Media propounds negative perceptions of immigrants

The Irish mass media is primarily responsible for propounding widely held negative attitudes to immigrants and asylum seekers. This is a key finding of a recent study into immigration undertaken by sociologists from the University of Limerick and Mary Immaculate College. Only two media outlets in Ireland reported on the study, Drivetime (on RTE Radio 1) and the Irish Times, and neither piece dealt with the issue of the media informing attitudes on immigration. Instead, both led with the finding that a majority of Irish people believe society has “reached a limit”in the acceptance of other races, cultures and religions.


Other significant findings of this study are as follows:
most Irish people rely primarily on mass media for information about immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers;
most of those who rely on the media do not question the validity of the information reported;
most of the stories told to researchers about immigrants and asylum seekers expressed negative attitudes to immigrants and asylum seekers;
a majority of respondents who rely on media reports for information expressed negative attitudes to immigrants and asylum seekers.

In their research, UL sociologist Amanda Haynes said the team found “quite an amount of negative reporting” and a “focus on the majority position” in mass media outlets. Media reports focussed primarily on the ‘us' or Irish experiences of asylum seekers and immigrants rather than the experiences of these minority groups. The media also failed to contextualise the ‘push' factors – such as war, persecution, and natural disasters – that caused immigrants to seek asylum. In fact, merely 15.4 per cent of respondents cited “safety” as a reason why people seek asylum here, with more than twice as many believing it was related to “employment or social welfare”.

The majority of stories told by respondents related to conflict between immigrants and the wider Irish society, and conflict among immigrants. The most common stories about immigrants were (in descending prevalence): dangerous driving and driving without insurance or tax; crime in general and violent crime in particular; the exploitation of immigrant workers; public drunkenness; the displacement of Irish workers as a consequence of immigrant employment; and the repatriation of earnings made in Ireland to native countries.

In relation to asylum seekers the main stories pertained to deportation, criminality, and over-generous welfare payments.

The negative trend in media reportage of immigrant and asylum issues corresponds with the findings of a similar analysis of 611 newspaper articles published in Irish broadsheet and tabloid newspapers between 2000 and 2003. This study also found substantial negative reporting, and “a focus on the majority position (that of Irish nationals)”. The cultural and economic concerns of Irish people about asylum seekers were widely reported, as was the perceived pressure that asylum seekers place on Ireland's public services. Issues of crime, and concerns about protecting property and personal safety were also reported.

Amanda Haynes said that respondents who rely on media tend not to not question the validity of the reports that they read or hear. Most Irish people have no point of contact with immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers other than through the media. Therefore, most Irish are ill-equipped to question media reports about immigrants as they might on other issues for which they have alternative reference points. Amanda Haynes said that for asylum seekers, the low level of contact with Irish people is exacerbated by the fact they need to spend money they do not have to engage in the public sphere effectively.

However, positive stories were also relayed to the researchers. Some respondents spoke of immigrants as being hard workers with some saying, for example, that Polish people in particular have a strong work ethic. In these instances, the stories were based on first hand information or third party information rather than on media reportage. Positive feedback was also reported in human interest stories such as deportation, but these individual stories failed to translate to amorphous attitudes about the minority groups as a whole.