Are media to be blamed?

THOUGH the rhetoric surrounding the European migration crisis certainly gives the impression otherwise, there is little sign that Central and Eastern Europeans are any more racist than their Western European counterparts. Media in the CEE region, however, almost certainly is.

(Source: AP/SITA)

A recent study by the European Journalism Observatory (EJO), an umbrella group for 14 media research institutes throughout Europe found that CEE newspapers wrote fewer stories about the crisis generally and more with a negative tone. Stories also disproportionately focused on policy rather than humanitarian aspects of the migration story.

Of the 12 CEE newspapers studied, just three published the iconic and heart-wrenching picture of Aylan Kurdi, the deceased three year old whose body washed up on a Turkish beach in early September. Two of those used the picture to criticize the rest of Europe for being too emotional. Only Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza published the picture in a context similar to Western Europe, where every single media outlet (including the populist German tabloid Bild) that was part of the study published the picture.

Though Slovak media were not a part of the study, in the Czech Republic and Poland an already negative tone grew stronger after Germany reintroduced border controls on September 13. No Czech newspaper published the Aylan Kurdi picture.

It is certainly possible that the media coverage in the CEE is merely a reflection of larger public opinion. CEE editors are not isolated from the society around them and certainly have an interest in publishing things that appeal to their audience. And though there may be differences in mindset between Western and Eastern European publics — driven by varied histories and experiences with immigration (or emigration) — other evidence indicates that CEE citizens are not necessarily more likely to discriminate based on race.

Ina recent opinion piece in The New York Times, Kenan Malik (a biologist and frequent writer on issues of race) painted a more complicated picture than one might expect. Though a 2009 study by the Pew Research Center found that Hungarians and Poles were much less likely to think diversity was a good thing as compared to the British or French, the Western Europeans had a more negative view of Muslims specifically.

The World Values Survey conducted between 2010-2014 found that Germans were three times more likely than Poles to say they did not want to have a foreigner for a neighbor — 21 percent versus 7 percent respectively. The largest European far right party is in France, not Hungary, Malik notes.

CEE governments have certainly shown themselves among the most reluctant to accept relocated refugees. They certainly do so because they read those positions as being politically popular, and Prime Minister Robert FIco’s improved poll numbers show they are probably correct.

Much less clear however is whether public opinion was already set in this manner, or whether the region’s media has pushed its citizens to be more discriminatory.

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