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The Vatican’s Pope Francis has strived to be a voice of peace and unity on a continent struggling to deal with a refugee crisis. On Thursday he spoke out once again, this time against mass media, which he says has the power to shape the public’s response to that challenge.
During an address to Italy’s national journalism guild, Pope Francis told leaders of the industry that the press has the power to act like “terrorists” when it relies on gossip and rumors, particularly while covering humanitarian crises such as Europe’s influx of migrants. Yet while studies show that the press can help shape public dialogue, some experts say that the public opinion also plays a major role in shaping the tone that is reflected in the press.
“The bottom line is that there is a complex interaction between media, public opinion, and policymaking. To some extent, they’re indistinguishable from one another,” says Oxford University media analyst Robert McNeil. “They all drive one another.”
. . . As Europe struggles to understand and manage its uneasy new role as social support provider to thousands of migrants and refugees, the press plays a major role in educating existing citizens about their new neighbors.
And while some news providers have done an excellent job maintaining balance and showing humanity, according to Georgetown University refugee expert Rochelle Davis, others are showcasing Europe’s worst fears.
In 2013, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, in Britain, combed through hundreds of news articles to quantitatively examine press coverage of the surge of refugees pouring into Europe by analyzing the frequency of words used in articles about the subject.
The resulting report found that the word “illegal” was most frequently used to modify the word “immigrants” in British publications, whereas “failed” was most often used to describe asylum seekers. “Jobs” and “economic” were also high-frequency words, perhaps speaking to British concerns about the job market due to high rates of immigration.