The Refugee Crisis in the Croatian Digital News: Towards a Computational Political Economy of Communication

Paško Bilić, Ivo Furman, Savaş Yildirim


This article tests how media ownership and political leanings influenced textual and linguistic output in the production of narratives during the 2015 refugee crisis in Europe. We focused on digital news reports in Croatia, a country that experienced the highest influx of refugees among the Western Balkan countries in late 2015. Ten news organisations were selected to capture various ownership structures and ideological positions. We collected all articles published by these organisations (N = 352) during the two weeks before and two weeks after the sexual attacks that occurred in the German city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015. The dataset was analysed with Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Correspondence Analysis. Our computational political economy of communication (CPEC) approach reveals a relative diversity of concepts used in the sample before the event, and an evident clustering of most viewpoints from media actors in the period after the event. There is a noticeable change from a humanitarian rhetoric to a security-oriented rhetoric that mobilises fear to legitimize stronger control of national borders. Based on the analysis, we argue that the majority of digital news media changed reporting style due to widespread moral panic and the economic incentive to commodify audience interest in the topic of the refugee crisis. In contrast, publicly funded news organizations showed that they provide the necessary counter-balance for informing citizens, producing quality content, and ensuring pluralism in the digital news environment.

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