A new media watchdog report states global media outlets are slanting their coverage of the refugee crisis toward a right-wing populist perspective. The Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) states that media behavior is allowing conservative politicians to exploit fear to acquire political gain. Media outlets in the 14 country study are accused of failing to alert the world to the impending Syrian refugee crisis in 2014; spreading anti-migrant speech voiced by political leaders in the U.S. and Europe; failing to provide reliable, accurate data about the refugee crisis; and allowing themselves to be motivated by hyperbole and sensationalism.
The report’s authors also concluded that American media outlets published too much coverage of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s “virulent attacks on immigrants” and failed to fact-check his claims. Trump’s most cited erroneous claim is that illegal immigrants from Mexico are “rapists” and “murderers” and that crime waves in U.S. cities near Mexico are due to illegal immigration. The failure to fact-check by those media outlets has contributed to greater acceptance of Trump’s beliefs, the authors claimed. Specifically, three major American cable networks devoted almost twice their coverage to Trump over other Republican candidates. Most of the coverage was dubbed “his unapologetically xenophobic anti-immigration rhetoric.”
EJN’s report also criticizes American outlets for using “selective citation” of questions when polling voters 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 to forcibly expel millions of foreign-born workers and their families, most said no,” the report asserts. “Around the world media coverage is often politically led with journalists following an agenda dominated by loose language and talk of invasion and swarms,” claims Aidan White, director of EJN.
This year, the number of people forcibly displaced worldwide is estimated at a record 60 million. Displacement is mostly driven by violence and war in Syria and other long-term conflicts. Out of those 60 million, 20.2 million refugees are fleeing wars and persecution, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Aidan White said media reports are occasionally sympathetic and accurate, “At other moments the [coverage is] laced with humanity, empathy and a focus on the suffering of those involved.”
The purpose of the First Amendment of the constitution is to encourage a free press that can serve as a political agitator. Freedom of speech is considered to be fundamental to democracy. Alexander Meiklejohn argued that an informed electorate is essential for such a system to work. In order for that electorate to become informed, a free flow of information and ideas is also necessary. In 1983, 90% of media interests were owned by just 50 companies. Today, 90% is controlled by six companies. Freedom of the press is often suppressed by large corporations. Media corporations have a vested interest in withholding information that could jeopardize their financial interests. Even those that don’t follow politics have noticed a drastic change in quality of coverage over the years. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 60% of Americans said they have little or zero trust in the establishment media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. I personally like to believe that every time Fox News comes on, Thomas Jefferson is somewhere shedding an angry tear.