Victims, villains and the rare hero: Analysis of migrant and refugee health portrayals in the Indian print media.

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The Indian media’s reportage of the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the State’s long-standing apathy towards low-income migrants and the structural neglect and violence faced by them in society. But how consistent were the country’s print media in reporting on this population group before the crisis? This paper reports the findings of a study that examines the representation of migrants and refugees and their health in the Indian print media prior to the pandemic. A secondary objective was to examine any variations in their representation based on their social positions (for example, ethnicity, nationality, gender, religion). Using frame and content analyses, three English language newspapers were examined for the period January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2018. A total of 1,111 articles were retrieved. Analysis revealed that migrants were most frequently framed as “villains”, posing a threat to the security, culture, health and economy in their destination states/cities, and less often as victims. On health coverage, the study found that the media frequently pathologised migrants and projected them as carriers of infection. Migrants’ religion, ethnicity and class, and their proximity to the majoritarian population appeared most prominent in determining the frame imposed. The articles mostly relied on accounts of state officials and political leaders, whereas migrants’ voices comprised less than a quarter of the sources of information. The media thus play a vital role in crystallising these disparities and, through acts of both omission and commission, end up vilifying migrants.

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Authors: Ekatha Ann John, Anuj Kapilashrami