The values of market economy are reflected in the way media reports ethnicity

The Finnish daily and evening papers often emphasise the usefulness of immigrants rather than their humanitarian needs or human rights.

The values of market economy are reflected in the way media reports ethnicity

This is one of the findings of Camilla Haavisto who is a researcher at Svenska social- och kommunalhögskolan. She will defend her doctoral thesis in the field of Media and Communication Studies at the Faculty of Political Science on 13 May.

The dissertation entitled Conditionally One of "Us" discusses in part the way the Finnish daily press has during the period 1999–2007 dealt with issues related to ethnic and cultural diversity, and in part the way readers of different ethnic backgrounds experienced this reporting.

As case studies, Haavisto has looked at the way in which different minority groups were presented in Hufvudstadsbladet, Vasabladet and Helsingin Sanomat and how the evening tabloids Ilta-Sanomat and Iltalehti wrote about performing artists and athletes with minority backgrounds. Haavisto has analysed 1,782 newspaper articles and carried out 33 group interviews.

Haavisto’s material showed that certain groups were rather consistently portrayed in a negative context.

– In particular from the beginning of the 2000s, above all Russians and Estonians were portrayed in conjunction with negative themes, such as crime and prostitution. There are very few cases in my material where Russians or Estonians are presented in any other context than crime.

In contrast, people in the fields of culture, art and entertainment were portrayed as cosmopolitan, personalities or as persons very much like "us".

Haavisto’s material gives the impression that the press often categorises immigrants and ethnic minorities primarily on the basis of how they apparently, or according to the common perception, exploit the welfare society or how they contribute to its maintenance.

– I remember in particular one immigrant family living under threat of deportation that the press wrote about. The press strongly underlined the fact that this family had learned to speak Swedish and Finnish, had jobs and a social network. This is an example of a market liberal rhetoric of sorts; they must be permitted to stay so that we can benefit from them. Not because they are under threat in their native land.

The reason for this kind of reporting, Haavisto believes, is the time we live in. It’s the forces of market economy that rule.

– There are also some researchers who say that people grow tired of compassion i.e., some kind of "compassion fatigue" develops as people simply no longer want to think of misery and human suffering. That is why other aspects are brought up.

Camilla Haavisto will defend her doctoral dissertation at the Arppeanum auditorium, Snellmaninkatu 3, Helsinki, on 13 May from noon onwards.

A summary of the dissertation is available online » »

Svenska social- och kommunalhögskolan » »

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Text: Nadine Aschan
Photo: Ari Aalto
Translation: AAC Global

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