Key findings

You can download a report about our project here.

1. The mainstream media only covers some of the conflicts in the world.
Several conflicts and regions (such as Eritrea or Colombia) receive almost no
coverage, or only in relation to people seeking asylum. When there is coverage, there
is no context given for the conflicts – news coverage tends to be about day by day
military operations, “terrorist” incidents or individual examples of suffering, but little about the history or geopolitics of the region, or the causes of the conflicts. This may lead audiences to feel confused and disempowered.

2. Mainstream media coverage of conflicts is generally filtered through
an idea of ‘Western interests’. The notion of “Western interests” may vary
according to the situation, including the involvement of “our troops” on the ground,
the kidnapping or killing of fellow citizens, the impact on “our national security”,
“our economy”, “our access to natural/energy resources”, etc. In recent years
conflicts, and in particular in Syria, have been represented as of interest to Western
audiences because they result in “mass migrations” towards Europe, producing the
so-called “refugee crisis”.

3. Where direct Western intervention has been a central factor
(Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya), mainstream media have often presented
conflicts as resulting from the failures of ‘great men’. In the UK much
coverage of the Iraq war returns to the allegedly flawed character of Tony Blair and
his personal responsibility for the military intervention. A similar interpretation
occurs also in the coverage of Libya, in relation to his rapidly changing relations
with the country and its former leader Gaddafi. In Italy, this focus on the flawed
personalities of “great men” overshadows any other deeper explanation of ongoing

4. Mainstream media coverage offers almost no route to understanding
histories of Empire, i.e. colonialism and neo-colonialism, as a factor in
contemporary conflicts and the management of human displacement.
In addition, asylum seekers and refugees feel that UK and Italian populations know
little about their countries, in general, and about the histories of Empire in particular.
They also argue that this absence of knowledge hampers their understanding of
the causes of contemporary migration and also reinforces the sense of Western

5. While mainstream media sources were consulted by many of the
respondents of our survey, people are increasingly looking to
alternative news sources in order to understand global conflicts,
including social media and news comedy programmes. Both in the UK
and in Italy young people expressed suspicion of the media and its “hidden agendas”,
due to media ownership, and/or political interference. In Italy, the suspicion extends
to online content, because of the perceived widespread of “fake news” and the fear
of manipulative practices such as clickbait. In general, people chose to consult a
range of news in order to piece together accounts that could be verified by multiple
sources. In the UK, people use alternative media to ‘check’ international news,
especially from countries that they know or to which they are connected.

6. Global and national institutions are increasingly seen to be ineffective
in the resolution of conflicts and the management of human
displacement, which produces radical distrust. In the UK, Eurosceptic
mainstream media coverage framed European and British foreign aid as supporting
corrupt regimes and as conning the British taxpayer. In the Italian mainstream
media, the main targets of criticism are EU institutions, who are accused of “leaving
Italy alone” in face of unprecedented number of arrivals by sea. This radical distrust
was also present in the initiatives studied in our online ethnography. In the UK,
local populations who want to help refugees engage in mutual aid practices (such
as donating necessities or raising money for charities) in the absence of lack of state
support but also to counter perceptions of the British government as uncaring and
intolerant. In Italy, critical attitudes to the EU are also present in comments on some
Italian Facebook groups of NGOs providing reception to asylum seekers or supporting
the establishment of “humanitarian corridors” from Lebanon open to Syrian refugees.

In the UK and in Italy, for those with strong anti-immigration views, this
radical distrust can be filtered through a conspiratorial frame in which
immigrants, particularly from Muslim countries, are seen to threaten social
cohesion and governments who let them in as either deliberately or unwittingly
facilitating social breakdown. In Italy, popular distrust has extended to NGOs
engaged in search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean, as
a result of a large media and political campaign (a viral video, posted on
YouTube and Facebook by a blogger attacking the “big business” of rescuing
and welcoming migrants, has been taken as a case study for this trend).

7. Migrants are stereotyped as tellers of sad stories by the media, the
government and the voluntary sector. Both media and the immigration
process demand that people present themselves as ‘deserving victims’ and that they
share stories of personal pain. Migrants recognise this but also question the benefits
to them of repeatedly retelling their stories to every audience – and migrants are
concerned about what will be done with their stories (including by researchers).
At the same time, respondents especially in the UK were unwilling to identify
times they have had fun, due to the fear that this could be used to undermine their
claim to be ‘deserving’. In effect, this expectation forces those seeking status to
constantly retell their ‘story’ in order to ‘prove’ their case to every person they meet.
In Italy in particular, asylum seekers expressed the feeling of being under suspicion
of lying in order to receive protection. This was also reflected in media coverage
which stressed the need to distinguish between “refugees” and “economic
migrants” (or “illegal aliens”). Moreover, the Italian media contributed to popular
misunderstandings of asylum as legally due only to “people coming from countries at
war”, thus contesting the legitimacy of those people coming from countries depicted
as “safe” or “not at war”, but who were experiencing persecution nonetheless.

8. People are “made into migrants” by the government, the media, and
members of society. By this we mean that the category of ‘migrant’ is constructed
actively as a means of erasing other identities and as a process of creating a new
social identity that is demeaned and constrained by official processes. A sense of
being “other”, illegitimate and undeserving lie at the core of this identity. In the UK
and in Italy, this is consistent with the general “hostile environment” surrounding
asylum seekers and the outsourcing of immigration controls and the reception of
asylum seekers from the public sector to the voluntary sector, businesses and private
individuals. In Italy, public criticism of the excessively high costs of reception has led
to the passing of a new law (March 2017) introducing “voluntary social activities”
for asylum seekers as a way of “compensating” local communities for receiving them.

8. There is a blur between being “made a migrant” and racialisation –
and even being a “model immigrant” is no protection against this.
However, although many respondents spoke of facing racism on the grounds of
how they looked, they also described additional or distinct experiences as a result
of their immigration status. In our initial view, the processes of migrantification and
racialisation reinforce each other at key moments, but remain distinct.

9. Faith, music, comedy, self-organisation and knowledge of history
(including legacies of colonialism and anti-colonial struggles) can be
important resources in challenging injustice and dehumanisation.
These resources both undo migrantification, by forwarding different ways of being,
and provide a politicised critique of Eurocentrism and the limited knowledge within
Western society of other parts of the world.