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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Photographic frames of immigration in a polarized media environment Chicoine-McKenzie, Renaud

Abstract

Based on the political communication and public opinion on immigration literatures, this paper develops and tests hypotheses for the visual news coverage of 2019 migration crisis at the Mexico-United States border. The news websites used here, the Huffington Post, the New York Times, the Washington Times and Breitbart News, span a polarized ideological spectrum. The way they use photography to frame the immigration crisis and immigrants should be consistent with their respective political biases and those of their audiences. Looking at 987 images used by these outlets for two months, the findings presented here are largely consistent with the expectations of the referenced literatures. The more conservative a news sources, the likelier it is to visually link immigration to criminality and to portray immigrants as criminals and mostly males. The more liberal the source, the more it will depict the situation at the border as a humanitarian one or link it to the economic benefits of immigration. It will also portray immigrants as family members and show more mobilization against government policies. Looking at the visual coverage of immigration during that period also allows us to uncover two specific editorial practices driving polarization. First, more radical sources tend to make a rhetorical use of images at the expense of a more strictly informational approach. Second, Breitbart displays systematically stronger frames and exploits the images’ potential for implicit messaging to advance more radical positions than the Huffington Post, which implies that polarization might be skewed to the right, at least in the case of media discourses on immigration.

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