It is widely accepted by
many scholars that the media is an extremely powerful vehicle in shaping public
perception on certain issues (Lawlor, 2015; O’Nions, 2010; Gunnee, 2016). The
public relies heavily on the media as a source of information upon which
opinions are formed and decisions are made. The media has the power to shape
public opinion through the way in which issues are framed and language is used.

Framing theory has been extensively used by scholars throughout the years; and
is the focus of this thesis. Framing refers to the way in which certain issues
are presented and narrated to the public by the media.

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The UK
has had a rocky relationship with the EU since joining the European Communities
in 1973. For some, the EU has become a representation of a lack of nationalism,
supremacy over the UK parliament and courts, corruption, and a lack of control
over social issues such as immigration. The UK is the only EU Member State
which has previously held a referendum on whether to retain EU membership. Held
in 1975, the British electorate voted to remain a Member State by 67.23% to
32.77%. In recent years, as feelings of disillusionment and Euroscepticism
grew, the EU has been increasingly discussed in terms of social and political
issues such as immigration (Mudde, 2010; Balch & Balabanova, 2017).

Increasing levels of immigration from both the EU and beyond to the UK has led
to an increase in media discourse and political discussions regarding
immigrants, asylum seekers, and migration more generally (Verkuyten, 2005).

2016, the UK held a second referendum regarding its membership, and the
electorate voted to leave by a 51.9% margin, making the UK the first Member
State to leave the EU. Goodwin & Heath (2016, p. 325) note the 2016
referendum revealed a society divided by ‘social class, generation, and
geography’. Goodwin & Heath (2016, p. 325) also determine the Leave
Campaign won the majority of its support in specific areas; ‘communities that
tend to be more economically disadvantaged… where average education levels are
low and the local population is heavily white’. Vlandas (2016, p. 4) suggested
there is ‘a strong anti-immigrant preference among a significant part of the
UK’s population’, stemming from associations between social issues and
migration (such as crime, a lack of jobs, and inadequate access to public
services). Immigration levels have been steadily rising in the UK, arguably
heightened by the free movement of persons between EU countries. A series of
both newspaper articles and academic articles have insinuated that migration
has been a source of concern and fear for many UK citizens (Tilford, 2015), and
some authors have even suggested immigration may have played a role in
encouraging how some people voted in the Brexit Referendum (Vlandas, 2016;
Wadsworth et al. 2016).

This Chapter will include
a review of the literature regarding framing theory, and previous studies on
framing in the context of migration. A literature review is essential as it
gives background information to the theory behind a subject, reinforcing it as
an area of academic concern and importance. This literature review focuses
primarily on the theory behind framing. It will begin with discussions on these
theories, followed by how these theories are used to reinforce concepts such as
agenda setting, scapegoating, and risk society. This Chapter will then proceed
to discuss previous research concerning migration framing across the globe. It
will conclude by discussing previous studies on migration framing in the UK
context, prior to the Brexit Referendum. This Chapter will give an insight into
the way in which migration has been framed globally, and more specifically in
the British context.


A “frame” refers to how an
issue is presented by the media to its audience. Framing theories consider the
way in which issues are presented to the public by the media. According to
Stromback & Aalberg (2008, p. 94), a frame is a ‘central organising idea
for news content which supplies a context and suggests what the issue is,
through the use of selection, emphasis, exclusion, and elaboration’. According
to Goffman (1974), frames can be identified through the use of keywords,
phrases, and stereotypes. Metaphors are another way in which the media can
frame and discuss matters of public concern. According to Fairhurst & Sarr
(1996), techniques used to frame an issue also include the use of traditions,
slogans and spinning. Frames are used by the media to encourage audiences to
form certain views on current affairs. Framing also reduces the complexity of
issues, making them easier to understand by an audience. Framing links to the
theory of social constructionism; the way in which the media construct
ideologies and opinions through presentation of issues (Entman, 1993). The
media has developed the immense power to create specific narratives on salient
subjects, and consequently can influence and shape public opinions regarding
these topics.

& Husband (1974) and van Dijk (1987) both posit the notion that mass media
is a major drive of knowledge among the public, and can thus be hugely
influential in how the public discuss and form thoughts on issues. Van Dijk
(1998; 1991) is of the opinion media framing is consistent with the opinions
and stances of the powerful elites, and newspapers have much control and power
to influence the opinion of its audience. Yang coined the phrase “media
functionalization,” which means that continued and constant media
discourse on topics such as migration can allow the subject to become routine,
commonsensical, and naturalised (2014), in the eyes of the public. When issues
are consistently framed as negative, this can also lead to an established
public opinion (Baker, 2010). The public relies on the press in order to
provide it with information with which to form views. This augments the power
of the media in creating a specific narrative which people may begin to believe
is true and accurate. Individuals create their own echo chambers in the media
they consume, which in turn allows them to cement their opinions as ultimately
correct, through their own perceived reality.

links closely to agenda setting, which can influence what issues are important
to focus on and therefore receive the most press coverage. Arguably, the
results of agenda setting can be easier to see in this day and age, considering
the power of the media. Public agenda can be shaped by the media because the
media decides the salience of issues. Agenda setting contributes to the notion
of populism, whereby the media drives fear on one topic thus encouraging
politicians and governments to “solve” the issues surrounding that topic. The
media creates a cycle of what it wants to identify as reality, creating images
which may or may not be realistic or accurate, thus influencing public
perception, which in turn can create a false reality. This false reality runs
in a sort of feedback loop which encourages the media to continue to focus on
an issue (Scheufele, 1999; Rhodebeck, 1998). Arguably, the media may have
played a role as agenda setters during the Referendum, through focusing on
immigration in the context of the EU.

(1992, p. 75) discusses risk society, and links it to the notion of a
“scapegoat society”, a society where we seek visible groups (such as migrants)
which stand out and these groups in turn become ‘the lightning rods for the
invisible threats which are inaccessible to direct action’.  We are living in a world we perceive as
riskier, and we seek a distinct group of ‘others’ to blame. The process of
“othering” has become entrenched in everyday life (Hudson and Bramhall, 2005),
including in relation to the topic of migration. Social and political discourse
has encouraged this idea of the “other”, and in turn encourages a trend towards
viewing immigrants as a “dangerous other”. The criminology of the “other” has
become increasingly connected to migration and immigrants. Bosworth and Guild
(2008) discuss the idea that the “other” dramatically affects the issue of
national identity, which is especially relevant in the UK context, as national
identity is of the utmost importance to powerful, colonial British ideology
(Kearney, 2000).


2.2 Previous Studies and Research on Framing Immigration


It is necessary to examine
previous research on framing and immigration in order to enhance the academic
relevance of this thesis. Previous studies have come across a myriad of frames
when it comes to how the media have discussed immigration. Several common
themes have emerged from the literature, the most frequent being the use of
“threatening” frame, framing as an economic drain, and the use of water
metaphors to encourage feelings of concern and a lack of control (Parker,
2015). In the context of this study, I expect to find immigration has been
framed more through economic concerns in the EU context, as opposed to
“threatening” frames. I expect differences in discussions on migration in the
EU Referendum context. This is due to the specific setting and focus of this
study the EU and immigration, as opposed to a general study on newspaper
narratives regarding immigration. This section will first delve into the way
immigration has been narrated worldwide, and will then discuss the results of
previous studies in the UK context.

scholars have suggested similar tendencies and trends in the way in which the
media portrays immigration. Teo (2000) and Yang (2014) both conclude immigrants
have been framed negatively in Australia and Canada respectively. Yang
describes how immigrant students are portrayed as outsiders; ‘Learning to
speak out as difficult as learning English’ (2014, p. 38); and ‘…there’s
no doubt the more cultures and languages and lifestyles that you put together,
you’re going to meet more challenges’ (2014, p. 39). In Australia, Klocker
& Dunn (2003) note although the media was sympathetic towards asylum
seekers at times, overall there was a negative representation of asylum
seekers, referencing “threatening” frames. A link was discovered in this study
between asylum seekers and violence or crime. Results of Canadian research on
framing immigration depict a general negative portrayal of immigrants in terms
of “threat” factors (Lawlor, 2015; Fleras, 2011). These “threat” factors
involve the following aspects; ‘economic threat (protecting jobs), threats to
social programs (fraud) and threats to security (terrorism or crime)’ (Lawlor,
2015, p. 336). Lawlor (2015, p. 341) concludes the Canadian media portrays
immigration in an ‘event-driven manner’, and described migration using an
“illegality” frame mostly between the 1990s and 2000s. An “illegality” frame in
this context meant that immigrants were discussed in terms of illegal
migration, but also crime and terrorism (Lawlor, 2015).

Europe, the framing of immigrants as a threat is not unique or unusual. Bennett
et al. (2013, p. 251) discovered similar “threatening” frames, from references
to “fortress Europe” in the Italian media, to the portrayal of migrants as an “external
danger”. Research on Belgian press has seen asylum seekers portrayed as victims
(Bennett et al. 2013). In the UK context, Baker (2010) saw negative bias in
reporting on Islam in Britain, and Saeed (2007) notes immigration has been
depicted as problematic in the UK. Saeed (2007) determines the media portrays
negative images of Muslims and Islam, in turn reinforcing anti-Muslim racism.

It is evident from media discourse that newspaper coverage on Islam and Muslims
increased after the 9/11 attacks. This has encouraged a cultivation of distrust
and fear surrounding Muslim and Islamic immigrants. Saeed (2007, p. 445)
references an article by former editor of The Times, in which it was
stated ‘Britain is basically English speaking, Christian and white, and if one
starts to think it might basically become Urdu speaking and Muslim and brown,
one gets frightened’. Saeed (2007, p. 449) notes a survey by Spears
which claims, ‘as soon as asylum seekers
are described as ”illegal immigrants”, it is a small step before the debates
spills over to the issue of immigrants generally, and the very notion of
Britain as a multiracial society is called into question’.

in the UK have shown there is a tendency to portray immigration as negative,
but also in a sympathising or pitying manner in order to evoke concern. Parker
(2015, p. 6) gave examples of British newspaper headlines in this vein: ‘Tear
gas and water cannons were used by police to control about 300 asylum seekers
who were attacking the perimeter fence with weapons about 9pm last night’, and ‘They were brought in ravaged by
hunger and close to death, but these children are now among the lucky ones’ (2015,
p. 9). As mentioned, immigrants can also be portrayed in a sympathetic
light, for example as ‘passive victims of atrocities or natural disasters’
(Bennett et al. 2013; 249-50). Sympathetic headlines from The Guardian
newspaper include; ‘The Guardian view on the Mediterranean migrants: every
life is a precious life’ (2015), and ‘Refugees don’t need our tears.

They need us to stop making them refugees’ (2015).

In her
study comparing Canadian and British media framing of immigration, Lawlor (2015,
p. 341) concludes that British media shows increased framing applied over
extended periods of time, thus ‘creating a more long-lasting impact on public
perceptions of immigration’. She indicates British media largely references
“race” and “race relations”, and uses an “illegality” frame more than Canadian
media. As mentioned above, this “illegality” frame meant immigrants were
discussed in terms of illegal migration, crime and terrorism (Lawlor, 2015).

British media continuously framing migrants in a specific way has the potential
effect of sensitising the public to migration as an “issue” needing to be
solved. From researching these previous studies, I expect my research will
result in more intricate or Brexit-specific findings on migration framing. I
expect migration to be discussed in terms of economic concerns or threats to
security concerns, however I do not expect the use of an “illegality” frame as
described by Lawlor (2015), or discussions of immigrants through a sympathetic
or pitying frame, because I am investigating a very specific period of huge
potential political and legislative change.

according to Kymlicka (2003, p. 195), has become ‘an important value and
identity’, and there has been an increasing focus on assimilation as opposed to
multiculturalism. A focus on nationalism and pride in British culture may be
reflected in the media, and subsequently may affect public responses concerning
immigration. According to a survey studied by Vlandas (2016), the UK has some
of the highest anti-immigration responses in Western Europe. A corpus
linguistics study by the University of Oxford Migration Observatory (Allen
& Blinder, 2013) which covered 58,000 newspaper articles again noted a
pessimistic portrayal of immigrants in the British media. The most common
descriptor for “immigrant” across the newspapers included in this study was
“illegal”, for example ‘…the issue of illegal immigrants has been a problem
for years’ and ‘…about
twenty tenants squeezed into outbuildings were found to be illegal immigrants’ (Allen
& Blinder, 2013, p. 10). Research conducted by The Migration Observatory
(Allen, 2016) on British press coverage of immigration showed that coverage
regarding immigration rose between 2011 and 2015. It also determined “mass” was
the most commonly used description of immigration, and the word “illegal” was
also frequently used. The research also showed EU immigration tended to be
discussed in terms of difficulties rather than successes (Allen, 2016). The
overwhelming volume of previous framing research indicates my research is
likely to result in an overall negative image of immigration in the context of
the EU Referendum and Brexit. However, it is likely this negative image will be
portrayed through other frames such as economic, and security threats, as
opposed to criminality or terrorism. Regardless, negative media framing could
have the effect of encouraging a damaging or destructive public perception of
immigrants and migration in the context of the EU Referendum.




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