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Domestic media practices and immigrants in Sweden

January 14, 2009

Last night I posted the following to the EASA Media Anthropology Network e-seminar on a working paper by Ulrika Sjöberg and Ingegerd Rydin (Halmstad University, Sweden) entitled “Discourses on media portrayals of immigrants and the homeland“:

Dear Ulrika, Ingegerd and all

I’ve enjoyed reading the paper, the discussant’s comments and the few other comments so far (I think it’s a busy time of the year for most of us). I have two comments and questions:

1. Although this paper aims at contextualising media discourse as part of a project entitled ‘Media practices in the new country’ there is no mention of these families’ actual domestic (media) practices and their relationship with their discourse on Swedish and other media. Why this absence? Is this an area being covered elsewhere?

2. On page 18 you conclude that it is ‘intrinsic to media logic to dichotomize and draw lines in black and white’, and previously – p. 8 – you refer to a family who felt that Western media brand all Muslims as terrorists after September 11. This is not my experience of Western left-liberal news media (BBC, Guardian, International Herald Tribune, El Pais, etc) in which the editorial strategy seems to be to present stories from different ‘angles’ and one favourite theme is precisely anti-Muslim discourse, xenophobia, etc. There is also plenty of space in this sector of the news media devoted to grey areas, eg a lot has been written in the UK since the July 2005 bombings in London about ‘homegrown terrorists’ who are portrayed as being born and bred Brits yet somehow not quite British. This is a discourse reminiscent of Great War fears about ‘the enemy within’ (Brits of German descent living in Britain during the First World War who it was feared may act as German spies). Is public broadcasting in Sweden really that dichotomous and anti-Muslim? How do mainstream Swedish media handle the fear of an enemy within, if at all?


And this is their response, which has just come in:

Dear John,
Thanks for your comments and that you took your time reading our paper.

Here, some reflections on your questions:

1) We have much more information about the informants’ media practices (television, Internet, newspapers, books etc), but the focus of this paper is on the informants’ more general images of media’s coverage of issues related to migration and migrants. As this is a qualitative project, it is difficult to relate media uses with the informants’ opinions on media representations/portrayals in general. One could of course, go back and see if there are connections here, but it will be difficult to make conclusions, because our data corpus is quite small.

2)This question is very interesting to me, as it reveals differences between the situation in Sweden as compared to Britain. Most of our informants (mostly low educated workers) were refererring to “media in general” when discussing these issues. They made no explicit difference between print media versus eg. television. And they did not seem to be particularly conscious about political nuances in various newspapers. They talked more generally on the image of “Swedish media” vs eg. “Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia”. Sometimes they talked about “homeland media”, but mostly in terms of it being “more violent than Swedish media”.

Anyway, the informants’ overall image of “Swedish media” is a sense of contents promoting predjudices, providing skewed images of migrants and so forth. I think that few Swedes, now I talk generally, are able to differentiate between eg. different newspapers in terms of their policies regarding immigrants (as you suggested from a British point of view). Sweden is such a small country in terms of population (9 million) and there are basically just two daily newspapers: Dagens nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet. Then there are many local/regional daily newspapers, some very small. The study was undertaken in the countryside (small cities). In these cities, most people, just read the local newspapers. It might be the case, that these local papers present portrayals of migrants that promote xenophobia. That is a hypothesis that would be interesting to explore in more detai. Also, there are a few Swedish studies on media portrayals of migrants, i.e. content analysis studies, that I will look further into to see if we can find a clue to our results there.

Thanks again,

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