The prominence given to immigration in domestic Hungarian politics since 2015 has surprised migration experts. It took a particularly distinct form in the period leading up to the general election in April 2018, when migration was placed centre-stage, albeit presented in a distorted, negative way, in the government-controlled media such as the Hungarian news website Origo (origo.hu). We never thought that we would witness such a clear example of moral panic.
By Anna Bagladi and Marcell Lorincz
The concept of moral panic was first developed in detail by the philosopher and sociologist Stanley Cohen. It is common for the media to present a group – or the events linked to that group – as a threat to the proper operation of the ideal society. As this panic develops the topic becomes the centre of attention, and in a process of self-legitimation more related cases get reported. In a vicious circle this increases people’s fear, and can lead to changes in the law and social norms.
Examples of moral panic are easy to find –the rash of stories about child kidnappings and organ trafficking in recent years, or the witch hunts of more distant history.
The whipping up of fear is a perfect means of seizing control – who better to trust than those offering a solution to a problem, even if it is the same people who initiated the panic?
One of the most familiar topics of public discussion today is immigration and refugees. We come across it on the television, or on the internet, in newspapers and even on street posters. The categorisation of Muslims and migrants as a threat means that people quake at the very mention of the word migrant. It is left to each individual to decide how far there is any real basis for this fear.
The focus of this research
We examined the presentation of news on the origo.hu website in March to get an overview of how much was written about migration and refugees – and what form that took. While an earlier study looked at the manipulation of images in articles about migration (https://index.hu/velemeny/2018/03/01/durvan_ferditi_a_kepi_valosagot_az_origo/), we wanted to focus more on the editorial approach and content.
Our question was whether the emphasis on migrants was offensive merely to us or was guided by some kind of editorial policy at Origo.
The numbers alone are revealing. In the two relevant news sections of the website 2066 articles were published during the whole of March, of which 394 dealt with migration or migrants in some form or other.
|March||Home News||World News||Total|
|Number of articles||1309||757||2066|
|Articles about migrants||161 (12%)||233 (30%)||394 (19%)|
In March there were an average of 12.7 articles a day about migration. By way of comparison, events are normally given 3-4 articles. This does not mean one event was reported 12 times (though there are occasions when an article is repeated), rather that the topic was raised again and again, thereby keeping it in the spotlight.
|9-22 April||Home News||World News||Total|
|Number of articles||546||332||878|
|Articles on migrants||7 (1.3%)||68 (20%)||75 (8.5%)|
After 9 April a daily average of migration-related articles fell to 5.3. The drop was particularly noticeable in the Home News section. This confirmed our suspicion that the prominence of material relating to migration outweighed its importance, directly because of the political campaign.
Of the 394 articles we chose 20 as a representative selection. We found that they repeated the same themes and pressing home the same message, and as the table below shows, they all bore a negative message about migration; their headlines alone were telling.
|Article||Author||Connotation||Definitely migrant or Muslim?||Source||Is this article or source authoritative?||Subject|
|Migrants who killed old Jewish woman raped a 12-year-old girl||anonymous||negative||no||none||no||crime|
|Swedish woman convicted for making comments about migrants||anonymous||negative||no||yes||no||integration|
|Migrants on rampage in Madrid||anonymous||negative||no||yes||no||crime|
|Extreme Muslim doctrines taught in French schools||anonymous||negative||yes (but not relevant)||none||no||crime|
|"We stone them to death, like we do at home"||anonymous||negative||yes (but not relevant)||none||no||crime|
|Pakistani migrants terrorise tourists in Athens||anonymous||negative||no||yes||no||crime|
|Four migrnts cut Swedish woman's throat and then chopped off her head||anonymous||negative||no||yes||no||crime|
|Migrants housed in old people's home||anonymous||negative||yes (but not relevant)||none||no||integration|
|Migrants occupy centre of Paris||anonymous||negative||yes (but not relevant)||none||no||crime/integration|
|Migrants stir up civil war in Sweden||anonymous||negative||no||none||no||crime|
|Migrants rapes pregnant woman in her own bed next to husband||anonymous||negative||yes||none||no||crime/integration|
|Berlin school employes security guard to handle violent migrant children||anonymous||negative||yes||yes||no||crime/integration|
|It was migrants who beat up 14-year-old Jewish boy in Paris||anonymous||negative||no||none||no||crime|
|Migrant gang attack driver in London in broad daylight - video||anonymous||negative||no||none||no||crime|
|Migrant beat up and raped victim, then made them clear up mess||anonymous||negative||yes||yes||yes||crime|
|92-year-old woman robbed by migrant in London||anonymous||negative||no||none||no||crime|
|Iraqi migrant explodes device on London Underground, 30 injured||anonymous||negative||yes||yes||yes||crime|
|This is what every woman deserves who irritates her husband, says migrant after killing wife||anonymous||negative||yes||yes||yes||crime|
|Migrant strangles wife with cable because she wore miniskirt||anonymous||negative||no||none||no||crime/integration|
|Migrants rape one woman and attack several Frenchmen||anonymous||negative||no||yes||no||crime|
It was striking that mainly crime stories led the news. Another surprising feature was that none of the articles carried the author’s name – they were all anonymous. In fact none of the 394 articles seemed to have a byline.
The following factors undermined the trustworthiness of the articles:
- No source given
- A sourve was given but it carried different information (and the sources were generally not in English)
- Other government-backed sites were names as a source (MTI.hu, 888.hu)
- Article only infers that it was a migrant who committed the crime
- Crime was committed by Muslim migrants, but article distorts the events or the causes
|False story||No source||Negative content||Crime||Integration||Anonymous|
|16 (80%)||16 (60%)||20 (100%)||17 (85%)||7 (35%)||20 (100%)|
As we know, words have power. That is why it is interesting that in everyday usage the word migrant has been distorted under the influence of politics. The general meaning of the word is a person who changes their place of residence and lives elsewhere. There can be many reasons for this, usually to do with work or family, or that they were forced to leave their home by a national conflict. Now the word has become a form of abuse. It is applied to those whose grandparents once lived elsewhere, as well as to those whose name, skin colour or perhaps religion differ from those of the majority of the local population, but above all it is applied to recent
It was also noteworthy in the 20 articles how the word migrant was linked with other words or used as a synonym: so the phrases potential terrorist, migrant terrorist, criminal migrant are found. There is a process of dehumanisation as well at work here, such as in the recurring phrase “shrieking migrant”.arrivals from the Africa and the Middle East.
The articles devoted particular attention to events in France and Sweden. The Independent website wrote in an overview of Sweden that immigrants were linked to less than 1% of the total number of reported crime incidents, while almost 15% of the population has a migrant background. So it clearly was not crime in Sweden in general that interested the editors, but anything that could be linked to immigration.
With the election now behind us it would be good – though perhaps impossible – to return to a more professional consideration of this subject, but apparently it is of increasingly little importance. Migration has been – and always will be – a feature of human history, and it would be wrong to pick out only its positive or its negative influences. Of course problems do arise, especially when people are arriving in such large numbers, and when so many of them have been traumatised and have such a poor prospects (for example, many of them will be deported in coming years because they do not have sufficient grounds for claiming asylum).
However, given the numbers that we are talking about, such problems are few in number (open terrorism is a different matter: at most it might benefit from the upheavals around migration, but there is no cause and effect at play here). It is in our common interest to have a proper debate on these matters, and to find real solutions to real problems, but Origo’s articles in March were not a partner to such a debate.
The Ethical Journalism Network sets out five guidelines for writing about migration:
- First, we must be impartial and fact-based in reporting news - we must not let our own emotions influence us.
- We must understand and use migrant definitions correctly, and be able to tell the difference between the words migrant, asylum-seeker and refugee.
- It is important to show humanity, but we must keep our emotions in check in the writing of news.
- We must both give expression to migrant voices and listen to the communities through which they are passing, and make sure the spokespeople we quote are truly representative of their communities.
- We must ensure that the content we publish is not inflammatory or extreme, and we should treat with caution words such as "flood", "swarm" and "wave".
There is no doubt that the presentation of news on the Origo website does not follow these guidelines. Our research suggests that the (anonymous) authors are not impartial, do not stick to facts and fail to use words correctly. In general these articles distort reality and aim to incite fear and anger rather than understanding.