Graduate School of Communication MSc Communication Science Track: Political Communication Start of programme: February 2021
Perceptions at the Source:
The Framing of Irregular Migration to Europe in Nigerian Daily Newspapers
by Antonia Schmidt Student ID: 13517341
Supervisor: Dr. Andreas Schuck Date of submission: 4 February 2022
Word count: 7,488
The way the news media frame migration to Europe has been the focus of much scholarly work, especially in the context of the so-called ‘migration crisis’. The perspective of the migrants’ countries of origin, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, is mostly overlooked. This study examined the prevalence of five generic (attribution of responsibility, conflict, morality, economic consequences, human interest) and three issue-specific (victim, troublemaker, risk awareness) news frames in the coverage on irregular migration to Europe in Nigerian daily newspapers. 369 news articles from three outlets published in 2017 and 2018 were analysed applying manual quantitative content analysis. Seven of the news frames were present in the news coverage, while the victim frame could not be confirmed. The responsibility frame was the most widely used news frame, though it differed from its original composition. Within the generic frames, it was followed by the human interest, economic consequences, morality, and conflict frames. The study operationalised a new issue-specific frame which raises awareness to the dangers of irregular migration and suggests alternative behaviours. This frame ranked third in the overall prevalence order, indicating a relatively strong presence. Furthermore, the study found a stronger compassionate angle in migration news reporting compared to the problematising troublemaker frame. No differences in the use of the frames examined were found between broadsheet and tabloid newspapers, which calls for a stronger sensitisation to media system factors in framing research. The findings encourage further research into the perceptions of migration at the source to counterbalance the focus on destination countries.
Keywords: media framing, content analysis, generic frames, issue-specific frames, irregular migration, Europe, Africa, Nigeria
Perceptions at the Source:
The Framing of Irregular Migration to Europe in Nigerian Daily Newspapers International migration towards Europe has been a pressing political concern over the last decade (IOM, 2020). Part of the dynamic is the inflow of irregular migrants trying to escape economic uncertainty, especially from sub-Saharan African countries like Nigeria, which has increased since 2010 and is likely to continue (Adhikari et al., 2021; Connor, 2018). While destination countries are confronted with migration management, countries of origin are witnessing growing shares of their working-age population seeking so-called greener pastures under often life-threatening circumstances (Idemudia & Boehnke, 2020).
These developments have reverberated in public discourse in host country populations across Europe. Especially during the so-called ‘migration crisis’ between 2015 and 2016 when cross-Mediterranean arrivals peaked, heightened media attention sparked controversial discussions about migrants and the impact of migration on society (Fargues, 2017; IOM, 2020). The way the mass media report about migration can be an important indicator of societal attitudes and priorities, as they construct and negotiate the meaning of policy issues, ultimately shaping public opinion (Gamson & Modigliani, 1989; Pan & Kosicki, 1993).
Media representations of migrants and migration can affect citizens’ emotions and attitudes towards them (e.g., Boomgaarden & Vliegenthart, 2009; Igartua et al., 2011; Lecheler et al., 2015). These can translate into tangible support for or resistance against migration policies, such as voting for anti-immigration parties (Burscher et al., 2015). In countries of origin, policy priorities are different and include the protection of vulnerable migrants on their journey to Europe, the forced return of citizens who were not permitted entry, or the
reintegration of returnees (Adam et al., 2020). However, comparably little is known about the news media discourse on migration to Europe in countries of origin, especially in sub-Saharan African states (Allen et al., 2018; Fengler et al., 2020; McAuliffe & Weeks, 2015; Zaman &
Differences in media representations of public policy issues and their effects are the core subject of news framing research, which assumes that “(often small) changes in the presentation of an issue or an event produce (sometimes large) changes of opinion” (Chong &
Druckman, 2007, p. 104). Frames can be understood as core elements of “interpretive packages that give meaning to an issue” (Gamson & Modigliani, 1989, p. 3), or as central ideas that organize and interpret unfolding events. Several framing analyses have examined migration news in various European host countries (e.g., Boomgaarden & Vliegenthart, 2009;
Figenschou & Thorbjørnsrud, 2015; Igartua et al., 2011; Kovář, 2019; Lecheler et al., 2015) but framing studies on the news discourse in sub-Saharan African countries are scarce.
This study contributes to filling this gap by examining the news framing of irregular migration to Europe in a relevant country of origin. Nigeria represents a suitable case since in absolute terms, Nigerians represent the largest group of sub-Saharan Africans living in Europe (Connor, 2018). In 2016, Nigerians led the list of nationalities of irregular migrants arriving in Italy via the sea, although their prospects for residence permission are low (Achilli et al., 2016; Fargues, 2017). The analysis focuses on irregular or unauthorized migration, as it represents one of the core priorities for European migration management (European
Commission, 2015; European Commission, 2020; Triandafyllidou, 2016). It is defined as crossing international borders or residing in a country without legal permission, or entering a country with false or falsified documents (Morehouse & Blomfield, 2011). The overarching research question is:
RQ: How is irregular migration to Europe framed in Nigerian news media?
Quantitative content analysis is applied to assess the prevalence of certain generic news frames (Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000), as well as selected issue-specific news frames (de Vreese, 2005) focused on migration. The study adds a new perspective on migration news research by shifting the focus from the much-researched Western media world to the under- investigated perspective of a sub-Saharan African source country.
Theoretical Background News Framing and Migration
News media research on migration has so far “focused only on migrant-receiving countries, leaving origin countries devoid of any worthwhile critical attention” (Zaman &
Das, 2021, p. 385). This renders it predominantly an analysis of media debate around
immigration. This study synthesises the recipient perspective with preliminary findings on the discussion of emigration in countries of origin to develop a framework for analysis.
Frames and Framing: Conceptual Considerations
Ahead of going into topical detail, any framing analysis requires a statement of its operational definitions (Lecheler & de Vreese, 2018). This is relevant since frames have been conceptualized in manifold ways – to an extent that some have lamented the lack of
agreement and the unsystematic application of framing analysis, diluting its explanatory power (e.g., Cacciatore et al., 2016; Entman, 1993; de Vreese, 2005).
A common and often referenced (cf. Matthes, 2009) understanding describes framing as selecting and emphasizing certain aspects of an issue as opposed to other pieces of
associated information. This increases the salience of a specific perspective or interpretation, making that outlook more meaningful or relevant to the audience (Entman, 1993). In a news text, frames are composed of certain textual or visual elements (or ‘framing devices’), which can be clearly distinguished from hard facts of the story (de Vreese, 2005; Gamson &
Salience or emphasis-based definitions of frames have been contested as too broad for analytical application. Cacciatore et al. (2016) argue that they overlap too much with other communication concepts such as priming or agenda-setting, and place framing too generally within the realm of persuasion. The authors suggest distinguishing more clearly between frame types and prefer equivalence-based over emphasis-based framing definitions. Those see framing as a manipulative process that alters the presentation or phrasing of information that
is otherwise logically equivalent but does not necessarily aim to persuade recipients of a certain viewpoint.
While these discussions are acknowledged, the study sides with Lecheler and de Vreese’s (2018) assessment that the equivalence framing perspective is somewhat too narrow for framing in a media production context. In political communication, issues are complex, and emphasizing different aspects is a core feature of journalistic practice and agency.
Emphasis definitions are still applied in most framing analyses and prove useful when issues cannot easily be reduced to two equivalent scenarios (de Vreese & Lecheler, 2012), which seems appropriate for the context of international migration where clear-cut or two-sided views are rare.
Framing Effects in Migration Coverage
It is warranted to explain why framing research matters. News frames can activate and interact with the audience’s prior knowledge, beliefs, or attitudes (de Vreese, 2005; de Vreese
& Lecheler, 2012). They can have cognitive, behavioural, and affective or emotional effects, such as changes in public opinion, political behaviour, information processing, attitudes, or emotional responses towards certain issues (Lecheler & de Vreese, 2018). In a politicized issue such as migration, these interactions can have a considerable impact since “managing migration also implies managing how migrants are perceived in society” (Chauzy & Appave, 2013, p. 62).
It has been demonstrated that European media representations of migrants and
migration matter for the public’s attitudes, depending on whether the emphasis of a story is on the perceived negative or positive consequences of immigration for the host society
(Boomgaarden and Vliegenthart, 2009; Igartua & Cheng, 2009; Igartua et al., 2011).
Boomgaarden and Vliegenthart (2009) found that people perceive immigration as less problematic the more often immigrant actors are featured in the news. In other research, a converse finding indicated a positive relationship between mere exposure to immigration
news content and voting intention for anti-immigrant parties (Boomgaarden and Vliegenthart, 2007; Burscher et al., 2015).
The effects of migration-related frames depend on contextual factors such as political preferences (Aalberg & Beyer, 2015), endorsement by powerful actors and journalists (Ihlen
& Thorbjørnsrud, 2014), actual levels of immigration (Boomgaarden & Vliegenthart, 2009), and the frame type (Bos et al., 2016; Igartua et al., 2011; Lecheler et al., 2015). Nevertheless, the power of news frames in shaping migration-related perceptions and attitudes calls for better knowledge about their nature and frequency.
Dominant Frames in European Migration Coverage
Before highlighting the few studies on African news media and migration, the trends and patterns in Europe are outlined to establish a frame of reference. Studies have
inconsistently labelled their subject of research as migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers, or simply migration or immigration in general (Eberl et al., 2018).
Looking at general trends, the tonality of European news discourse on migration has been determined as predominantly neutral or negative (Fengler et al., 2020). When focusing on specific frames, however, portrayals of migrants and the impact of migration on host societies vary across countries and time (Caviedes, 2015). In a relatively dichotomous manner, European news media have framed migrants through “contradictory roles” (Horsti, 2008, p. 151) – either from a humanitarian perspective as vulnerable victims of circumstances beyond their control or even heroes, or as faceless strangers, intruders, or perpetrators
threatening the host society (e.g., Benson, 2013; Figenschou & Thorbjørnsrud, 2015;
Greussing & Boomgaarden, 2017; van Gorp, 2005). Horsti (2008) elaborates that this
dichotomy can depend on the viewpoint of the journalist: In Euro-centric accounts, problems around control and management are highlighted with a passive, objectifying presentation of unauthorized migrants, while reports based on research in African countries are more personalized. Stories connecting migratory developments to the regions of origin have,
however, been found to be relatively scarce, indicating domestication in European migration reporting (Fengler et al., 2020). In line with a more heroic account of migrants – often deportation stories (Horsti, 2008) – Ihlen and Thorbjørnsrud (2014) uncovered a ‘man- against-the-system’ frame, which portrays immigrants as innocent and well-integrated, but treated unfairly by bureaucracy. Other ‘hero’ frames have been identified concerning migrants’ contributions to the economy, societal diversity, and multiculturalism (Benson, 2013; Lawlor, 2015; Vliegenthart & Roggeband, 2007). However, Benson and Wood (2015) found problems related to immigration to be discussed significantly more often than its causes or possible solutions.
According to Figenschou and Thorbjørnsrud (2015), the victim narrative is often related to a human-interest angle in reporting, describing the migrants’ suffering through human examples and the push factors making them emigrate. Stories without a human- interest outlook were found to be linked to a stronger threat narrative (Benson, 2013;
Figenschou & Thorbjørnsrud, 2015), which emphasises how immigration poses challenges to or even endangers the host population. Migrants are portrayed as criminals or a physical threat to domestic citizens, which should be remedied by stricter border controls or law enforcement. The prevalence of threat framing has led to the perception of a securitisation of immigration (or ‘crimmigration’, Brouwer et al., 2017) reporting in Europe (e.g., Caviedes, 2015; Kovář, 2019).
Next to the dominant security threat or illegality narrative, the emphasis of economic consequences as a second ‘master-frame’ (Kovář, 2019) has been examined, and deemed to be equally or at least similarly salient (Caviedes, 2015; Fengler et al., 2020; Greussing &
Boomgaarden, 2017; Lawlor, 2015). This narrative focuses on the economic implications of immigration for the host countries, such as labour market effects or increased public costs for asylum and welfare services. This is related to a division between ‘poor Africa’ and ‘rich Europe’ that Horsti (2008) detected in news coverage on African migration to Europe.
European immigration news analyses are not entirely suited as a theoretical foundation to examine Nigerian coverage of irregular migration. However, they serve as a point of
reference to link patterns of coverage in recipient and source countries.
Shifting Perspective: Framing Irregular Migration in Source Countries
The imbalance between research on Western destination countries and studies on transit or origin states, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, has been noted repeatedly (Allen et al., 2017; Fengler et al., 2020; Zaman & Das, 2021). Fengler et al. (2020) presented the first comprehensive study of migration news coverage in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda and compared it to news reporting in six major European destination countries. The authors highlight that the issue of migration is significantly more salient in newspapers of destination countries than in African source countries. Cham and Adam (2021) were equally surprised at the little coverage on irregular migration in Gambian newspapers given the relative importance of emigration for the West African country. In terms of topics, it appears that a focus on the risks and consequences of irregular migration is prevalent in African news coverage. In The Gambia, next to looking at factors contributing to emigration, newspapers reported most prominently on the forced return of migrants who had been rejected by a country of destination (Cham & Adam, 2021). Fengler et al. (2020) report a more general emphasis on the dangers of migration, which is in line with the findings of a small-scale qualitative study of four Nigerian news articles (Oloruntoba et al., 2018). Linked to this awareness-raising narrative, several authors found news stories discouraging emigration and encouraging prospective migrants to seek alternatives in their home country (Cham & Adam, 2021; Oloruntoba et al., 2018). News coverage in sub-Saharan African countries also showed hints of a victim narrative that calls for humanitarian action considering the sufferings of irregular migrants (Cham & Adam, 2021) and highlights the heroic nature of rescue and assistance efforts of domestic and international organisations (Oloruntoba et al., 2018). The visibility of international actors and donors in African news coverage underlines the complex
relationship between aid-dependent origin countries and European recipient and donor countries interested in reducing irregular migration (Cham & Adam, 2021).
The few but relevant studies on the sub-Saharan African perspective reveal that public discourse in countries of origin is shaped by different priorities that include responses to citizens risking their lives trying to reach Europe as well as complying with international expectations.
Research Objective and Questions
Synthesising the extant literature on European and African coverage, the study contributes a more extensive and quantitative investigation of the frames prevalent in Nigerian reporting. Considering the scarcity of framing research on source countries, both general reporting patterns and specific migration-related frames deserve attention.
Therefore, the analysis follows a two-level structure – a deductive examination of generic news frames, and a partly inductive assessment of issue-specific frames. Generic frames (de Vreese, 2005; Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000) are found in news content across topics, time, or cultural contexts, while issue-specific frames are related to a particular event or policy issue (de Vreese, 2005). Such a two-tiered approach (Boydstun & Glazier, 2013) overcomes the lack of detail generic frames provide and the case sensitivity of issue-specific frames that lack generalizability (de Vreese, 2005). Generic and issue-specific frames need not be considered as separate alternatives, but rather as “complementary layers of framing […] situated on different levels of abstraction” (Brüggemann & D’Angelo, 2018, p. 91).
For the first tier, the study draws on Semetko and Valkenburg’s (2000) generic frames that have been tested repeatedly, including in migration news research (e.g., Figenschou &
Thorbjørnsrud, 2015; Kim & Wanta, 2018). The conflict frame stresses conflict or
disagreement between individuals, groups, or organizations, often simplifying complex issues to attract audience attention. The human interest frame adds a human face and emotional dimension to a story for personalization or dramatization. The economic consequences frame
emphasizes the economic costs and benefits of an issue for individuals, groups, or states. The morality frame provides a religious or moral perspective, and the responsibility frame seeks out the actors responsible for the causes and/or solutions of an issue among the government, individuals, or groups. This translates into the first research question:
RQ1: Which generic frames are most prevalent in Nigerian news coverage of irregular migration to Europe?
The issue-focused tier starts from the observation that European news coverage often oscillates between a humanitarian or victim perspective, and an intruder or threat perspective (e.g., Benson, 2013; van Gorp, 2005). This dichotomy is transferable to the emigration context since it puts portrayals of migrants at the core, who are the common denominator between origin and transit countries. Furthermore, humanitarian and victim emphases have been found in African news coverage (e.g., Cham & Adam, 2021; Oloruntoba et al., 2018), but not operationalized and quantitatively assessed. Victim framing can also be expected since the protection of nationals on their way to Europe has become a public policy goal in several African states, together with increased public awareness of the human rights
violations often suffered by irregular migrants (Adam et al., 2020). Although there are fewer hints to an intruder or problematising perspective in sub-Saharan African countries, Adam et al. (2020) note that stricter border controls and a securitisation of migration has become part of African governments’ policy responses, mostly to receive international funding and to comply with European requests. It could be argued that the roll-out of such policies is
justified or contextualized by more negative framing of irregular migrants. In fact, research on Nigeria argues that its government has an “agenda of vilifying deported migrants”
(Oloruntoba et al., 2018, p. 1131) and that migrants are at times considered immoral or reputational damage to the nation (Plambech, 2017). This domestic perspective calls for extending the European-focused ‘intruder’ frame to a more generalised ‘troublemaker’
Based on these considerations, two more research questions are formulated:
RQ2: To what extent is there a victim frame present in Nigerian news coverage of irregular migration to Europe?
RQ3: To what extent is there a troublemaker frame present in Nigerian news coverage of irregular migration to Europe?
Going beyond existing frames, the study proposes a new frame building upon the findings that African news coverage on migration emphasises the risks of irregular migration to Europe and encourages citizens to stay home (Cham & Adam, 2021; Fengler et al., 2020;
Oloruntoba et al., 2018). This is of interest since information campaigns discouraging irregular migration have been an integral part of European migration management policies (Musarò, 2019; Nieuwenhuys & Pécoud, 2007; Oeppen, 2016). These campaigns are distributed through manifold offline and online channels, including newspapers (Hartig, 2017). Sub-Saharan African states tend to collaborate in these efforts, as they continue to be economically dependent on foreign donors (Adam et al., 2020). This could be aligned with heightened attention to the dangers of migration in the news media, which warrants the investigation of a ‘risk awareness’ frame:
RQ4: To what extent is there a risk awareness frame present in Nigerian news coverage of irregular migration to Europe?
Finally, the use of news frames may depend on the outlet, since journalists are often influenced by their organizational and cultural contexts (e.g., Brüggemann, 2014).
Differences in migration reporting between broadsheet newspapers and tabloids have been documented, with tabloids employing a more negative tone and stronger use of a burden or threat narrative (e.g., Gabrielatos & Baker, 2008; Kovář, 2019; van Gorp, 2005).
To explore frame use variations across Nigerian newspapers, the final research question asks:
RQ5: Does the prevalence of the news frames differ across outlets?
To answer the research questions, manual quantitative content analysis (Riffe et al., 2019) was applied to coverage from three Nigerian daily newspapers in 2017 and 2018 (N = 369). The news frames were understood as dependent variables representing the outcome of the journalistic production process (de Vreese, 2005) and operationalized through a mixed approach by using established categories as well as new frame elements.
The sample was compiled in a multistage sampling process. Nigeria was purposively selected as a suitable case as the leading source country of sub-Saharan migrants living in Europe (Connor, 2018). Nigerians also constituted the largest migrant group from sub- Saharan Africa arriving in Europe during the European ‘migration crisis’, and demand for emigration in Nigeria is expected to increase (Adhikari et al., 2021). It was necessary to examine an English-speaking country due to language abilities. Other countries such as Ghana or Kenya would have been equally interesting, but access to coverage was limited.
Three Nigerian national daily newspapers were selected based on reach, trust, and availability. The privately-owned Lagos-based dailies The Punch and Vanguard were chosen because they rank highest in terms of weekly offline and online reach (disregarding TV channels and international broadcasters) as well as brand trust scores (Newman et al., 2021).
The Sun was added as a popular daily tabloid providing “culturally shocking news regularly”
(Chama, 2017, p. 3). The selected newspapers represent the Southwest of Nigeria, which is indicative of the national elite and policy discourse (Yusha’u, 2010). It is difficult to characterize the outlets in terms of political parallelism with parties or ideologies (Hallin &
Mancini, 2004), as the Nigerian media system is shaped by ‘regional parallelism’, reflecting regional, ethnic, and religious affiliations rather than clear-cut political positions. Individual and localized political and business elite interests furthermore exert influence, expressed
through private media ownership (Yusha’u, 2010). Because of the difficulty in characterizing the newspapers, the distinction considered here is between the broadsheets and the tabloid to avoid any misinterpretation of the results.
The time frame was determined by convenience and purposive criteria. Even though irregular migration to Europe in terms of combined arrivals via land and sea peaked in late 2015 and early 2016 (UNHCR, 2022), several news sources were only available from late 2016 onwards. However, 2017 still represented a relevant year; Italy then signed a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding with Libya, a gateway along the central Mediterranean migrant route, to prevent and reduce irregular migration by intercepting more migrants. This led to even more African migrants stranding in Libyan detention centres (Baldwin-Edwards &
Lutterbeck, 2018), allowing to assume heightened media attention in Nigeria. Coverage in the selected newspapers significantly diminished after 2018, and the development of the COVID- 19 pandemic may have distorted the sample because of a shift in priorities. For these reasons – and to keep the sample manageable – the time frame was limited to 1 January 2017 until 31 December 2018.
News Article Selection
The articles were collected through Nexis Uni (The Sun) and Factiva (The Punch and Vanguard) using the search term [[refuge* OR migra*] AND Europe*]. A purposive manual selection was made that included only articles above 150 words with a primary focus on or relevant mention of migration from a sub-Saharan African country to (a country in) Europe.
Duplicates were dropped, as were articles that merely focused on intranational, intraregional, or intra-African migration, or on migration outside of Europe. Moreover, items were excluded that solely elaborated on legal migration (i.e., following official procedures), or that focused exclusively on forced displacement. It has been shown that attitudes towards migrants depend on the perception of whether they migrate voluntarily or not (Verkuyten et al., 2017),
therefore it was decided to keep the sample homogenous.A sample of 369 articles resulted, with 111 articles from The Punch, 152 from Vanguard, and 106 from The Sun. The units of analysis were the main bodies of the articles.
News Frame Operationalization
A common problem regarding the reliability and validity of framing analysis is that
“[w]ithout naming the criteria for the identification of frames, their assessment falls into a methodological black box” (Matthes & Kohring, 2008, p. 260). Therefore, it is vital to define the constituting elements of a frame beforehand. This study used established categories and new elements emerging from a preliminary inductive screening of a random sub-sample. The frames were operationalized in a codebook with 34 binary items (0 = no, 1 = yes; see
The five generic frames were operationalized using 19 items from the original study (Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000). The databases mostly did not include photographs or videos, therefore an item pertaining to the human interest frame was excluded that assessed the presence of visual information.
The victim and troublemaker frames were developed adapting existing categories (Benson, 2013; Figenschou & Thorbjørnsrud, 2015; van Gorp, 2005) in addition to
information about policy priorities of African source countries (e.g., Adam et al., 2020) and narratives emerging from the inductive analysis.
The ‘victim’ frame was conceptualized with five binary items assessing the presence of 1) an emphasis on the suffering and hardships of migrants, 2) a focus on the push factors making migrants emigrate, 3) references to helping, rescuing, or evacuating migrants, 4)
mentions of the human rights or dignity of migrants, and 5) suggestions that returnees should be welcomed back or reintegrated.
The ‘troublemaker’ frame captured the intruder narrative by examining whether 1) migrants or their acts are generally described as criminal or illegal, and 2) as an economic or societal burden, or as a threat specifically to the destination country. Another item captured whether 3) stricter law enforcement, border controls, or other similar immigration policies are described or suggested. Based on the inductive analysis, two items asked whether 4) irregular migrants are portrayed as a nuisance, deception, embarrassment, or reputational damage to the home country, and whether there is 5) a suggestion that emigrants made a free decision to leave and are responsible for the consequences.
The risk awareness frame was developed based on preliminary findings (Cham &
Adam, 2021; Oloruntoba et al., 2018) and the inductive pre-screening. Five binary items were developed following Entman’s (1993) suggestion that frames define problems as well as their costs and benefits, identify the causes of the problem, propose moral judgments by evaluating the actors deemed responsible for an issue, and offer solutions or treatments to address the problem. The items assessed whether 1) potential risks and personal consequences of the irregular journey to Europe are mentioned (problem), 2) the story emphasises that migrants are misled in hoping for a successful and safe journey to Europe (causes), 3) the article underlines the risk or danger of travelling to Europe irregularly (evaluation), 4) there is a suggestion for potential migrants to stay in the country or look out for legal migration options (solution), and 5) there is a recommendation for (or description of) enhanced information campaigns about the risks of irregular migration (solution).
Coding and Intercoder Reliability
The codebook was used to code all articles manually. To assess intercoder reliability, slightly over 10 % of the articles (N = 38) were coded by a second coder who had been
trained on the codebook. Reliability was calculated using Krippendorff’s Alpha. Values above
.800 were considered excellent, while a level of .677 was used as the lower margin of acceptance, which is appropriate for tentative conclusions (Krippendorff, 2004, p. 241). As the first round did not yield satisfactory results, a second round was performed after
additional training sessions and improved variable descriptions. The subsequent results were satisfactory to excellent with Alpha values ranging between .71 and 1 (see Appendix B for all estimates). The question “Does the story refer to winners and losers?” achieved perfect agreement because it was never coded as present. This means that it does not measure actual coder reliability for this variable, which is acknowledged for now and will be addressed later.
Factor Analysis and Frame Scale Development
Whether the 34 manifest variables reflected the latent news frames was examined through factor analysis with Oblimin rotation using SPSS. Factor analysis is a common method for quantitative frame analyses (e.g., Greussing & Boomgaarden, 2017; Semetko &
Valkenburg, 2000). Principal axis factoring was chosen over principal component analysis because it is deemed more suitable for developing new scales and discovering latent factors (Carpenter, 2017; Worthington & Whittaker, 2006). Direct Oblimin was preferred over orthogonal rotation because a correlation between some of the factors could not be entirely discarded. High scores on a potential victim frame might correlate with high scores on the human interest frame or low scores on the troublemaker frame (e.g., Figenschou &
Thorbjørnsrud, 2015; van Gorp, 2005).
Since the analysis did not immediately yield an interpretable factor solution with discrete factors and few to preferably no cross-factor loadings, several rounds were run.
Successively, problematic items were removed that had very low communalities
(communalities < .20), only factor loadings below .30, or strong cross-loadings. The pattern matrix stabilized on a factor solution that retained seven factors – confirmed by both
eigenvalues above 1, a clear point of inflexion in the scree plot, and conceptual
interpretability – and 22 variables. Varimax rotation on the same items yielded an identical
structure, indicating low intercorrelations between the factors. The Oblimin-rotated analysis was determined as the final factor solution (see Appendix C, Table C1) since oblique rotation yields more accurate results than orthogonal rotation (Carpenter, 2017). Bartlett’s test of sphericity was significant (χ2 (231) = 3205.58, p < .00), and the Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin (KMO) measure of sampling adequacy was .70, thus above the acceptable lower level of .60 for the KMO value and a significance level of < .05 for Bartlett’s chi-square (Carpenter, 2017). All communalities were above .30, indicating some common variance among all items. Given these parameters, factor analysis was deemed appropriate for the data and sample at hand. All primary factor loadings were .41 or higher, and the factors explained 69.35% of the variance with eigenvalues between 1.20 and 3.80. The economic consequences frame yielded entirely negative factor loadings. There were no reverse-coded items, but the negativity may be explained by negative intercorrelation coefficients with all other frames in the factor correlation matrix.
Based on these factors, seven multi-item scales were computed, using the average item scores. Mirroring Semetko and Valkenburg (2000), the scales ranged from .00 (not present) to 1.00 (fully present). All scales were composed of at least three items except for the
responsibility frame with only two items. It is acknowledged that a minimum of three items per scale is recommended to capture multiple aspects of abstract latent concepts and to
improve scale reliability (Carpenter, 2017; Worthington & Whittaker, 2006). However, it was decided to not eliminate the frame, but rather treat its interpretation with caution. Since all variables were dichotomous, the Kuder-Richardson-Formula 20 (KR-20) was used to measure scale reliabilities. The estimates for the frames human interest (KR-20 = .82), conflict (KR-20
= .86), morality (KR-20 = .83) and economic consequences (KR-20 = .81) achieved satisfactory levels above .80. The responsibility frame scale reached .76, both when
calculating KR-20 and the Spearman-Brown coefficient, a more adequate reliability estimate for two-item scales (Eisinga et al., 2012). The inductively developed risk awareness frame
also scored relatively low (KR-20 = .66), though still acceptable considering its exploratory nature. The troublemaker frame had the lowest KR-20 reliability score at .58, although the items retained in the factor solution were based on literature and not on the inductive sample screening. Although a reliability level below .60 is insufficient, the frame was still included, which affects the generalizability of the results and will add to the limitations. Intercorrelation between the frame scales was low, ranging from r = -.20 (p < .001) between the risk
awareness and the conflict frame to r = .29 (p < .001) between the human interest and economic consequences frame. Several inter-frame correlations were non-significant,
altogether indicating little to no correlation between the seven frames (see Appendix C, Table C2 for the correlations matrix). Raw frequencies and mean scores per news frame were calculated to assess their prevalence in the sample (see Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000), and analyses of variances were run to compare frame use between the news outlets (see below).
The frames partially changed their composition compared to the initial
conceptualisation. The two-item responsibility frame now merely tapped the ability of the government to alleviate migratory problems and the suggestion of specific solutions. It no longer contained the sub-dimension capturing the attribution of causal responsibility for such problems or calls for urgent action. The final conflict frame did not include the item on
winners and losers. This solved the complication of the non-interpretable intercoder reliability score and reaffirmed that the question was not relevant for the whole sample, since it was only coded as present once. The victim frame was entirely discarded since none of the items contributed to a simple factor solution. The troublemaker frame was also limited to the items adopted from previous research, not capturing the source country perspective on emigrants.
The risk awareness frame came together as a four-item scale, with only one item eliminated.
All in all, most of the frames investigated were found to be present in Nigerian news coverage
on irregular migration, except for the victim frame. Follow-up analyses were run to answer the proposed research questions regarding the frequency of these frames.
Descriptive Statistics on News Frame Prevalence
The descriptive analysis of the raw frequencies of frame use across the whole sample (Table 1) already indicates a relatively strong prevalence of the responsibility frame, but also a significant share of articles employing a human interest angle, and at least partially the newly constructed risk awareness frame.
Raw frequencies of the news frames across the whole sample (N = 369)
Not present Partially
present Fully present Total Generic frames
Responsibility 75 (20.3%) 59 (16%) 235 (63.7%)
369 Human interest 194 (52.6%) 129 (34.9%) 46 (12.5%)
Economic consequences 266 (72.1%) 70 (19%) 33 (8.9%)
Morality 304 (82.4%) 47 (12.8%) 18 (4.9%)
Conflict 312 (84.6%) 35 (9.5%) 22 (6%)
Risk awareness 174 (47.2%) 177 (47.9%) 18 (4.9%) Troublemaker 241 (65.3%) 114 (30.9%) 14 (3.8%)
Note. Not present: No item constituting the frame was coded as present. Partially present: at least one item was coded as present. Fully present: all items were coded as present.
The comparison of the mean scores (Table 2) shows that across the whole sample, the responsibility frame was the most prevalent one by far (M = .72, SD = .40) while the conflict frame was the least present news frame (M = .10, SD = .27). This goes both for a ranking
within the generic frames only as well as the overall order of all the seven news frames analysed. Within the generic frames, the responsibility frame was followed by the human interest, economic consequences, morality, and conflict frames in terms of ranked visibility (RQ1). Of the two issue-specific frames, the risk awareness frame was more prevalent (M = .26, SD = .31) than the troublemaker frame (M = .17, SD = .28) (RQ 3 & 4). It is noteworthy that the inductively developed four-item risk awareness frame scale ranked third in the overall prevalence order of all seven news frames, just after the human interest frame (M = .28, SD = .36). In the global ranking, the troublemaker frame ranks fifth, still ahead of the morality and conflict frames. Since the victim frame did not come together as a coherent factor, it could not be confirmed as a latent news frame (RQ 2).
Mean scores of the prevalence of six news frames in three Nigerian daily newspapers
News frame The Punch Vanguard The Sun Full sample
Responsibility .77 (.38) .67 (.42) .74 (.40) .72 (.40) Human interest .23 (.32) .31 (.37) .30 (.38) .28 (.36) Economic consequences .20 (.34) .18 (.33) .19 (.33) .19 (.33)
Morality .10 (.25) .14 (.30) .12 (.27) .12 (.28)
Conflict .14 (.32) .08 (.22) .10 (.27) .10 (.27)
Risk awareness .21 (.30) .29 (.30) .28 (.31) .26 (.31) Troublemaker .15 (.27) .16 (.25) .22 (.31) .17 (.28)
N 111 152 106 369
Note. Standard deviation values per mean score in parentheses.
At first glance, the mean scores did not vary to a large extent across outlets. However, some variation was visible so that analyses were run to assess its statistical significance.
Framing Differences Between Outlets
Since the frames represented seven dependent variables, a one-way multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was run to compare frame use between the newspapers (RQ5). Although MANOVA requires at least moderately correlated dependent variables (e.g., Huberty & Morris, 1989), it was still included to not underestimate the low but existing inter- factor correlations. Box’s M-test for homogeneity of the covariance matrices between the independent variable groups (here: newspaper outlets) was non-significant (M = 75.25, p = .06), suggesting that the requirement of equal covariance matrices was met. However, the analysis did not yield a statistically significant overall effect (Wilk’s Λ = .95, F(14, 720) = 1.49, p = .011, partial η2 = .03), so that no further post-hoc tests were run. The MANOVA did not indicate a differential application of the news frames across the outlets.
To verify this assumption and to account for the low correlations between the factors, a series of one-way analyses of variance (ANOVA) were run for each news frame variable.
Similarly, no analysis produced a significant effect, with all p-values being .09 or higher. It needs to be remarked that – possibly related to the somewhat unequal sample sizes of the outlets – Levene's test was significant for four of the variables (responsibility (F(2,366) = 3.51, p = .031), human interest (F(2,366) = 4.28, p = .015), conflict (F(2,366) = 7.05, p <
.001), troublemaker (F(2,366) = 5.19, p = .006), violating the assumption of equal variances in the population. However, both Welch’s and Brown-Forsythe’s robust tests, which are recommended as substitutes for Levene’s test in the case of unequal sample sizes (Parra- Frutos, 2012), confirmed the insignificance of the differences with all significance levels across tests and variables above .10. The ANOVA thus confirmed the results of the MANOVA. As the results were insignificant, no post-hoc tests were run.
Altogether, the results indicate that there were no statistically significant differences between the newspaper outlets regarding news frame use. The frame ranking order across the whole sample described above thus largely corresponds with the use patterns of each
individual outlet. For frame prevalence, it did not make a significant difference whether an article was published in a quality broadsheet newspaper or a tabloid paper.
This thesis quantitatively examined the framing of irregular migration to Europe in Nigerian news coverage between 2017 and 2018 to counterbalance the disparity between research on European recipient countries and sub-Saharan African source countries. Five generic (attribution of responsibility, economic consequences, conflict, human interest, and morality) and three issue-specific news frames (victim, troublemaker, risk awareness) were investigated. Except for the victim frame, all frames were prevalent, although their final operationalisation partially deviated from the original conceptualisation. The analysis did not indicate any differences in the reporting styles of broadsheet and tabloid newspapers.
The analysis yields interesting findings informing news media and migration research.
Firstly, the five generic frames proposed by Semetko and Valkenburg (2000) and tested across various policy fields were also present in Nigerian newspapers. The responsibility frame was the most prevalent frame, in line with previous research (Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000). However, it is not comparable to the original frame, as it only captured the problem- solving dimension rather than the attribution of causal responsibility. From this perspective, the relatively strong presence could be explained by frequent descriptions of government activities addressing irregular migration in Nigeria. A significant share of the articles covered the deportation of Nigerian migrants and related government statements. Despite the limited meaningfulness of the frame, it indicates that the government is quite present in Nigerian coverage, perhaps as a demonstration of commitment towards European donors. This would confirm the assessment of Oloruntoba et al. (2018) that the Nigerian government is often
portrayed as the “rescuer of its divergent citizens and a cooperative partner with European countries in the fight against irregular migration” (p. 1131).
The low prevalence of the conflict frame was rather surprising since it tends to be reported frequently in framing research (e.g., Matthes, 2009; Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000), including in analyses on immigration (Kim & Wanta, 2018; for the United States). When present, it was often about disagreement between European recipient states concerning migration policies, but not so much reflecting conflicting views within Nigeria. An
explanation could be that migration is not as much a policy and media priority in sub-Saharan African states as in European destination countries (Adam et al., 2020; Fengler et al., 2020).
Migration policy interests in African source countries have been described as partly
“internationally-induced” (Adam et al., 2020, p. 3108) and might thus be discussed less controversially, yet this remains speculative. The economic consequences frame was more prevalent, and even the morality frame, which is in line with research that found a substantial proportion of moral arguments in migration coverage (Helbling, 2013). Additionally, religion and morality are strong features of the Nigerian society and public discourse, and ‘moral governance’ towards migrants through referring to God, morality, and nation-building duties is a prevalent attitude. Moreover, native cults and beliefs, including the practice of taking oaths and consulting pastors before migrating, are widespread (Plambech, 2017).
Another finding that merits elaboration is the comparably strong visibility of the human interest frame, which ranked second in the overall order. Human interest framing in migration reporting is not uncommon, so the findings support extant research (e.g.,
Figenschou & Thorbjørnsrud, 2015; Kim & Wanta, 2018). A human face was often introduced into news stories by narrating returnees’ experiences to discourage others from migrating to Europe. At the same time, this framing also mirrors a compassionate view that emphasises how individual migrants are affected and the concern for the protection of
vulnerable citizens (Adam et al., 2020). These considerations can be related to the elimination
of the issue-specific victim frame. In fact, the human interest frame stabilised in factor analysis after all items covering the victim narrative were removed, indicating some overlap.
Previous research has demonstrated that a human interest angle often coincides with victim framing (Figenschou & Thorbjørnsrud, 2015). This suggests that a separate analysis of generic and issue-specific frames may not always be recommendable, supporting the notion of hybridity between generic and issue-specific frames (Brüggemann & D’Angelo, 2018).
If the human interest frame encompasses features of the victim perspective, this allows cautious conclusions about the balance between the more empathetic and the troublemaker narrative. It was indeed shown that a threat narrative and calls for stricter law enforcement is more present in stories without a human interest frame than in those with it (Figenschou &
Thorbjørnsrud, 2015). Subsequently, irregular migration appears to be portrayed more frequently from a compassionate, individualistic angle in Nigerian newspapers rather than problematising migration and focusing on policy challenges. This is reasonable when considering that in African source countries, migration is often viewed positively due to its economic contributions at home through remittances (Adam et al., 2020). These conclusions, however, remain tentative because of the low reliability of the troublemaker frame, and because it did not capture the domestic perspective.
One of the most significant contributions of this study is the operationalization and quantitative detection of a risk awareness frame underlining the dangers of irregular migration and encouraging potential migrants to stay home or engage in legal activities. The frame even turned out to be the third strongest in comparison, although its relatively low reliability needs to be acknowledged. Whether such framing is the result of intense information campaigns strategically promoted by Europe or the Nigerian government (e.g., Adam et al., 2020), or driven by an intrinsic journalistic concern can hardly be assessed through content analysis.
Qualitative research could study motivators of these frame-building choices (de Vreese, 2005;
de Vreese & Lecheler, 2012), which would inform migration media and policy research alike.
Content-analytical country comparisons would furthermore inform policymakers about the prevalence of awareness-raising in the news across source countries. Other options include a closer look at framing effects to assess the news media’s role in discouraging or informing about irregular migration as opposed to other channels like social media (e.g., Dekker &
Finally, the results showed no differences in the use of news frames between
broadsheet newspapers and the tabloid under investigation. This contradicts previous research (e.g., Gabrielatos & Baker, 2008; Kovář, 2019; van Gorp, 2005), but calls for more attention to media system factors in framing research. The relative similarity could be explained by the regional parallelism of Nigerian news media (Yusha’u, 2010). The observed newspapers are all based in Lagos, the cultural and economic centre of Nigeria, where most national media outlets are concentrated. Editors are often educated in and recruited from the same area because of their familiarity with the region. Therefore, stories rarely deviate strongly, and often even cite similar sources (Yusha’u, 2010).
A few limitations need to be mentioned, starting with the sample. Only one country and English-speaking daily newspapers were considered. This omits information about the discourse in other relevant source countries or Nigerian newspapers from other regions, such as the structurally different North (Yusha’u, 2010). Furthermore, the study neglected formats such as television, the radio, and social media. These represent important sources of political information in many African source countries (e.g., Newman et al., 2021). Additionally, social media represent one of the most relevant information sources for Africans planning to emigrate (Akanle et al., 2020; Dekker & Engbersen, 2014; Koomson-Yalley, 2021). Future research could examine these outlets to see whether the framing of irregular migration differs, especially regarding the prevalence of the ‘risk awareness’ frame. Cross-country comparisons could furthermore assess frame variations across national and media contexts in source
countries. Finally, other points in time or frame development over time could provide interesting insights.
Limitations also result from the analytical models. Exploratory factor analysis is a common method to discover latent frames (e.g., Bartholomé et al., 2017), particularly through principal component analysis (e.g., Greussing & Boomgaarden, 2017; Semetko &
Valkenburg, 2000), but not entirely suited for dichotomous data (Antino et al., 2020).
Alternative models such as Mokken scale analysis (Mokken, 1971) have been deemed more appropriate (Antino et al., 2020) and applied in recent framing analyses (e.g., Fahey, 2021;
Schuck et al., 2013). Because of the partially exploratory nature of this study and the limited capacity of executing advanced statistical analyses, a certain degree of leniency was accepted.
Despite these limitations, this study has provided important contributions to the research body on the framing of (irregular) migration in the news media. It confirmed the presence of almost all generic news frames as conceptualized by Semetko and Valkenburg (2000) in migration news in a non-Western media system. Most importantly, a new frame on the risks and dangers of migration was operationalised and can give way to further studies expanding the scarce literature on migration news in countries of origin.
News coverage reflects the public discussion and negotiation of migration and its consequences. Migration will remain a priority for modern societies in the long haul, with climate change only complicating already existing challenges. This perpetuates the relevance of understanding its perceptions and evaluation in the public sphere – both at the destination of migration flows and at their source.
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