Spain is one of the countries in the world where the number of people from different countries has increased disproportionately. This fact, one that has transformed the Spanish society lately, is not viewed favourably by the mass media, politicians or society in general. It is not just a coincidence that whenever this topic is raised, the expression ‘the problem of immigration’ is used. In this article, we will focus our attention on the representation of immigrants in Spanish media.

Spanish Media and Immigration

At present, the representation of immigrants in the media as well as the migration process is being studied widely in Spain, as analysed in our latest works (Bañón, 2002, 2007, 2008; Bañón and Fornieles 2009). Research groups whose  investigations are aimed at this topic are, for example, the Audiovisual Content Observatory (University of Salamanca), the Group of Advanced Communication Studies (University Rey Juan Carlos), and, above all, the Group of Critical Studies on Communication (University of Almería) and the Group Migracom (Autonomous University of Barcelona). The work done in recent years by the Consell de l’Audiovisual de Catalunya and the support that magazines such as ZER, Revista Latina de Comunicación Social or Tonos have offered for the publication of articles like this one, are worth noting. Furthermore, one should recognize the importance of Teun A. van Dijk of the University Pompeu Fabra. His teaching has been creating an ever-expanding group of researchers interested in the topic. Some of his books are also a reference point in this field, such as his book on Racism and Critical Analysis in the Media (1997).

The main Spanish media (i.e. press, radio and television), contrary to expectations, generally employ a similar discourse with respect to migration processes and immigrants. This is a, preventive discourse, the ideal framework to transmit disquieting messages to the public without portraying the journalist as discriminate. It is true that the media and, in general, the professional journalists’ associations have made considerable efforts to improve this situation by organizing and conducting courses on ethical behavior and by the publication of codes of ethics and guides for textual and audiovisual processing of immigration. A recent example of this is the publication of the ‘Practical guide for media professional in the media processing of immigration’ (Sendín e Izquierdo, 2007).

In Spain, perhaps more than in the rest of Europe, foreigners rarely appear in the media newsrooms. For this reason, images and words on the subject of immigrants are transmitted without any consultation with them at the time. In this sense, the media produced by immigrant groups living in Spain deserve to be mentioned. Not only are they growing in numbers, but they also make remarkable contributions to highlight the imporance of using proper discourses to inform themselves, and using mediators to avoid incomplete or blurred information.

Journalists writing about immigration in Spain and in the rest of Europe have, in general, low wages and very limited training opportunities due to their superior’s unwillingness to give time to acquire more training on the discourse. Moreover, the jobs of many journalists who work on the street level are very unstable so they tend not to cover ‘sensitive topics’ from a problematic point of view, or from one that contradicts the editorial line of their companies; they fear for their own jobs. So, when it comes to communication and immigration, money is also an issue.

In that sense, it must be said that the low investment needed by the internet has facilitated the presence of the voice of immigrants. A key element for promoting the social participation of these people has been the emergence of media in recent years, generated and managed by immigrants, usually those with journalism training already acquired in their country of origin. Thus, we can mention the following media as examples: Canal Latino TV, Toumai, Wanafrica, Sí se puede, The Mandarin, Latino, Mundo Hispano and Pueblo Nuevo. However, it must also be said that this kind of media fails to ensure that the non-immigrant population becomes par of the general audience.

On the other hand, the prominence acquired by the network has prompted violent discourses, especially towards immigrants. Even comments in the electronic versions of newspapers reflect this high intensity of discriminatory discourses. It would be more responsible of newspapers to be more attentive to the discussions that take place under their name in the internet. If not, they should give reasons for their unwillingness to take on this responsibility. Others, however, believe the opposite namely, that all existing opinions expressed should appear because it is the best way to know where society is going. If we add to this the priority profile of users of the network, we could say that this is the best way of knowing what direction the discourse (and the ideology) of young people on issues such as the migration processes is taking.

Sometimes the historical aspect appears in the social debate on immigration in Spain. It is usually said, for example, when looking at attitudes towards Spanish immigration, that our country has a special sensitivity to this new 'phenomenon'. From our point of view, this level of consciousness is no longer as rooted in Spanish society as previously due to its economic growth in recent decades. We cannot  appreciate that this historical component is playing an important role among the young who seem distanced from this perspective.

Normally, provincial and local media miss the chance of transmitting information locally, relying on the possibility of direct access to groups of immigrants who can inform them about their situation, about their countries of origin or on their activities in Spain.

Moreover, these media are generally tougher and more explicit in conveying the negative images of immigrants. A significant example of this tendency of  “not to wanting to know about others”, even though those others are our neighbours and especially when those others are also culturally different. Basically, the problem is a question of generalization. Spanish media, in general, tend to talk about immigrants as if all were part of one group, ignoring their own characteristics or the characteristics of their countries of origin. That is why, for example, the media talk about Africans or sub-Saharan Africans trying to convey an idea of a homogeneous group even though it is clear that in both cases, they are not.

There are two major communication processes used for representing the image of immigrants: omission and blurring. By omission we understand the absence of data or relevant actors for the information. The use of immigrants' associations as sources for journalists remains low not only when dealing with issues of immigration but also when talking about other topics not related specifically to immigration. 

By blurring, we understand the use of discursive techniques by which the image of immigrants is not displayed in an objective and clear way but, instead, with elements that try to hide (or mask) his/her identity or behaviour. Sometimes, social exclusion and isolation are also derived from this negative or not so positive image that is normally created of groups of immigrants. After this, we will make reference to some discursive techniques used for the transmission or consolidation of ethno-racial prejudices.

Furthermore, there is the manipulation of the argumentative tempo. What accounted for the 11th of March in the social argument about immigration in the Spanish press? In our view, it affected mainly the demonstration phase of the argumentative process, thereby manipulating a key element in all social discussion: the argumentative tempo.The process of argumentation is developed from well known logical discursive structures, so, for example, certain premises that are portrayed as incontestable lead us to a certain conclusion. Those who hold discriminatory positions may conclude, for example, that a particular immigrant is a violent person, based on the premise that all Arabs are violent and the immigrant in question is Arab. In many cases, therefore, the premise is actually a prejudice. The important thing is that in any case the premises and conclusions need to be, properly demonstrated, a process that takes time. Time is a key factor in any argumentation.

Next we discuss the importance of contiguity visualization. Worldwide since September 11th, but particularly since March 11th in Spain, it is easier to find examples of visual contiguity in the design of headlines or in newspaper pages to associate immigration and terrorism. Contiguity can be, in some cases, graphemic-textual; that is, the design of newspapers pages can be used in order to produce the combination of both issues. So, for example, it is remarkable (though perhaps not too surprising) to see the similarity in design by the ABC and La Razon newspaper on 13th May 2005. ABC entitled a headline and three columns signed by Juan Pedro Quiñonero about the French reaction to the regularization process being implemented in Spain: “Francia cree 'fuera de lugar' políticas de regularización masiva como la española" (“France believes policies of Spanish mass regulation as 'misplaced'”). On the same level, another story covering an entire column completes the layout of the page: “El presunto financiero del 11-S dice que no destinó 'ni una peseta' a la yihad” ("The alleged financier says it spent ‘not even a dime’ on the jihad”). In El País, we found this headline: “Bangladesh acoge campos de terroristas, según un experto indio” ("Bangladesh hosts terrorist camps according to an Indian expert", Georgina Higueras, 10 March 2005, p.8). Another heading dealt with immigration in a similiar fashion: “Un debate urgente sobre la integración” ("An urgent debate on integration" William Altars). On 7th January 2005, La Verdad de Murcia had the headline “El etarra De Juana saldrá libre en febrero tras cumplir 18 años de una condena de 3.000” ("The ETA terrorist De Juana will be free in February after serving 18 years for a 3.000 years conviction” Alfonso Torices, p.30). On the right, in a column, another headline, at the same height, reported: “Hallan muertos a una inmigrante marroquí y a su bebé en una casa de Plasena” ("A Moroccan immigrant and her baby found dead in a house in Plasena”, Agencias). The same day, in which the process of adjustment was beginning, two stories, one below the other, were inserted on page 21 of the newspaper La Verdad de Murcia: “Zapatero critica a la 'gente sin escrúpulos' que trafica con inmigrantes” ("Zapatero criticizes "people with no scruples” who smuggle immigrants”, Colpisa) and “Terrorismo. El etarra De Juana acumula 90 faltas disciplinarias” ("Terrorism. The ETA terrorist De Juana accumulates 90 disciplinary offences”).

Contiguity can also be lexical, i.e. the association between both topics occurs because the two words by means of which the subjects are represented appear together in the discourse. Some examples are: a) “Arabia Saudí, cuna del islam y tierra natal de Osama Bin Laden” ("Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and the homeland of Osama Bin Laden"), Agencias, “La Conferencia de RIAD acuerda crear un centro internacional para la lucha antiterrorista” ("The RIAD Conference agrees to create an international center for combating terrorism”, La Verdad, February 9th 2005, p.31), b) “El Rey agradece la cooperación de Marruecos frente al terrorismo y la inmigración ilegal” ("The King welcomes the cooperation of Morocco against terrorism and illegal immigration”, Peru Egurbide, El País, 18th January 2005, p.16).

Another  important factor is the associations of images using lexical selections. Despite the fact of trying to convey the idea that we should not use hyperbolic and exaggerated expressions when speaking or writing about such important and sensitive issues as immigration, the truth is that the Spanish media, in general, still prefer flashy headlines and sensational writing styles. An example: on the 20th May 2007, the ABC newspaper headlined a story: “El 'tsunami' migratorio” ("The 'tsunami' immigration”), which combined the presence of foreign people with natural disasters. Moreover, the same piece of news makes reference to a group of immigrants in terms of 'foreign crowding', objectifying human beings. Some days before, the same newspaper published the story “El dilema del voto 'extranjero'” ("The dilemma of 'foreign' vote”) and in the introduction, in reference to France, the term 'injerto extranjero' (‘foreign graft') was used.

Many other examples could have been chosen to check the current discourse in the Spanish media that are indicative of a more or less implicit level of discrimination against immigrants living in Spain. However, it is also possible to find very good examples of written or audiovisual discursive practices. We recommend that everybody interested in the topic see a documentary called “Bienvenido Mr. Kaita” (‘Welcome Mr. Kaita’), developed by Albert Albacete and produced by Televisión Española 1. 


Bañón, A.M.: Discurso e inmigración. Propuestas para el análisis de un debate social (Murcia, Universidad, 2002).

Bañón, A.M.: Discurso periodístico y procesos migratorios (San Sebastián: Gakoa, 2007).

Bañón, A.M.: Comunicación, empleo y mujer inmigrante (San Sebastián: Gakoa, 2008).

Bañón, A.M./Fornieles, J.: Manual sobre comunicación e inmigración (San Sebastián: Gakoa, 2009).

Sendín, J.C./Izquierdo, P.: Guía práctica para los profesionales de los medios de comunicación en el tratamiento mediático de la información (Madrid: Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos sociales, 2007).

Van Dijk, T.A.: Racismo y análisis crítico de los medios (Barcelon: Paidós, 1997).

Antonio M. Bañón, Javier Fornieles, Samantha Requena, Universidad de Almería, 2009