The Faily Express: Media discourse on migrants

by | May 24, 2017 | Migration, Uncategorised | 0 comments

by Zvi Oduba

In 1978, Stuart Hall and his fellow cohorts published a book, Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order, in which Chapter 10 addressed how the police criminalized black youth were by suggesting the increased muggings in local areas were, mainly, because of black youths. This led to the increased harassment of young black youths and the emergence of racist political parties such as The National Front, who made a direct link between ‘race’ and the increased number of muggings.

Hall’s work coupled with the writings of Stanley Cohen, who identified the key role the media played in creating these ‘moral panics’, defined as “[…]a group or persons that emerge to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests[…]” (Cohen, 2002, p.28). The moral panics of the 1970s scapegoated much of the failings of the economy. Fast-forward almost 40 years until now and how synonymous does it sound with some current media discourse on immigrants?

The rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Libya led to the military intervention by British and American coalition forces. The subsequent civil war, according to the UN, has displaced 11 million individuals, 4.8 million of which have been forced to neighboring countries thus defining them as refugees. Over 350,000 Syrians have applied for asylum in the EU. Despite the UK having one of the lowest asylum applications per 100,000 of the population (Eurostats), select tabloid newspapers in the UK have used the recent migrant crisis and immigrants in particular to blame some of society’s problems on the crisis. The Daily Express is among those who are the most prolific for their biased representation of immigrants as ‘folk devils’ – a term used by Cohen (2002) to define those who are portrayed as “outsiders and deviants” by the media.

Some Daily Express’ headlines have left little to the imagination about the editor’s views on immigrants: “Every 4 minutes a migrant is arrested in Britain”, “Send in army to halt immigrant invasion” and “Migrants to swarm Britain”. It is more than clear the Daily Express frequently nuance increases in crimes, employment competition and population overcrowding with the rise of the UK’s migrant population. What is nothing short of a true humanitarian crisis has been described the Daily Express as a ‘swarm’ as if migrants are a plague of crime-committing, job-stealing and over-numerous locusts.

John Solomos and Les Black (1995) illustrated how nationalist politics is achieved through the use of certain types of language aiming to define who is British and who is not. Describing immigrants as a “swarm” and as an “invasion” is about as clear as you can get to label people who are not welcome. But does it come as a surprise that the Daily Express’ Chairman, Richard Desmond, gave £1.3million to the United Kingdom Independence Party? (UKIP)

As Moore (2014) points out in his article, Class and Panic in British Immigration, papers like the Daily Express (and politicians who share similar views) claim to appeal to ‘ordinary folk’ with their views on immigration (p. 502). In a speech, UKIP Leader Nigel Farage said:

“It’s ordinary folk, it’s ordinary families that are paying the financial price. But what about the social price of this? The fact is that in scores of our cities and market towns, this country in a short space of time has frankly become unrecognisable.”

Moore (2014) suggests here that the term ‘ordinary folk’ is troublesome because not only does it exclude anyone ‘foreign’ who does not speak English but is most likely a code to describe ‘working class’ people who share the same commonality of being anti-immigration (p. 502). This view of having migrants viewed as a criminalized ‘other’ is supported by other sociologists such as Sheeth (2009, p. 51) who notes that language such as ‘us’ and ‘them’ suggests that immigrants are a ‘separate species’ to ‘us’. But anti-immigration rhetoric such as that seen in the media’s reporting of events and the language used has had serious implications for Britain.

The construction of migrants as an ‘other’ and portraying them as ‘folk devils’, just like black youths were in the 1970’s, has had tremendous social and political impacts for everyday Britain. NatCen, one of Britain’s leading social researchers, recently published a report on the ‘real’ reasons behind Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. 70% of Daily Express readers voted to leave the EU. Other newspapers that pedaled a negative view on immigration and its effect on British life also had high percentages of its readers voting leave – The Sun 70%, The Daily Mail 66%, and The Star 65%. The report also uncovered that immigration and sovereignty were two of the top three reasons why people voted to leave. The articles describes those who are economically disadvantaged and marginalised and have anti-immigration views as forming “the bedrock of UKIP”

But the vote to Leave has had much more grave impacts for vulnerable groups, mostly migrants, living in Britain. An article published by The Independent has revealed that hate crimes – racially and religiously motivated crimes reported to the police – have risen by up to 100% since the vote to leave the EU in June last year. Eastern European migrants have been among those most affected. UKIP said these figures were “fabricated”.

Returning to 1978, when Stuart Hall’s book was first published, it ultimately outlined the way in which media and political discourse had blamed young black youths for some of societiy’s problems. As Moore says, this current “downward pressure “ on immigrants that is “amplified by the media” (p. 503) helps create the picture of migrants, not as human beings who are fleeing their home due to fear of their communities being destroyed or their homes invaded, but rather that migrants coming to the UK are committing crimes, exploiting the benefit system and at the same time, claiming “all the new jobs in Britain” (Daily Mail headline).

As Critcher argues (2003.p. 131) “modern moral panics are unthinkable without the media” and it is this type of ‘market-driven’ and ‘dumbed-down’ journalism (Petley et al, 2013, p.59) by the Daily Express that leads to the ‘moral panics’ around immigration today. Should the role of the media be to present immigrants as ‘folk devils’ or to report the humanitarian crisis to try and create a more informed, understanding and coherent Britain?


Solomos, J. and Back, L. (1995). Race, politics and social change. 1st ed. London: Routledge.
Cohen. S,. (2002). Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers (Third edition). USA and Canada: Routledge.
Critcher, C. (2003), Moral Panics and the Media , Maidenhead, Buckingham: Open University Press.
Moore, P and Forkert, K (2014) ‘Class and panic in British Immigration’: Capital & Class October 2014 38(3), p. 497-505
Petley et al (2013) Moral Panics in the Contemporary World, Bloomsbury Academic & Professional, New York. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central
Sheth, F. A. (2009). Toward a Political Philosophy of Race. New York: State University of New York Press.


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