By Daniel Morente
The framing of a certain issue in the mainstream media can strongly influence the audience’s perception of the same. The coverage of immigration and crime in Spanish and Catalan newspapers throughout the recent years has increased, as it becomes a widely discussed matter on the political agenda. The inception and quick growth of Vox, a far-right political party, since late 2018, has been accompanied by the galvanization of a political discourse focused on a certain portrayal of immigrants—particularly those from North Africa and the Middle East. In this regard, in Spain there are now more and more studies analysing how migration is perceived and covered in the national media, drawing differences between, for instance, how these groups of immigrants are treated in relation to that of Latin Americans, a demographic group that has strong roots in Spanish society and also comprises one of the largest populations of third-country nationals currently residing in Spain. This phenomenon calls for a scrutiny of if and how the consumption of key media outlets addressing this matter can influence the reader’s perceptions of migration issues.
Given this situation, the CRIMIGRACAT project, which aims at better understanding the intersectional and gendered dimensions of crimmigration practices and discourses in Catalonia, dedicated some of its efforts at conducting an analysis of regional newspapers addressing the issue of migration. Underscoring the importance of providing a gender perspective, the project realized that not much had been explored in this regard from an academic standpoint. To conduct such an investigation, one of the two selected written media outlets was La Vanguardia, the newspaper with the largest share of readers in Catalonia and with a potentially strong influence on public and political attitudes towards certain key social, economic and political affairs.
Of course, migration has always been covered by the media to some degree. This project does not attempt to imply that the topic had not been tackled before, but researchers felt that throughout the last few years, the coverage has become broader. For practical reasons, the time range selected for the study was the year 2021, from January to December. Concurrently, the project created its own corpus based on newspaper articles that were selected using fifteen identified concepts that the investigators deemed related to crimmigration and that would allow for the identification of relevant newspaper pieces. The use of a newspaper library called MyNews was really helpful in the process of scrutinizing the outlets, as well as was using “Catalonia” and “Barcelona” as transversal terms both to limit the search and to reduce the geographical scope.
When conducting the analysis of La Vanguardia using the identified concepts, a total of nineteen articles were selected. Despite a greater initial number of results, all articles that did not directly address the object of study were disregarded. One of the first observations included that media coverage of migrant women or asylum seekers in relation to crimmigration was scarce. There is an apparent lack of concern or interest in addressing the experiences of migrant women and, at even a larger extent, asylum seekers or refugees. At the same time, immigrant women are more than often represented as subordinate or dependant to a male figure, usually a husband.
A second observation included that most articles address the issue of human trafficking, with a particular emphasis on the high presence of immigrant women working as prostitutes in Barcelona. Women are usually framed as victims, and the news places a strong emphasis on how police operations periodically find imprisoned women forced to exercise prostitution. In this regard, the post-pandemic context and the restrictions of mobility exacerbated the vulnerability of women who suffer from trafficking or engage in prostitution. Several articles underscored the fact that the vast majority of women who voluntarily engage in or are coerced into prostitution are of foreign origin.
There were also considerable results addressing the employment situation of immigrant women and how they frequently work informally. The typical, most accessible jobs include domestic work or the caring for the elderly, and the woman is sometimes the only employed member of the family, whose wages are fundamental for the household stability. Other articles speak to homeless migrant women and the helplessness they face. Researchers were struck by the low coverage of episodes explicitly related to discrimination or racism, especially considering how these type of documented incidents have increased in recent years.
It is slightly surprising how Catalan media outlets have a tendency to focus on migrant women as victims of crimes, usually addressing the space that they occupy in the unregulated market of prostitution and human trafficking. Women are rarely portrayed as perpetrators of crimes, albeit the specialized literature analysing this matter and public statistics show how in 2021 there were more than seven thousands arrests in Catalonia of women that allegedly committed crimes of different types. This could be the result of the inherent marginalisation of immigrant women and asylum seekers in society as a whole and how this permeates newspaper outlets and broader media.