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Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves? UK national newspaper depictions of Romanians and Bulgarians analysed

18 Aug 2014

British tabloid newspapers repeatedly associated Romanians - but not Bulgarians - with criminality and anti-social behaviour during 2012-2013, a comprehensive new “big data” report by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory shows today.

The report Bulgarians and Romanians in the British National Press was undertaken by William Allen and Dora-Olivia Vicol at the Migration Observatory at Oxford University. It provides a detailed analysis of the language used by 19 British national newspapers to discuss Romanians and Bulgarians between December 1st 2012 and December 1st 2013 (see editors’ notes for a full list of publications included).

This period saw intense media scrutiny of Romanian and Bulgarian migration issues as the UK prepared to end controls on A2 migrants’ access to the UK labour market – the controls were lifted on January 1 2014.

The analysis encompasses 4,000 articles, letters and comment pieces mentioning Romanians and/or Bulgarians, a total of more than 2.8 million words.

Key findings include:

  • Language used by tabloid newspapers to describe and discuss Romanians as a single group was frequently focused on crime and anti-social behavior (gang, criminal, beggar, thief, squatter). This was less prevalent in broadsheet newspapers.
  • Language used to describe and discuss Bulgarians as a single group, in both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers, did not consistently relate to any single social issue.
  • Where Romanians and Bulgarians were discussed together this was consistently in the context of immigration, across both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers.
  • Verbs used to describe or discuss Romanians and Bulgarians together, across both broadsheets and tabloids were frequently related to travel (come, arrive, move, travel, head). In tabloids these included metaphors related to scale (flood, flock).
  • Words appearing before “Romanians and Bulgarians” in both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers were frequently related to prevention of movement (stop, control, block – tabloids) (deter, restrict, dissuade – broadsheets).
  • References to Romanians and Bulgarians together were frequently associated with specific numbers, across both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers. The most common specific numbers were 29 million – the approximate combined populations of Romania and Bulgaria – and 50,000 – a prediction from MigrationWatch, a pressure group which campaigns for reduced immigration, of how many A2 migrants would be added to the UK population each year for five years following the end of transitional controls.

Some language associated with stories unrelated to UK migration was also evident – particularly Romanian abattoirs implicated in the horsemeat scandal and the blonde Bulgarian Roma child who sparked an ‘abduction’ investigation in Greece.

William Allen, co-author of the report said: “The report is valuable because it provides a comprehensive account of how British national newspapers discussed Romanians and Bulgarians during a key period. The language used to describe Romanians – particularly in tabloid newspapers – often mention them alongside criminality and anti-social behaviour, while this was not the case with Bulgarians.”

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