Pretoria, July 19, 2011. The salience of immigration issues in European TV news during 2011 has risen sharply from the levels of reporting in the previous two years; additionally, the coverage has been increasingly negative, dovetailing with the rise in popularity of several far-right anti-immigration movements across the region in response to national security and identity concerns. These findings, from research organization Media Tenor International, also reveal that Western European countries, lead by Italy, have been the most dominant on the immigration issue, and it is their media that have taken the lead in shaping the discussion.
According to independent researcher Esther Ben-David, Europe has experienced two stages in its recent immigration history: “In the first stage, European leaders misjudged the effects of immigration and, in the second, they miscalculated how hard it would be to stop an immigration dynamic.” (Meforum.org, 3/22/2009). First, after World War II, many countries began to allow and entice foreign workers to enter. Following the economic downturn of the 1970s, however, European policy-makers decided that immigration was not a positive phenomenon because many of these foreign workers remained in their host countries and sought permanent residency despite rising unemployment. An “immigration stop” imposed by legislators further exacerbated the problem as migrants residing in Europe were allowed to reunite with their extended families by sponsoring their immigration. Immigration figures since the stop have revealed that more immigrants settled in Europe after the stop than in decades prior.
“Immigration has become one of the central political issues in many European countries and also at the European Union (EU) level,” says Media Tenor researcher Rieyaad Hartley. “Given the recent EU fallout regarding Italy´s proposal to ease travel restrictions for immigrants, how the immigration issue will interact with current discord regarding economic and foreign policy is central to the future of the EU.”
The popularity of far-right, anti-immigration movements, which has been increasing in recent years, has already led to several European governments taking preemptive steps to capitalize on current public sentiment. These movements, according to Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society Institute in Brussels, pose a significant threat to more established political powers: “…more European politicians are realising that by focussing on immigration, they can tap into voter fears about a range of issues – from the economy and jobs, to globalisation, change and an increasingly uncertain future.” (Reuters.com, 9/14/2010).
“Immigration, with its increasingly prominent place on the news agenda, serves both a symbolic and practical function in EU politics and will continue to be critical going forward,” adds Media Tenor´s Hartley.
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