A media watchdog group criticized global media outlets for allowing coverage of this year’s refugee crises and immigration debates to be hijacked by right-wing populists, who capitalize on public fears of immigration for their own political gain, in a report released on Thursday.
The Ethical Journalism Network, based in the United Kingdom, reviewed U.S. and international media coverage in 2015 in selected countries, including Lebanon, Britain, the United States and Turkey, on stories such as the EU refugee crisis, the Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar, the U.S. refugee crisis, which saw thousands escape gang violence in Central America, and the plight of the about 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
The authors, in an effort to analyze how news corporations cover immigration, concluded that U.S. outlets published too much coverage of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s “virulent attacks on immigrants” without fact-checking the content of his speeches. Three major U.S. cable news networks devoted nearly twice as much airtime to Trump as to any other Republican candidate, the report found. Most of this coverage focused on “his unapologetically xenophobic anti-immigration rhetoric.”
Among Trump’s most cited, erroneous claims are that all Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and that an alleged crime wave in U.S. cities near the southern border can be attributed to people crossing the border, according to the report. The failure to fact-check such claims, the authors said, has contributed to greater acceptance of Trump’s beliefs.
The report also criticized U.S. outlets for “selective citation” of polling questions on immigration. “If you asked if immigrants who break the law should be punished and deported, a large majority said yes; if you asked if it were either feasible or desirable to forcibly expel millions of foreign-born workers and their families, most said no,” the report said.
Media that framed questions around immigrants who break the law have exacerbated anti-immigrant sentiments, the authors of the report concluded.
In Italy, a European Union member country where many of the more than 990,000 people entered the bloc's borders this year, journalists have found a better balance between covering the news and inadvertently promoting hate speech, the authors found.
While "the threat of hate speech is always there," they wrote, journalists' adherence to the "Rome charter" against discrimination, which was drawn up in collaboration with major Italian newspapers and the United Nations refugee agency in 2008, prevented some of that dynamic, the report said.