Survey notes 'overwhelmingly negative' front page coverage of immigration in run up to 2016 Brexit vote - Press Gazette

Survey notes 'overwhelmingly negative' front page coverage of immigration in run up to 2016 Brexit vote

Analysis of media coverage ahead of last year’s EU referendum has highighted the extent to newspaper front pages focused on negative stories about immigration.

The report by Kings College London looked at 14,779 articles in the ten-weeks leading up to the vote on 23 June 2016.

It looked at 20 print and online news sources (full list below).

Some 195 out of 550 national newspaper front pages focused on Brexit over the period.

Most (99) of these focused on immigration. Some 82 were about the economic impact of Brexit.

Report authors Martin Moore and Gordon Ramsay said: “Coverage of the effects of immigration was overwhelmingly negative.

“Migrants were blamed for many of Britain’s economic and social problems – most notably for putting unsustainable pressure on public services.

“Specific nationalities were singled out for particularly negative coverage – especially Turks and Albanians, but also Romanians and Poles.

“The majority of negative coverage of specific foreign nationals was published by three news sites: the Express, the Daily Mail, and the Sun.”

Speaking in general about media coverage of the referendum campaign the report said: “The rancorous, bitter way in which the referendum campaign was fought was both reflected in, and enhanced by, the media coverage.

“The majority of media organisations that could take sides – excluding public service broadcasters bound by regulations ensuring impartiality – did so, often uncompromisingly. Their partisanship was then played out in much of their coverage – both in their selection and framing of news and in their editorials, leader columns and their choice of front-page stories.

“Those voices urging calm or seeking to find some consensus between the sides were rare, except in the aftermath of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox a week before the referendum vote.

“Eventually the campaign became framed as us-versus-them, pro Establishment versus anti-Establishment, pro-immigration versus anti immigration, nationalist versus internationalist.

“Rather than seek to provide a public space in which each side could fairly challenge the other, many news outlets encouraged and stoked the partisanship.”

UK media coverage of the 2016 EU Referendum campaign – download the report in full.

News outlets analysed:

Broadcasters (online only):

  • BBC
  • ITV
  • Channel 4
  • Sky News


  • The Daily Mail (includes Mail on Sunday)
  • The Daily Express (includes Sunday Express)
  • The Daily Mirror (includes the Sunday People)
  • The Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday
  • The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph
  • The Financial Times
  • The Guardian and Observer
  • The Independent
  • The Times (including The Sunday Times)
  • The Sun (including the Sun on Sunday)

    News magazines

  • The Economist
  • The New Statesman
  • The Spectator


  • Buzzfeed UK
  • Huffington Post UK
  • Vice UK.



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette