Media coverage of the “refugee crisis”: A cross-European perspective


1. European press played a central role in framing refugees’ and migrants’ arrival to
European shores in 2015 as a crisis for Europe. While coverage of “the crisis” is
characterised by significant diversity, overall, new arrivals were seen as outsiders and
different to Europeans: either as vulnerable outsiders or as dangerous outsiders.

2. Regional trends: There are significant differences in the coverage across European
regions. Especially at the beginning of “the crisis”, and to an extent throughout it,
there was a stark contrast between media coverage on the West and the East and
especially, between media in the receiving and non-receiving countries.

3. Temporal trends: the narratives of the coverage changed across Europe during 2015.
The sympathetic and empathetic response of a large proportion of the European
press in the summer and especially early autumn of 2015 was gradually replaced by
suspicion and, in some cases, hostility towards refugees and migrants.

4. Media trends: Press coverage that promoted hate speech and hostility towards
migrants and refugees was systematic and persistent in a proportion of the press.
This was especially the case in some parts of Eastern Europe (esp. Hungary),
throughout “the crisis” and in a significant section of some countries’ right-leaning
press in the East and West Europe alike.

5. Voice: Refugees and migrants were given limited opportunities to speak directly of
their experiences and suffering. Most often they were spoken about and represented
in images as silent actors and victims. There were some significant exceptions, but
these were time and place specific.

6. Gender: Female refugees’ and migrants’ voices were hardly ever heard. In some
countries, they were never given the opportunity to speak (e.g. Hungary) while in
other cases (e.g. Germany) they were only occasionally given this opportunity.

7. Context: Overall, media paid little and scattered attention to the context of refugee
and migrant plight. There was little connection between stories on new arrivals and
war reporting or between stories on refugee plight and international news stories
from their countries of origins. In addition, little and scattered information was made
available to the public about migrants’ and refugees’ individual stories, their lives and
cultures; thus information about who these people actually are was absent or
marginal in much of the press coverage in most European countries.

8. As the “refugee/migration crisis” is entering a new phase, media continue to face
significant challenges in safeguarding the values of independent and fair journalism,
while respecting freedom of expression for all and tackling hate speech in Europe.
Self-regulatory and international bodies and organisations need to support media in
these efforts.