Working Paper

Constructing Immigrants: Portrayals of Migrant Groups in British Newspapers, 2010-2012

Published 1 January 2014 / By William Allen, COMPAS Communications

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Immigration remains one of the most salient policy issues in the UK, especially among members of the public, the national media, and political leaders. Although some previous work has examined specific instances of media coverage as evidence of media coverage influencing public opinion, there has been little effort at linking systematic and comprehensive analysis of a large amount of news reporting over time to research into public attitudes towards migration issues. This paper uses quantitative corpus linguistic methods to analyse a large dataset of about 43 million words of text that appeared in 20 national UK newspapers from 2010-2012. It finds that newspapers used different sets of words to describe immigrants, migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees—and that these words varied depending on the type of newspaper under examination. Furthermore, we find preliminary evidence that these media portrayals,emphasizing asylum seekers while largely ignoring other groups like international students, match public perceptions of who migrants are. Finally, we find considerable overlap in the kinds of words used to describe migrants and immigrants, whereas language around refugees tends to be more distinctive.


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