Is local reporting contributing to anti-immigrant sentiment?

"When the media continuously portray immigrants in a negative light, the public begins to internalize these stereotypes," researcher claims.

February 14, 2010 23:18
2 minute read.
Ethiopian olim.

Ethiopian olim. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

A recent University of Haifa study has found that though Israeli media outlets are friendlier toward immigrants from the former Soviet Union than from Ethiopia, overall they are negative toward both groups.

According to the study, conducted by Germaw Mengistu with the supervision of Dr. Eli Avraham of the university’s Department of Communication, exposure of the cultural aspects of Ethiopian Jewish immigration in the Israeli media has been primarily negative, largely focusing on immigrants’ ignorance of basic technological skills, while FSU immigrants were granted a more favorable and “belonging” depiction.

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However, once the FSU immigrants began to form a cultural identity of their own, they began to be considered a threat and most of the reporting began to criticize this trend, portraying them in a negative context.

The study, aimed at examining the differences in media coverage of the two immigrant groups and identifying the factors behind these differences, surveyed 7,200 newspaper issues published between 1970 and 2004.

Among the findings was the overall negative light in which both immigrant groups were portrayed in Israeli media. Most of the media reports (61 percent) relating to members of either group were negative, with only 21% positive and 18% neutral.

According to Mengistu, who conducted the research as part of his master’s studies, the media play a large role in controlling the power structure of society. The media’s choice of what to cover “can affect a community’s public image,” he said on Thursday, “for better or for worse.”

“When the media continuously portray immigrants in a negative light and attaches stereotypes to them,” Mengistu explained, “the public, whose main source of information is the media, begins to internalize these stereotypes.”

The publication of this study’s results follows a
survey issued by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry last month which found that while 73% of the people surveyed said immigration was vital for the state, more than half also said immigration caused a rise in crime.

When asked which population they would most like to have as neighbors, veteran Israelis came in first, followed by immigrants from the United States, then France, the FSU and lastly immigrants from Ethiopia. The same results emerged when people were asked which population they would be happy to have in their children’s classrooms, and whom they would like their children to marry.

But are Israelis’ perceptions accurate, or are they being misinformed by the media? According to data presented last month at the Ashdod Conference on Immigration and Absorption, of 160,000 police records filed last year, 24,000 were against immigrants from Ethiopia or Eastern Europe. The number represents 15% of the records, which matches the percentage of immigrants in Israeli society. Just 9% of 33,000 people suspected of involvement in crimes,  are immigrants.

It seems that the negative impression of immigrants shared by most Israelis is due to the media’s bias. While the national imperative of immigration absorption continues to be espoused, and schools accused of limiting the number of their immigrant students are harshly criticized, the media should be doing their part as well.

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