The Italian broadsheets have had difficulty in being neutral and avoiding any form of judgment in the description of events that have migrants as protagonists.
By Luca Arfini
On 4 March 2018, after the outcome of the Italian national elections had been revealed, there was yet another demonstration of the rising power of populist parties, whose campaigns always promise policies against migration. The far-right party, Lega, which has always opposed the migratory flows leading to the Italian coast, increased its share of the vote from 4.1% to 17.69%.
According to the Asylum Information Database, there were 130,119 refugees who applied to receive asylum status in Italy in 2017, with 142,906 pending applications and 700 rejected applications. Furthermore, Italy Eurostat statistics show that Italy is the European country that receives the second highest number of asylum applications.
Keeping in mind this scenario, we also have to consider that 46% of the Italian population see migration as a threat. Indeed, as the European Observatory has reported, the perception of insecurity generated by immigrants is currently at its highest level in a decade.
The role of national media in influencing people’s opinions
National media certainly play a key role in enhancing this feeling of mistrust. Indicative of this is the number of news items in the Italian media that contain an explicit reference to immigration, which has drastically increased in the last five years, reaching its peak in 2015 with the beginning of the refugee crisis.
According to Marco Bruno’s research, national media facilitates the construction of "symbolic internal borders" by portraying a negative image of refugees that is specifically linked to security issues, developing the idea of asylum seekers as a social problem. The media strengthens the “Border Spectacle”, the practice of framing refugees in a way that focuses on illegality, and on the sense of otherness in order to legitimate their exclusion.
Objective data on migration is at odds with the way the media portrays the situation. The tendency has been to leave out from the discourse on migration all those people who come from nations that are predominantly white and Christian.
For example, in a study conducted by Emina Boudemagh and Izabela Moise, it is evident that the importance given to the issue of migration by the national media is quite high. On average the percentage of the news media coverage that was given over to the issue of refugees in 2016 fluctuated from 22% to 11%.
According to the 2015 UNHCR report on the press coverage of the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, Italian media have always demonstrated hostility in the representation of migrants. The anti-immigration discourses developed by the Italian media contribute to the making of a clear distinction between those who legitimately belong in Italy and those who do not.
Italian newspapers and immigration
I have recently conducted an analysis on how the major Italian national newspapers contribute to building cultural borders within Italian society by focusing on certain themes and issues related to immigration, including the emphasis of reporting crime stories with refugee protagonists, or the constant mention of protagonists' nationality in order to accentuate their difference from the rest of the Italian population.
For my research, I collected 36 articles from nine different Italian newspapers published last month. I chose which newspapers to analyse in the study by considering two factors: their popularity amongst the Italian population and their political orientation.
In order to avoid any types of bias, I decided to select four articles from three major broadsheets of each political stance. I selected: Il Tempo, Il Giornale, Libero, La Stampa, Il Corriere della Sera, Avvenire, La Repubblica, Il Manifesto and Il Fatto Quotidiano.
My findings show that the word migrante, which in Italian means "migrant", it is the word that appears most frequently in the sample. Intrinsically, the word migrante has neither a positive or a negative connotation and is mainly used neutrally to describe migrants within different contexts. This can be intended as a way of avoiding use of the term "refugee", which implies in itself a legal obligation of protection towards the subject.
In my sample, the word migrante appears to be mostly associated with negative perceptions, such as an increase in public costs, violence, drug-use and other types of criminal behaviour. However, in a few cases, principally in newspapers that don’t have any particular political orientation, the word migrante was also linked to positive images.
Afterwards, I looked at the other three most common words: straniero ("foreigner" in English), profugo ("displaced person" in English) and marocchino ("Moroccan" in English). It is worth noting that the word used to define people migrating to Italy that was the third most commonly used was marocchino. Indeed, as outlined on the website Parlare Civile, a project developed with the aim of guiding Italian journalists to the correct vocabulary when dealing with sensitive topics, this term is mostly applied with a negative connotation.
Instead of indicating people coming from Morocco, marocchino is mostly used in the Italian press to refer to non-white migrants in general and with negative connotations, as if they were all part of the same social category of "non-Italians". The term marocchino is used by almost all the newspapers in the sample, with essentially no difference between papers with various political stances. In fact, all the broadsheets link the usage of the word to criminal acts.
In all these articles the phrases related to migrants committing a violent act are constructed in the active form, in such a way as to stress the agency of the migrant in carrying out the negative act. However, only Il Giornale explicitly emphasises their negative behaviour as if it were common to all migrants, portraying them as a threat to the Italian security.
From my sample, it has also emerged that the Italian broadsheets try to represent migrants in opposition to the Italians by emphasizing their different nationalities and cultures, or by describing them as "foreigners". For instance, the oppositional nature of the terms "us" and "them" is underlined by portraying Italian culture as being in the right, in contrast to the "religious fanaticism" of Islam.
The decision to report migrants’ nationalities in the various articles of my sample appeared to be a deliberate move, designed to accentuate their separation from Italian citizens. In right-wing newspapers this intention is made evident by the linking of nationality to explicitly negative images, but in other newspapers, migrants’ nationalities are given even when this information is irrelevant to any understanding of the story.
By contrast, the journalists’ code of conduct established by the Charter of Rome states that this type of information should be provided with an appropriate sense of responsibility and care.
My analysis has demonstrated that there is a tendency to emphasize the nationality of migrants in two ways; quantitatively, through repetition, or qualitatively, in opposition to the Italian national identity. These attitudes appear to be generally present in all the newspapers, regardless of their political leanings.
Nevertheless, overall the right-wing broadsheets developed a more reactionary and anti-immigration discourse, suggesting a desire to increase negative perceptions of migrants within the Italian population. By contrast, left-wing and neutral newspapers have also reported events were migrants were victims, or were not associated with any negative perceptions.
My findings show that Italian broadsheets have difficulty in being neutral and avoiding any form of judgment in the description of events with migrants as protagonists.
Luca Arfini is a journalist at Play the Game and student at Aarhus University
Opinions expressed in View articles are not those of euronews.