Publication Date: January 2019
Research and Editorial Team: Stefanie Walter

This research article explores how salient EU citizens were in British news coverage of Brexit and how they were portrayed, a topic that has been largely overlooked by literature.

Through LexisNexis and other databases, Walter collected 19,367 news stories related to Brexit published by broadsheets, tabloids, and regional papers between June 1, 2015 (after the general elections won by the Conservatives, which had promised to hold a EU referendum) and June 23, 2016 (the date of the referendum). Then, she extracted articles also mentioning EU citizens, finding 2,249 (12% of the Brexit stories). Distribution looked overall similar.

The analysis shows that there are no significant differences in the visibility of EU citizens between broadsheets and tabloids, while they were less likely to be mentioned in regional newspapers, both from England and Wales (in which there was a majority of Leave votes) and Scotland and Northern Ireland (in which there was a majority of Remain votes).

There were also no significant differences in the likelihood of mentions of EU citizens between outlets that advised their readers to vote Leave and those that did not. Also, EU citizens were not more likely to be mentioned in news outlets that advised their readers to vote Leave if the tone of the news story was negative. There is a small exception with regional newspapers from England and Wales, in which EU citizens were more visible if the story was negative.

The author did a robustness check to verify if the analysis was able to differentiate between citizens from other EU countries and non-EU migrants. This showed that “while EU citizens were less likely to be mentioned in news stories with a more negative tone, migrants in general were more likely to be mentioned in such stories. This finding suggests that the referendum may have been perceived as a vote against migration in general rather than against intra-EU migration”. Since Brexit would affect EU citizens migration and not general migration levels, this raises doubts on whether the media helped citizens make an informed choice.

Tags: United Kingdom EU Member States Local media

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