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Broadcast News Coverage of Asylum: Caught Between Human Rights and Public Safety

Grant Holders: Bernhard GrossKerry Moore & Terry Threadgold

Funder: Oxfam UK Poverty Programme

Based at: Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (JOMEC)

Project Duration: April to October 2006

The researchers found that asylum seekers and refugees were rarely the focus of coverage during the six months covered by this report (April to October 2006). Journalists, however, mentioned asylum on a regular basis in a number of different contexts. These contexts were represented in concept-maps (see documents) once researchers had systematically traced the positioning of asylum seekers and refugees throughout the coverage.

Our concept maps represent the complex conceptual networks within which asylum seekers and refugees were discursively situated in the broadcast news. They serve an important tool in our analysis, allowing us to demonstrate how asylum was woven through a range of news narratives concerned primarily with political crises, perceived tensions between human rights and law and order issues, and public safety. One or more of these themes also usually featured in the few news stories which did focus on asylum. However, it was the articulation of asylum within the wider conceptual network of the news coverage which was most important in attaching negative connotations to asylum.

Asylum seekers have very little opportunity to voice their perspectives within the news and seldom exert influence upon stories which affect them. But, as the report also emphasises, the discursive context constrains and influences possibilities for journalistic practice too. As such, individual journalists have relatively little influence upon the positioning of asylum within the news: they may strengthen and solidify the discursive network through their reporting; but they do not control it. Whilst very different discourses about asylum seekers and refugees are possible, and indeed do appear within broadcast news coverage, these appear to be confined to contexts of reporting international news. In the domestic context, journalistic practice remains caught within a web of apparently common-sense, but powerfully mediated understandings about asylum seekers and refugees. For interventions aimed at changing existing patterns of reporting asylum and refugee issues, it is therefore the limits and limitations of this web that would need to be challenged.

Related Resources

Executive Summary [200 KB]

Final report [680 KB]