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Television coverage of the refugee crisis is not well balanced

Experts monitored reports of the main news program of Česká televize and the commercial TV Nova.

Experts from the Faculty of Social Studies monitored reports of the main news program of Česká televize (the “Czech Television") and the commercial TV Nova from March till September. They found out that, surprisingly, both TV stations framed the topic in the same way. They did not provide balanced coverage of the events and they enhanced the feeling of migrants being a threat.

>> the whole research on ResearchGate (available only in Czech)

By the study, the researchers tried to draw attention to how putting the situation in a certain context by the media can strongly affect the way people perceive it. “Česká televize and Nova presented the topic mostly as a safety and administrative crisis. The humanitarian aspect of the whole situation was pushed to the background," comments the study conclusions Pavel Pospěch from the Department of Sociology.

He and his colleagues assumed that television and most importantly the main news programs represent the primary source of information that shapes people's opinions. In individual reports, they looked at several categories.

First of all they looked into what is the main topic of the total of 507 reports. And although it might have been expected that public and commercial TV stations would differ in this respect, the opposite was true. Both stations covered mostly events on various European locations, political negotiations about the refugee crisis and police issues – controls, detentions and protection. What they were nearly not interested in was help to the refugees or lives of people escaping the war. Causes of the crisis in their lands of origin were completely absent among the main news topics.

“If the media do not emphasise that these regions are war zones, they create an impression that causes of the crisis are refugees themselves," points out Pospěch and provides more details on the collected data. Police topics were the main theme in 43 percent of domestic news stories on Česká televize and in 37 percent on Nova TV.

Neither him nor his colleague Michal Tkaczyk, a media analyst, assessed whether the one-sided media coverage was intended or not. Both TV station honored reporting values according to which reporters should focus on current events happening nearby. Hence there is a higher chance to see the situation at the Hungarian border on the news than to see fighting in Syria. The economic aspect plays a role as well – having a reporter in Syria is much more of a challenge than sending one to Hungary. “However, this does not mean that TV stations should not attempt to find a reasonable balance. When reasons of the refugee crisis are not mentioned at all, the purpose of reporting is not fulfilled and the situation cannot be fully understood," adds Tkaczyk.

The choice of topics also influences the choice of speakers that comment on them. On both TV stations, the viewers could most often see Minister of the Interior Milan Chovanec, followed by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and generally representatives of security forces. Experts on migration and social inclusion were given a chance to speak only marginally on both stations. “Both stations broadcasted opinions of clerics, and in case of TV Nova celebrities as well, rather than comments of these experts," points out Michal Tkaczyk.

All this together means that the refugee crisis is presented as an administration problem putting our offices and social system under pressure. “The fact that migrants themselves are given very little space on the news during the studied time span contributes to the removal of the human aspect of the crisis," says Tkaczyk and adds that media can significantly contribute to the sense of threat that has been spreading in the society.

At this moment, they do not have data on how people really perceive the reports. The researchers would like to proceed to this aspect during the coming year. They would also like to focus on a wider range of media and on how reporters work.