Representation of Roma, refugees, and expats in Bulgarian online media during the 2017 election campaign

From AEJ

2017-05-11 12:37:44   |  Views: 568  |    |  0 comment(s)

The figures of the Roma, the refugees, and the Bulgarian expats in Turkey have particular dimensions in the Bulgarian media prior to elections. Theodor Spassov, a Bulgarian freelance journalist writing about international relations and human rights and a member of the Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria (AEJ-Bulgaria), set out to explore their quantitative and qualitative features of the representations of these groups in Bulgarian online media. Below we publish the most important findings from the two studies he conducted during the 2017 parliamentary election campaign in Bulgaria: Representation of the Roma and the Refugees in the Bulgarian Online Media and Representation of the Expats in the Bulgarian Online Media. Both studies were carried out in the context of the official parliamentary election campaign, which ran between 24 February 2017 and 24 March 2017.

Representation of the Roma and the refugees in the Bulgarian online media

The Bulgarian media show a chronic tendency to dehumanize Roma people, who are usually the first to be blamed for most public woes. Since “the refugee issue” took a central position on the media agenda in Bulgaria in September 2013, the media have helped create another representation of the enemy, namely the refugee.

Over the past five years, the statements against refugees have been much more visible and presented in a more understandable language than the statements in their support or in their interest. The media have consistently provided a platform to people using hate speech, and this nasty language has in turn replaced the sensible and expert talk about refugees-related matters. The speculative and almost always incompetent talk about “refugees”, the exploitation of human stereotypes and biases, the conflation of refugees and terrorists, and the lack of a clear distinction between the terms “refugee” and “immigrant” have gradually put the figure of the refugee on the same footing as the traditional epitome of the enemy in the Bulgarian media, the Roma. The refugee has thus emerged as another enemy in the Bulgarian society. According to polling agency Sova Harris, in the beginning of 2016, 60% of the Bulgarian citizens considered the refugees a threat to national security.

The objects of the study

The study covers the five most popular information-only online media in Bulgaria in 2016 based on the data collected by Gemius, a platform that measures online traffic. These media include, from number to number five in terms of popularity, Blitz.bg, Vesti.bg, Pik.bg, Novini.bg, and Dnes.bg.

The fears and prejudices present in a society, including those in relation to the figures of the enemy, are often exploited for political purposes. This state of affairs provided fertile ground for an abundance of stories on sensitive topics during the 2017 parliamentary election campaign, which enables us to evaluate the presence of the figure of the enemy in the Bulgarian online media in both quantitative and qualitative terms. The abundance of stories further allows us to find out which figure of the enemy – the Roma or the refugee – prevailed in the media during the 2017 parliamentary election campaign.

Blitz.bg

According to Gemius, Blitz.bg was the most read Bulgarian online media in 2016. In the current study, which covers the period from 6 March 2017 to 19 March 2017, Blitz.bg ranks second by the number of stories containing the words “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s)” and “Roma” or “Gypsy/Gypsies”. The total number of these stories is 100. The terms “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s)” appear in 78 of them, which gives an average of 5.6 stories per day. The terms “Roma/Gypsy” feature in 22 articles (an average of 1.6 stories per day).

As far as the headlines are concerned, 14 headlines contain the term “refugee(s)” and 13 contain “(im)migrant(s)”, which makes for a total of 27 headlines with references to the topic of “refugees”. “Roma” as a topic appears in 13 headlines: 12 of the headlines contain the term “Roma” and one contains the term “Gypsy”, which is considered inappropriate.

It is worth noting that although it appears in headlines far more rarely than “refugees”, the term “Roma” is almost always associated with negative actions and epithets already in the headline. In 11 out of the 12 headlines containing “Roma” (in the singular or in the plural), Roma people are associated with negative actions: “a Roma beats up”, “Roma people beat and throw”, “Roma people poison”, “Roma people destroyed”, “the person killed by Roma”, “Roma people caused real horror”, “Roma people ate”, Roma people slaughtered”, “something terrible caused by Roma”, and “Roma in jail”. Four of the 12 headlines contain negative qualifications: “drunken Roma”, “Roma on drugs”, and “a Roma horde” (used in two headlines).

In five of the 27 headlines with refugees-related terms, refugee(s)/(im)migrants are associated with negative epithets and actions: “infuriated migrants”, “brazen migrants”, “the sex assaults by refugees”, “refugee pest”, and “the refugees are to blame”. One of the headlines refers to “illegal refugees” – a concept that does not exist in practice simply because a person recognized as a refugee cannot be illegal. Two headlines refer to “illegal migrants”. One of the headlines contains the phrase “asylum seekers”, which is more appropriate than “migrants” or “refugees” with regard to people who have applied for refugee status but still haven’t been recognized as refugees.

Vesti.bg

According to Gemius, Vesti.bg was the second most read Bulgarian online media in 2016. In the current study, which covers the period from 6 March 2017 to 19 March 2017, Vesti.bg ranks fifth by the number of stories containing the words “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s)” and “Roma” or “Gypsy/Gypsies”. The total number of these stories is 20. The terms “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s)” appear in 18 of them, or in 1.9 stories per day. The terms “Roma” and “Gypsy/Gypsies” feature only in two articles during the studied period.

The terms “refugee/refugees” and “(im)migrant/(im)migrants” appear in four headlines each. “Roma” and “Gypsy/Gypsies” appear in one headline each, with the latter term considered to be inappropriate. In this particular case, however, the word “Gypsies” appears in a positive context: “Gypsies are the fathers of flamenco”. Indeed, this is the only headline in the present study in which “Roma” or “Gypsy/Gypsies” is used in a positive context. As a whole, the words “Roma” and “Gypsy/Gypsies” appear in headlines 10 times less often in Vesti.bg than in Blitz.bg. In the case of Vesti.bg, there are just two headlines with negative associations about Roma and refugees: “Roma people smashed” and “refugees export food”.

Pik.bg

According to Gemius, Pik.bg was the third most read Bulgarian online media in 2016. In the present study, which covers the period from 6 March 2017 to 19 March 2017, Pik.bg comes first in terms of the number of stories containing the words “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s)” and “Roma” or “Gypsy/Gypsies”. The total number of these stories is 104. The terms “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s)” appear in 79 of them, or in 5.6 stories per day. The terms “Roma” and “Gypsy/Gypsies” appear in 25 stories, or in 1.8 stories per day.

The terms “refugee/refugees” and “(im)migrant/(im)migrants” appear in 14 headlines each, and one headline contains both “refugee/refugees” and “(im)migrant/(im)migrants”. Thus, the refugee issue features in a total of 29 articles.

The word “Roma” appears in two headlines in Pik.bg, or six times less often than in headlines in Blitz.bg. By contrast, the word “Gypsy”, which is considered inappropriate, appears in five headlines in Pik.bg, or five times more often than in headlines in Bltiz.bg. In other words, despite its being seen as inappropriate, the term “Gypsy” predominates in the headlines of stories published by Pik.bg. On the whole, Roma as a topic appear in seven headlines in Pik.bg, or almost half as often as in the headlines in Blitz.bg. Pik.bg has four headlines mentioning the word “Gypsy” more than Blitz.bg.

Some of the headlines in Pik.bg contain negative associations with regard to “Roma” and “Gypsy/Gypsies” as well as “refugee(s)/(im)migrant/(im)migrant(s)”. The word “Gypsy” is often used instead of “Roma”. Negative associations linked to “Roma” and “Gypsy/Gypsies” are present in four out of the seven headlines containing one of these terms. The associations are as follows: “a Roma person jabbed”, “Gypsies…have stolen”, “Gypsies…poison”, and “Gypsies raped”. The negative associations with “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s)” are fewer than those with “Roma” and “Gypsy/Gypsies”: “migrants took over”, “migrants fought”, and “refugees take out”. There is also one headline with an element of judgement: “Shocking privileges: the refugees in Germany get free tickets to brothels”. Finally, in the two weeks covered by the present study, Pik.bg published four jokes referring to “Gypsy/Gypsies” and two jokes mentioning “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s)”.

Novini.bg

According to Gemius, Novini.bg was the fourth most read Bulgarian online media in 2016. In the present study, which covers the period from 6 March 2017 to 19 March 2017, Vesti.bg comes third in terms of the number of stories containing the words “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s)” and “Roma” or “Gypsy/Gypsies”. The total number of these stories is 61. The terms “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s)” appear in 52 of them, or in 3.7 stories per day. The terms “Roma” and “Gypsy/Gypsies” appear in 9 stories, or in 0.64 stories per day (or approximately one story every two days).

The refugee issue is present in 13 headlines, with seven of them using “refugee/refugees” and six using “(im)migrant(s)”. The terms “Roma” and “Gypsy/Gypsies”, with the latter considered inappropriate, appear in two headlines each.

In Novini.bg, “Roma” and “Gypsy/Gypsies” come with negative associations in three of the four articles containing one of these terms: “Roma people slaughtered”, “Gypsies beat up”, “a Gypsy who hit…”. One of the four titles refers to a “Roma problem”. A negative association in relation to “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s)” is only present in one headline: “refugees export food”. One of the headlines contains the term “asylum seekers”.

Dnes.bg

According to Gemius, Dnes.bg was the fifth most read Bulgarian online media in 2016. In the present study, which covers the period from 6 March 2017 to 19 March 2017, Dnes.bg ranks fourth in terms of the number of stories containing the words “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s)” and “Roma” or “Gypsy/Gypsies”. The total number of these stories is 48. The terms “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s)” appear in 41 of them, or in 2.93 stories per day. The terms “Roma” and “Gypsy/Gypsies” appear in seven stories, or in one story every two days.

The refugee issue is present in 13 headlines, with six of them using “refugee/refugees” and seven using “(im)migrant(s)”. The term “Roma” appears in two headlines, while the term “Gypsy/Gypsies”, which is considered inappropriate, does not appear in headlines at all. As with some of the other media covered by this study, Novini.bg sometimes publishes headlines linking fears, which are traditionally associated with refugees, to Roma people. Examples include: “Radical Islam is crawling toward the Roma”, “Fakulteta [the most famous Roma neighborhood in the capital city of Sofia] – taken over”, “Smugglers hid migrants in Roma neighborhoods in Sofia”. There is only one headline with a negative association with respect to migrants: “Proposal: Legalize the shooting of migrants”. There is also just one headline with a negative association with respect to Roma people: “Roma people responsible for the death…” The headlines do not contain any negative epithets. One headline presents the refugee issue in a positive context: “Six years later: Japan’s nuclear refugees in oblivion”.

Representation of Roma and refugees: summary of findings

The present study covered a total of 387 communication units published between 6 March 2017 and 19 March 2017. The number of communication units per each of the five online media is as follows: Blitz.bg – 112, Vesti.bg – 27, Pik.bg – 121, Novini.bg – 69, and Dnes.bg – 58.

According to the number of stories containing the words “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s)” and “Roma” or “Gypsy/Gypsies”, the five media outlets rank as follows:

First place: Pik.bg (104 stories)
Second place: Blitz.bg (100 stories)
Third place: Novini.bg (61)
Fourth place: Dnes.bg (48 stories)
Fifth place: Vesti.bg (20 stories)

The words “Roma” and “Gypsy” appear in headlines in Vesti.bg (fifth place) 10 times less often than in headlines in Blitz.bg (second place). Dnes.bg (fourth place) is the only media of the five outlets covered by the present study that did not use the word “Gypsy”, which is considered inappropriate, at all during the period of the study.

One of the main differences between Pik.bg (first place) and Blitz.bg (second place) is that Pik.bg almost always uses “Gypsy/Gypsies” instead of “Roma”, despite the fact that the former is considered inappropriate, whereas Blitz.bg uses “Roma” in the headlines of all Roma-related articles except for one in which it uses “Gypsy”.

The only headline in the present study which uses “Roma/Gypsies” in a positive context is “Gypsies are the fathers of flamenco”, published in Vesti.bg. The only headline covered by the study in which one of the terms “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s) is used in a positive context is “Six years later: Japan’s nuclear refugees in oblivion”, published in Dnes.bg.

The present study confirms the hypothesis that the topic “refugees” appeared in the media during the 2017 parliamentary election campaign more often than the topic “Roma”, while disproving the other two hypotheses. At the same time, it reveals that in at least one of the media the negative associations in relation to Roma in the headlines are much more prominent than the negative associations with regard to the refugees.

Representation of Bulgarian expats in Turkey: summary of findings

During the 2017 parliamentary election campaign, references to the Bulgarian expats in Turkey were exploited for political purposes. The present study aimed to test the following two hypotheses:
•    The term “Turks/expats” appeared more often in the Bulgarian media during the election campaign than “Roma” and “refugees/migrants” did
•    References to the Bulgarian expats in Turkey appeared in the Bulgarian media more often in the last five working days before the elections (20-24 March 2017)

The present study covered a total of 185 communication units. Of these, 111 were published between 6 March 2017 and 19 March 2017 and 74 were published between 20 March 2017 and 24 March 2017.

According to the number of stories containing the words “Turks/expats”, the five media outlets rank as follows:

First place: Pik.bg (39 stories)
Second place: Novini.bg (21 stories)
Third place: Vesti.bg (19 stories)
Fourth place: Blitz.bg and Dnes.bg (16 stories each)

According to the number of stories containing the words “Turks/expats” in comparison to the number of stories mentioning “refugee(s)/(im)migrant(s)” and “Roma” or “Gypsy/Gypsies” in the same media, the ranking is as follows:

First place: Vesti.bg (the number of stories published between 6 March 2017 and 19 March 2017 that contain the words “Turks/expats” exceeds the number of stories mentioning “refugee/immigrant” and “Roma/Gypsy” more than in the other media)

Second place: Pik.bg, Novini.bg, and Dnes.bg (the number of stories published between 6 March 2017 and 19 March 2017 that contain the words “Turks/expats” compared with the number of stories mentioning “refugee/immigrant” and “Roma/Gypsy” is average in comparison with the other media covered by the study)

Third place: Blitz.bg (the number of stories published between 6 March 2017 and 19 March 2017 that contain the words “Turks/expats” compared with the number of stories mentioning “refugee/immigrant” and “Roma/Gypsy” is the smallest in comparison with the other media covered by the study)

In all five media outlets, there was an increase of several times in the number of stories mentioning “Turk/expat” in the five working days before the elections. In terms of the size of the increase, the five media outlets rank as follows:

First place: Novini.bg (an increase of 3.6 times in the number of stories mentioning “Turk/expat” published in the period 20-24 March 2017 compared with the number of stories published in the period 6-19 March 2017)
Second place: Blitz.bg and Dnes.bg (2.36 times)
Third place: Pik.bg (1.94 times)
Fourth place: Vesti.bg (1.32 times)

The hypothesis that the term “Turks/expats” appeared more often in the Bulgarian media during the election campaign than the terms “Roma” and “refugees/migrants” was confirmed in the case of only one of the five media outlets, namely Vesti.bg. In four of the five media outlets, the term “Turks/expats” appeared more often than the term “Roma/Gypsy”. The exception is Blitz.bg, where the term “Turks/expats” appears the least often.

The hypothesis that references to the Bulgarian expats in Turkey appeared in the Bulgarian media more often in the period 20-24 March 2017 than in the period 6-19 March 2017 was confirmed in all five cases.

Author: Theodor Spassov (AEJ-Bulgaria)

*This text is part of AEJ-Bulgaria’s project “Mediator 2: A Bridge Between Ethical Journalism and the Society”, supported by the America for Bulgaria Foundation.

Picture: James Gordon/CC BY 2.0

 

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