Focusing on Refugees and Inclusion in European News Diversity Studies

Together with IMS and FaPOS KU Leuven, BCJS participates in the FRIENfig friendsDS project. Stefan Mertens, Rozane De Cock and Lut Lams are in lead of the content analyses of news coverage on refugees in the Netherlands, France, Flanders and Wallonia (Belgium). Our longitudinal, cross-cultural, multimedia content analysis will include framing variables of refugees, responsibility indicators and suggested solutions, coverage of news actors, organizational actors versus individual actors, and religious beliefs and nationality of actors. The framing analysis will be complemented by a discourse analysis of the agency attribution (or lack thereof) to the refugees in a particular selection of the corpus. Based on insights of systemic-functional linguistics, the examination focuses on the portrayal of the refugees in passive or active syntactic positions and the semantic connotations of the processes they are involved in.

Research questions:

Which news frames and representations of refugees do the audio-visual and online media around key moments use in Belgium’s two news media systems (Flanders and Wallonia) as well as in the neighbouring countries to the North (the Netherlands) and South (France)?

How do such news frames in four media systems evolve over time (2015-2018)?

To what extent do news representations coexist with different journalism cultures?


IMMEDIATE: Image of Immigrants in Media: Thought-provoking Effects

BCJS is a central partner in the IMMEDIATE project (Image of Immigrants in Media: Thought-provoking Effects) funded bij BELSPO and focuses on the content analysis and the journalism culture study. BCJS is collaborating with IMS and FaPOS KU Leuven, LAAP UCL, CEMESO VUB, ReSIC UB and Halmstad University (Sweden).

Governments, news media and public opinion in Europe are increasingly preoccupied with refugees seeking access to Western Europe. Public opinion is split and generally un- or misinformed and integration policies cannot respond to the needs (see cross-country MIPEX results). This project aims to investigate the dynamic interplay between media representations of the current non-EU immigrant situation with a specific emphasis on the refugee situation on the one hand and the governmental and societal (re)actions on the other. The IM2MEDIATE project combines four complementary multi-stakeholder group perspectives: 1) analysis of news media content and journallogo12ism culture; 2) study of societal reactions of the general public; 3) study of push/pull factors in migration from a refugee perspective; and 4) policy analysis into national governmental (re)actions across countries with emphasis on Belgium and Sweden as divergent cases. It is the project’s ultimate goal to inventory the multiple public, policy and media voices heard in Belgium on this crucial issue, while learning from practices abroad with a focus on Sweden, and to formulate recommendations.


Cultural values in the news: representations of Islam in news media

book BCJS representations IslamThe research project “Cultural values in the news : a cross-cultural content analysis of the representation of Islam in the European press”, funded by the Flemish Research Foundation “FWO-Vlaanderen” aims to contribute to the development of the field of ‘comparative journalism studies’. The representation of Islam is unquestionably a critical test for comparing journalistic reporting across countries. This research compares the representation of Muslims in the media in several European countries. The focus is on those media that are the backbone of news reporting and play a leading role in the intellectual debate on Islam: broadsheet newspapers. In each geographical context one leading progressive and one leading more conservative newspaper were selected. (Researcher: dr. Stefan Mertens, Promotors: prof. dr. Hedwig de Smaele and prof. dr. JanServaes).



Ideology and language in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Burma: constructions of identity and nationalism in news media

BCJS Lut Asia.jpgProf. Lut Lams studies identity construction (we and the others), nationalism and myth-building in historiography. The discursive practice of Othering is examined in Eastern as well as Western perspectives of the Self and the Other. Her research, so far, has concentrated on framing practices of China in foreign news products and Chinese journalistic representations of the foreign Other. The study of discursive media practices in the various communities in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan examines the way particular perspectives about social and political issues and groups are projected to the outside world. This explains my primary focus on the English-language media in China/Taiwan, but I also engage in comparative studies, juxtaposing narratives in the vernacular press and the foreign language press in China/Taiwan. Besides synchronic, regional comparisons of representational strategies in the official discourse as well as state and private media narratives, I conduct diachronic research into continuity and change in the Chinese media landscape and look at discursive practices of journalists and politicians against the backdrop of globalisation and democratisation processes in the region.

This presupposes an interdisciplinary investigation into media interpretation and production processes, global information flows, the wider political and sociocultural context within which the news workers operate, as well as the changing (regional and global) media landscape. The research thus belongs to various domains such as Linguistics (Pragmatics, Discourse analysis), Communication Science and Journalism (Media studies, Press freedom), Sinology (China/Taiwan political discourse, media landscape), Political Science and International Relations  (China/Taiwan/US/Europe relations; globalisation and development), Sociology and Cultural Studies (Identity studies, nationalism, ideology critique).

Case studies:

  • Chinese / Taiwanese media coverage Hong Kong sovereignty transfer (1997)
  • International media coverage collision US surveillance plane with Chinese jetfighter (2001)
  • Chinese media representation of the climate summit in Copenhagen (2009)
  • Belgian media representations of China/Taiwan/Tibet/Xinjiang (Flemish, Walloon press)
  • Foreign media representations of Myanmar (selection of Belgian, Dutch, French, British, US press)

Longitudinal studies:

  • Role of language in the official political discourse in China (official slogans in different political eras (eg President Xi Jinping’s the Chinese dream)
  • Cross-strait Relations (China/Taiwan)
  • Hegemony and discursive struggles in China, Myanmar
  • Ideology and language in the Taiwanese / Chinese English-language media (e.g. constructions of identity / nationalism / myth building)
  • EU official discourse about China/Taiwan
  • Western media representation (with a special focus on Belgian/Dutch media) of greater China


Cartoons as controversial news items


The spreading of explicit beheading videos of western journalists by Islamic State shocked the news media and the public since August 2014. The following months, the terror-alert system in Belgium was raised up to level 3 due to the nearby terrorist attack on the newsroom of Charlie Hebdo in Paris (January 2015), and anti-terror operations in Belgium. Although the freedom of the press is highly valued and supported by Flemish journalists and the public, as was shown by the highly empathic response to the news room attack in Paris (“Je suis Charlie”), the publishing of some ethnic related cartoons in Flemish newspapers in the following months became very controversial. One newspaper apologized for the publication of a cartoon in which a toddler beheaded its teddy bear and another debate was initiated after the publication of a cartoon linking pupils of an ethnic minority to the possession of bombs and going on a ‘holiday trip’ to Syria (September 1st, 2015). In this contribution, we want to study the impact of attacks on journalists/cartoonists on self-censorship within news media and opinions on press freedom and cartoons within society. In October 2015, a multifaceted research design on cartoons in the Flemish news was set up. Data were collected by means of an online questionnaire spread among Flemish respondents and in-depth interviews with cartoonists of Flemish print news media and editors-in chief of a quality, a popular and a regional oriented newspaper. (project leader: prof. Rozane De Cock)



News reporting in India

Prof. Chris Verschooten

Ethnographic field research focusing on news reporting of elections in India, with special attention to female journalists.



Freelancing in Flemish news media and entrepreneurial skills as pivotal element in job satisfaction


In this study, Rozane De Cock and Hedwig de Smaele (BCJS) focus on a segment of journalists that is often neglected or marginalized in the bulk of research on journalists profiles and job careers: freelancers or entrepreneurial journalists. The most recent large scale survey among professional journalists in Belgium and the Flemish speaking part, Flanders, shows that one in five journalists is a freelancer (Raeymaeckers, Heinderyckx, et al., 2013, p. 10) but that only half of them is (very) satisfied with their job against 93% of employed journalists. Seen from this perspective, Flanders does not appear as a very fertile ground for entrepreneurial journalism. In spring 2012, based on a randomly selected sample of freelancers from the database of the Flemish Union for Journalists (VVJ), we conducted a qualitative in-depth interview study among 22 freelancers. Interviews were built around three main research questions: 1). What are considered the advantages and disadvantages of working as a freelancer in Flanders? 2). How satisfied are freelancers in Flanders with their work and lives? What are the reasons for their (dis)satisfaction? And most importantly: 3). What are the preconditions to make entrepreneurial journalism ‘work’ in Flanders?


Information culture and news reporting in Russia

In prof. de Smaele’s research on “Values underlying the information culture in communist and post-communist Russia”, the concept of information culture—understood as the dominant handling of information, shared by a dominant proportion of journalists, the public, authorities and other actors within a societal environment at a given time and place—is explored in the context of Communist and early post-Communist Russia (1917−1999). Three value pairs underlying the attitude towards information are explored: individualism and collectivism (the relation of man to the state), universalism and particularism (the relation of man to man), and pluralism versus dominance (the nature of knowledge and truth). Continuities are found between the Communist Soviet Union and post-Communist Russia in their instrumental use of media and information (collectivism), the view on information as a particular privilege rather than a universal right and the monopoly of truth. Post-Communism, therefore, appears not only as an indication of time (i.e. the period after Communism) but also as an indicator of the continuation of basic value orientations over these time periods.



Press & victims project

Rozane De Cock was promoter of the “Press & victims” project within the framework of Steunpunt Media  a study that was commissioned by the Ministeries of Health/Welfare and Media. Together with prof. Leen d’Haenens (Institute for Media Studies) she coordinated the collaboration between IMS (Communication Sciences KU Leuven), ICRI (Law, KU Leuven) and the University of Antwerp: qualitative part (in depth interviews with victims and journalists), quantitative content analysis (tv news programs and newspaper coverage of several years), complaint analysis and comparative law study. This project had immediate implications in practice (e.g. the Flemisch Press Council RvdJ doubled its time for citizens to file complaint against media titles/journalists).