The Unseen—An Investigative Analysis of Thematic and Spatial Coverage of News on the Ongoing Refugee Crisis in West Africa

Hansi Senaratne, Martin Mühlbauer, Ralph Kiefl, Andrea Cárdenas, Lallu Prathapan, Torsten Riedlinger, Carolin Biewer, and Hannes Taubenböck

International Journal of Geo-Information, Volume 12, Issue 4 (2023) 


This paper examines the thematic and spatial coverage of media on the refugee crisis in West Africa, and the factors that influence media coverage. 

The analysis is based on data from: (1) Global Data on Events, Location, and Tone (GDELT) dataset containing news articles categorized by theme, including “refugee”, and containing information about the location and date of the article; and (2) geographical data on the location of refugees from UNHCR’s Geographic Information System. More than 2,000 articles on West African countries published between March 12 and September 15 September 2021 were included in the analysis.  

Articles were classified according to 42 topics. To identify the factors that influence media coverage, the total number of times a country is mentioned in the news in the 6-month period was regressed against 13 independent variables, including country population, geographic size, GDP, and GDP per capita, refugee population, Fulani ethnic population in the region, and various governance indicators). 

Main findings: 

  • Most locations hosting refugees (97 percent) do not appear in media reports. News coverage is concentrated in Nigeria which accounts for 60 percent of news articles and has the largest number of displaced people in the West Africa region (3.2 million). Other countries with large displaced populations are underrepresented in the news, for example, Cote d’Ivoire has 1.7 million displaced people but only accounts for 0.6 percent of news coverage. Most locations mentioned in the media (80 percent) are not in proximity to locations hosting refugees. 
  • News coverage about refugees is most commonly on the topics of development assistance, politics, and relocation. Development aid, political statements, and relocation, covering 11 percent of news articles, are the topics most frequently covered by news articles, followed by terrorism (10 percent), crime (7 percent), and recently published reports (5 percent). Other topics such as famine, drought, water shortages, gender-based violence, and trafficking are infrequently covered in the news, accounting for between 0.4 and 2 percent of news articles. 
  • Economic and political stability of a country are significant determinants of news coverage. News coverage is correlated with countries’ GDP per capita, regulatory quality, political stability, annual GDP, control of corruption, population, Fulani population, and refugee population. These variables are consistent with the literature on news coverage of crisis situations in other regions of the world. 

The authors conclude that the refugee crisis in West Africa is largely neglected in the media, with limited coverage that focuses primarily on Nigeria and neglects other countries in the region. The authors emphasize the need for more comprehensive and inclusive reporting of the refugee crisis in West Africa. 


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