Inciting xenophobia Study finds that Russia’s pro-Kremlin media is more likely than ‘foreign agent’ news outlets to associate migrants and violent crime
A new joint investigation by iStories and Novaya Gazeta assesses allegations that “foreign agent” media outlets are responsible for “deliberately criminalizing” migrants in news coverage. In late September, a senior police official leveled this accusation, implying that foreign funding fuels popular mischaracterizations of Russia’s migrant community. To test this theory, iStories and Novaya Gazeta used neural network analysis to map the sentiments most often attributed to migrants in news reports over the past two years by Telegram’s most popular pro-government channels (Karaulny, RT, Readovka, Solovyov, Mash, RIA Novosti, and Lenta) and “foreign agent” channels (Meduza, Dozhd, and Mediazona). The evidence contradicts the Interior Ministry’s claims.
The study found that pro-government news outlets overwhelmingly produce most of the Russian media’s negative depictions of migrants, most frequently associating the word “migrant” and related terms (like “illegal,” “gastarbeiter,” and “Tajik”) with reports about assaults, rapes, and murders. Regularly mentioning migrants in this context cultivates the impression in readers that migrants are more likely to be dangerous criminals than Russian citizens. Nationwide statistics, however, show that Russians commit felonies twice as often. Admittedly, migrants are marginally more likely to be charged with criminal activity in certain areas (like major cities and regions near Russia’s border), but these offenses are more typically nonviolent.
Scholars told iStories and Novaya Gazeta that migrants are more likely to be employed and more fearful of attracting attention from the police, leading to fewer crimes overall and fewer reported crimes between migrants. Scholars also explained that reporting about migrants committing crimes finds greater social resonance because of the public’s psychological desire for simple solutions to complex problems (preferably solutions that allow them to blame an outside group). This reaction often spirals into forms of collective punishment, where one migrant’s crime leads to demands for the expulsion of entire migrant communities.
The state authorities have responded eagerly to the public outrage prompted by reports about violent migrants. In recent weeks, for example, Federal Investigative Committee chairman Alexander Bastrykin has advocated “genomic registration” for incoming migrants, and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin has said the capital needs to attract “a different quality of person” for city construction projects, relying less on Russia’s current migrants.
iStories and Novaya Gazeta also debunked claims that South Caucasian and Central Asian people manage to gain Russian citizenship more easily than Ukrainians living in the war-torn Donbas. (RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan recently argued this loudly on social media.) In fact, since Putin opened the floodgates to simplified citizenship for Donbas residents, Russia has extended citizenship to five times more Ukrainians than to Tajikistani and Kazakhstani nationals.
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