Stampa we have invited readers to compose a choral story on migrants. Stories that look like life. Hopefully a life than can allow for a happy ending.