VIDEO: Framing migration during the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa: a 12-month media monitoring project

At the International Journal of Press/Politics Virtual Conference (13-16 September 2021), maHp/African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS, Wits University) postdoctoral fellow Thea de Gruchy presented a paper (co-authored with Thulie Zikhali, Jo Vearey and Johanna Hanefeld) titled: ‘Framing migration during the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa: a 12-month media monitoring project’. The virtual conference brought together scholars conducting internationally-oriented or comparative research on the intersection between news media and politics around the world.

Catch her video presentation below (see from 28:45 to 52:35):

Presentation abstract:
Globally, the Chinese origin of Covid-19, the relationship between human mobility and the spread of the virus, and the pressure that the pandemic has put on communities has seen increased incidents of xenophobia. South Africa, which has a long history of xenophobia, has not escaped this trend as community and political leaders face pressure due to the pandemic. However, unlike research on the framing of migrants historically and elsewhere during the pandemic, which finds that the media frames migrants in terms of (un)deservingness and exacerbates xenophobic tensions, reporting on South Africa reflects different concerns. This paper discusses findings from a 12-month study into the ways in which migrant and mobile populations were written about and represented in news articles as the pandemic developed during 2020. A news aggregator – Meltwater – was used to scrape the internet for articles published globally in 2020 that met a search with key terms migration, Covid-19, and South Africa. A total of 12 068 articles were identified and descriptively analyzed. Drawing on previous approaches to media analysis, a framing analysis was then undertaken of 560 articles, 10% of the research results once republished articles were accounted for. Findings point to clear patterns in publication, including the consistent publication of stories sympathetic to migrants during the pandemic. In addition, the framing analysis shows how mobility is linked to the spread of Covid-19, justifying calls for travel restrictions, and how the South African state is understood as simultaneously powerful and powerless in its response to Covid-19. The paper reflects on the opportunities and limitations of news aggregators for research and the ways in which news media differs from social media with regards to the portrayal of migrants and migration, and what the implications of this might be for effectively engaging with xenophobia in South Africa.

About Thea de Gruchy

Thea de Gruchy is a postdoctoral researcher at the ACMS working on migration and health. Since the outbreak of the Covid19 pandemic in South Africa, much of Thea's work has pivoted to exploring the effect of the pandemic and implications of the South African state's response to the pandemic for migrant and mobile populations. As part of this work, Thea helps to coordinate the Migration and Coronavirus in Southern African group (MiCoSA).

Her PhD research, which was supervised by Jo Vearey, funded by the Wellcome Trust and part of the Migration and Health Project (maHp) at ACMS, centred on questions of policy process and asked how policy is made and influenced in South Africa. In 2015 and the beginning of 2016, Thea worked with Ingrid Palmary to answer some of these questions and inform a conceptual framework on how policy is made in South Africa using the Trafficking in Persons Act of 2013 as a case study. Her doctoral work uses a case study of health and occupational safety policy in the South African agricultural sector to elaborate on and develop this framework.

Thea’s MA, which was funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF), focused on the immigration industry and the relationship between the state, immigration intermediaries, and migrants. Part of this research explored the increasing precarity experienced by immigrants in South Africa as a result of changing and increasingly stringent immigration policy and regulations. Having received a Faculty of Humanities Ad Hoc Grant from the University of the Witwatersrand for 2016 to follow on with some of this research and as part of the Security at the Margins (SeaM) project – a collaborative project between ACMS and the Centre for African Studies at the University of Edinburgh – she continues to be interested in the relationship between policy, specifically policy framed in terms of security, and the precarity of marginalised and vulnerable groups.

Thea currently co-ordinates the PhD Work in Progress seminars at the ACMS.