The Portrayal of the Roma Ethnic Minority in British Newspapers

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2014
57 Pages, Grade: 17


Table of Contents




Review of literature

I. Methodology:
1. Sample:
2. Qualitative Content Analysis:

II. The Findings:
1. The issue of Appellation:
a. Romany/Romani people:
b. Gypsy:
c. Travelers:
2. Model minority versus marginalized minority:
a. Stereotypes:
b. Exclusion:
3. The Roma community in a multicultural Britain:
a. Integration versus assimilation:
b. The Roma and welfare state:

VI. The Discussions:
1. Appellation :
a. Romani/Romany people:
b. Gypsy:
c. Travelers:
2. Model Minority versus Marginalized minority:
a. Stereotypes:
b. Exclusion:
3. Roma in a Multicultural Britain:
a. Integration vs. assimilation:
b. Welfare state:



The aim of this research paper is to highlight the representation of the Roma ethnic group in four British newspapers throughout the year 2013; two mainstream papers which are The Daily Express and The Daily Mail and two broadsheets which are the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. Different articles from the mainstream papers and the broadsheets are collected through the Key Word Search in Context (KWIC) technique. The analysis of the findings relies on the Qualitative Content Analysis method. This paper displays how the Roma minority has been subjected to constant negative portrayal in the newspapers selected. The focus on representing the Roma as a problem emerges through the topic of appellation. The newspapers selected use different labels to identify the Roma. Some of these labels are loaded with hackneyed stereotypes and stigmas but the overall effect of these different labels is the enigma created around this group, which is hard even to identify, and thus will always pose a problem. The articles selected from the Tabloids often use the terms Roma and Romanian interchangeably which can be explained as an anti-immigration policy. The wave of immigration from Eastern Europe and particularly from Romania was not welcomed and thus recurring to identify Romanians as Roma was the easiest way to create fear and repulsion in the audience of these newspapers. Another key issue that characterizes the representation of the Roma in these newspapers is the obvious distinction made between the Roma ethnic minority and other minorities in the UK. The Roma are portrayed as marginalized minority which refuses to work or contribute positively to the British society. This marginalization is fostered in the coverage of these newspapers through the emphasis on stereotypes and also through the emphasis on the exclusion of the Roma from space and also from any positive contribution. Another focal point in this paper is the representation of the Roma in a multicultural Britain in which everybody is invited to live equally and to be accepted despite their race, religion or ethnicity. The Roma in these newspapers are constantly asked to assimilate and to change their culture to fit in and that contradicts the aims and values of a multicultural society.


I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my supervisor and my dear teacher, Dr. Sadok Abcha, for his patience and wisdom and for his valuable remarks.

I would like to express my love and my gratitude to my parents and especially my mother, to my sisters Leila and Sameh for their patience and unconditional love, to my bro Sahbi whose English is getting so much better, to his wife Narjes and his lovely children Zizou and Marity. To my newlywed brother Mohamed and to Olfa, and last but not least to my grandma.

I would like to express my love and gratitude for my two best friends and my emotionally independent twins Wafa and Imen who managed to turn my tiresome and long nights of study into unforgettable memories. To my classmates and friends, to the wonderful ENS class; I will never forget y


The Roma ethnic minority has always been a hot issue in British media through news stories, TV shows, and debates. But it seems that this minority became more in the spotlight in the year 2013 as it posed a challenge to politicians as well as to the British community. I choose the study of Roma ethnic minority in British newspapers because of the current “buzz”, created by especially mainstream papers over the issue of immigration. The decision to open the British borders to immigrants from Eastern Europe starting from January 2014 paves the way for anti-immigration advocates on the one hand to aggrandize the unsolved problems of the Roma minority and therefore urge the British government to solve those problems before receiving more, and on the other hand to wage a bloody campaign against the new immigrants by claiming that those new comers are mainly the unwanted Roma of Eastern Europe, who seek economic advantages and better wages. The motifs of these new comers are not of my study‘s concern whereas “Meet your new neighbors of 2014” campaign with all its implications is.

First, I will give some context about the presence of Roma community in Britain. It has been recorded that the presence of Roma minority is traced back to the 16th Century. The Gypsies’ first appearance in the British Isles is defined and fixed by the first written records in the early sixteenth century of a category of persons called Egyptians (Okley, 1983). This assumption that the Roma are originated from Egypt is the reason why Roma are often called Gypsies. The word Gypsy is derived from the word Egyptians. Thus, this term was imposed on the Roma by outsiders to their culture who were unaware of the Roma’s Indian roots. It is assumed that Gypsies existed in India many centuries back as a pure group or separate society with language, customs and genetic structure hermetically sealed, until some mysterious event caused their departure from their mythical homeland. (Okely 1983)

The uniqueness of the Roma ethnic minority consists in the fact that despite the historicity of their presence in Britain, Roma has been and continues to be perceived as a problem and a challenge to decision-makers, as well as common people. There has always been that unresolved question: what to do with them? They are perceived as a community unwilling to change its situation, to develop or to assimilate to the rules and imperatives of modern society. The uniqueness of Roma community lies in the fact that it is a community with no state, laws or a sense of history that ties them together.

This paper will start with an overview of the role of the media in shaping the image of ethnic minorities and it will also refer to some studies about the portrayal of the Roma ethnic minority in the media.

My research will be divided into two main parts divided respectively into three sub parts. The Two major parts are the findings part and the discussions part. The findings part will shed light on three main issues in the British newspapers under study : the issue of appellation, the clear distinction between the Roma community from other communities by depicting it as a marginalized and hence excluded community and also by attributing to it scathing assumptions and stereotypes, and lastly the locus of this minority in a multicultural Britain, or in other words how can the Roma be a part of multicultural Britain and what are the conditions needed to be so.

In the discussions part, the above-mentioned issues will be discussed after being represented in the findings part. The discussions will answer the question why? Why now? What are the implications and for what purposes is the Roma community represented in such a way in British newspapers? This part will try to uncover all the hidden agendas and motifs behind language choices, headlines, tackling and also overlooking some sides in the Roma ethnic group question.

Review of literature

A review of the literature about the Roma ethnic group representation in media in general can be very helpful to my paper. The representation of the Roma is not a new topic as Gypsiologists and media analysts find in the portrayal of this group a striking example of what the journalistic language can do with words and how the systematic repetition of negative stereotypes and assumptions can foster a negative image and also stigmatize this group. So my first focus in the review of literature will be about the importance of discourse and language especially the journalistic one in shaping the image of ethnic groups and sometimes of stigmatizing them.

There is a complex ideological framework in which intergroup perception, prejudices, white group dominance, cognitive strategies as well as journalistic news values all contribute to the negative representation of ethnic minorities in the press (Wodak, 1989). No one can deny the role of mass media and journalism particularly in the shaping of public opinion and the systematic use of language is the strongest medium that can influence the thought and thus the actions of a community. The ways we think and talk about a subject influence and reflect the ways we act in relation to that subject (Karlberg, 2005). Therefore, when trying to bring action about a certain topic, newspapers use a certain discourse over and over to instill certain beliefs and to prompt certain actions. Generally, the media favors stories about negative events because such stories are generally recalled better (Wodak, 1989).

Many studies show the importance of media representation in shaping the identity of ethnic minorities. Cottle (2000) claims that media has a key site and performs a crucial role in the public representation of unequal social relations and the play of cultural power. According to him, it is through representations that members of the media audience are variously invited to construct a sense of who “we” are in relation to who “we” are not, whether as “us” and “them”, “insider” and “outsider”, “colonizer” and “colonized”, “citizen” and “foreigner”, “normal” and deviant”, “friend” and “foe”, the “west” and the “rest”(2000). Media representation of ethnic minorities implies thus more than just stating facts or describing situations, it can be loaded with power struggle and conflict.

The studies carried about Roma representation in media especially the Roma in Eastern Europe are unlimited. Through my investigation about my topic there seems an agreement that Roma are portrayed negatively regardless of the country the findings are extracted from. Kuhar (2006) in a research that covered eight print media in Slovenia proposes that media representation of Roma focuses primarily on those traits interpreted by the media as negative. Using generalization and stereotypes, Roma people are presented as actually different (they are lazy and rely on social aid), deviant (stealing is presumably their inherent trait). Another key issue raised by Kuhar is that every media text about the Roma is motivated by some problem. Problems are the most frequent reason leading the media to cover this minority group and particularly so if the problem turns into a conflict. Waringo (2005) on the other hand deduces that what seems to distinguish negative reporting on other ethnically defined groups is the recurrence of century-old prejudices which remain unquestioned. Indeed, Romani people are only interesting for the media if they are either exotic strangers or dangerous outcasts; honest, law abiding Roma is not a subject of reporting, whereas, a cheating law-breaking Roma is (2005). Media, thus, tends to reproduce rather than dismantle stereotypes regarding Roma.

The representation of this ethnic group in British broadsheets as well as in tabloids provides a perfect illustration of what new age journalism is capable of when it comes to fostering certain ideas and stereotypes in the minds of the lay people. However, my focus of study though partly dedicated to show such practices in modern day journalism will also deviate to display how defensive attitudes can do more harm than good. The previous studies on the representation of Roma in newspapers focus on the direct and sometimes violent attack of this minority but what I want to advocate in my research is that what is done in the name of the Roma and for the sake of it may also instill some stereotypes and frame certain assumptions in the minds of the readers. Thus, this paper will set forth the way language or more precisely journalistic discourse instills deliberately or unwittingly certain presuppositions in the name of defending the rights of a minority.

I. Methodology:

1. Sample:

This paper examines twenty five opinion articles and one news articles from four different newspapers; two broadsheets and two tabloids. In collecting the articles I relied on the method of Key Word Search in Context (KWIC). First, I entered the term “gypsy” than “Roma” and “Traveler” and when I found some articles dealing with immigration I added the term “immigration” and then “multiculturalism”. I obtained eight opinion articles and one news article from the Guardian newspaper, three opinion articles from Daily Telegraph, ten from the Daily Express, and three from the Daily Mail. At first I was not aiming at comparing the Tabloids with the broadsheets but during the collection of the articles differences in register and in topics were brought to the surface despite some striking similarities. My choice of the newspapers stems from their political orientation. The Guardian for example has pro-leftist tendencies which explain its defensive view regarding minorities in general while the other broadsheet has a right wing tendencies and that facilitates the explanation of the campaign against the Roma and against immigration from Eastern Europe. The other two newspapers the Daily Mail and the Daily Express adopt mainstream opinions and are known for their xenophobic campaigns. Before selecting the articles, I selected the opinion section in the newspapers so I can have only opinion articles that reflect the editorial viewpoints and orientations. Then, I copied the articles selected from the different newspapers and I classified them according to the themes: appellation, model minority versus marginalized minority and the issue of multiculturalism. Added to these opinion articles I selected one news article from the Guardian entitled “Roma community must be sensitive to British culture- Nick Clegg” by Patrick Wintour as it clarifies the incident of Page Hall Roma that was used in many of the selected articles. The date of publication of the selected articles is solely the year 2013; the last article selected is just one night before the influx of new immigrants from Eastern Europe that is January 31, 2013.

The articles selected from the Guardian newspaper are: “Britain has a duty to help the most vulnerable Gypsies and Travelers” by Micheal Dohert, “Roma migration: community action”, “Slandering Britain’s Roma isn’t courageous. It is racist” by Gary Younge, “David Blankett is feeding Romaphobia” by Jake Bowers, “Maria is Roma so now she will become invisible once more” by Zeljko Jovanovic, and finally “Cameron’s benefit tourism crackdown is fact free political rhetoric” by Anne Perkins. These articles from the Guardian side with the Roma cause and try to shed light on the injustices done to them but they also enhance the image of the Roma as a marginalized community. The articles selected from the daily telegraph are all against the pro-immigration policy, these articles are “Heads in the sand over Eastern immigration”, “Tony Blair is right, but Ed Miliband won’t listen”, “”Are you happy, Tony Hall, about the BBC’s bias”, The majority of the sample is extracted from the Daily Express paper which wages a bloody campaign against the Roma in general and Roma from Eastern Europe in particular. The articles are “Why Romania and Bulgaria want us to take their Roma” by Ross Clark, “A new wave of migration for which nobody voted”, “EU freedom of movement is damaging us right now”, “Why I am proud to be nasty” by Nick Ferrari, “Cheek of Romania’s PM”, “ A multicultural hell hole , that we never voted for”, “Why Britain must restore control over its borders”, “Harmonious race relations are under growing strain”, “Fresh hope for Madelaine”, “Travelers must obey same laws as the rest of us”, and “ Villagers are left in limbo over gypsy encampment”. The last newspaper selected is the Daily Mail which shares with the Daily Express the same extremist view regarding immigrants and minorities. The articles selected from the Daily Mail are: “No, it is not racist to stop illegals conning their way into Britain or telling all immigrants that they must speak our language”, “ An accident waiting to happen and a political class in paralysis”, and “Tories split over axing Clegg” by Simon Heffer.

I encountered many difficulties during the collection of the articles due to the inaccessibility of some articles online from the Times newspaper, which made me shift to select less powerful or straightforward articles that deal with the Roma ethnic minority from the Daily Telegraph, and also one of the difficulties is the scarcity of the opinion articles about the Roma in contrast with the immense number of the news articles.

2. Qualitative Content Analysis:

There are two types of content analysis: quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative approach involves some form of counting, and implies the scientific method rigorously. Qualitative content analysis follows a somewhat different procedure, since no physical counting of data is involved. The Qualitative method tends to be more critical in nature and can be used to penetrate the deeper layers of message, such as semiological or narrative analysis. Quantitative content analysis proves more useful for examining manifest messages, while qualitative content analysis is preferred for analyzing latent messages (Plooy, 1995). In this paper the Qualitative content analysis is chosen. The qualitative method is proven more efficient to help me understand the messages behind the representation of the Roma as it allows examining and analyzing the articles closely.

II. The Findings:

Romany/Romani people and Irish Travelers are legally recognized as ethnic groups, and they are protected from discrimination by the Race Relations Act of 1976 (amended in 2000) and the Human Rights Act of 2010. They are also protected by the Equality Act of 2010. In spite of these acts that aim at unfettering the Gypsy, Roma and Traveler community from prejudice, discrimination and exclusion, this ethnic group has always been the most negatively presented or underrepresented minority in British media. In Britain, Gypsies and Travelers have recently become more prominent in media broadcasts with TV shows like “My big Fat Gypsy Wedding”[1] and also in news stories after Dale Farm eviction[2]. However, this attention has done little to expand British people’s knowledge about this minority or to answer critical questions about the Roma future in the country. In this section, I will show how this ethnic minority was represented in British press in the year 2013 and I will reveal how the articles in use revolve around two major questions: what to do with the Roma and what to call them?

The first section in the findings part will address the appellation issue; whereas the second and third sections will target the issues of exclusion and integration. The aim of this paper, hence, is to display how the selected articles try to attribute certain traits to this community and how they emphasize its marginal status by creating an enigmatic aura around the Romani people and the Romani culture. These articles represent this ethnic minority as a problem, whether in the way we should call them or the way we should deal with them. They are hard to integrate or even identify and therefore they will be always a problem solved only by eviction or assimilation.

1. The issue of Appellation:

There is an ongoing international debate as to which term better represents the Roma community. The most commonly used ethnonyms are Traveler, Gypsy and Roma also spelled as Rroma[3]. The articles examined, though do not target the issue of appellation in an outspoken manner, serve to intensify the confusion related to the issue of identification. The appellation issue can be deduced first from the discrepancy between the use of the above mentioned labels in the two broadsheets and their use in the two tabloids.

The articles clearly show that the two broadsheets opt to identify Romani people with two precise terms; Roma or Romani and Travelers. The term Roma is mentioned in 25 instances and the word Traveler in 11 instances. These two terms are either used interchangeably or with further description added to the word Traveler and it is often the term “Irish”. However, the articles selected from mainstream newspapers label the ethnic group under study with a plethora of terms; “Gypsies” in 13 instances, “Roma Gypsies” in 7 instances,“Travelers”in 21 instances, “Roma” in 36 instances and they usually add further information to the term Roma like “Romanian” and “Bulgarian”, Roma from “Eastern Europe” mentioned once, “Slovakian Roma” mentioned four times,and they also use in 8 instances the term “Romanians” instead.


[1] Big Fat Gypsy Weddings is a British documentary series broadcast on Channel 4 that explores the lives and traditions of several Irish Traveler families as they prepare to unite one of their members in marriage. The series also featured Romanichal (British Gypsies) in several episodes, and has been criticized for not accurately representing England’s Romani and travelling community. (Wikipedia)

[2] Residents of Dale Farm, the UK's largest Travelers’ site were evicted in 2011.

[3] The “r” in “Rrom” is doubled; this spelling is also used for political reasons in certain countries, for example in Romania to distinguish Rroma from Romanians. (Council of Europe, Descriptive Glossary of terms relating to Roma issues, May 2012).

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The Portrayal of the Roma Ethnic Minority in British Newspapers
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Dhouha Jedidi (Author), 2014, The Portrayal of the Roma Ethnic Minority in British Newspapers, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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