A Study of Denmark’s Reputation on the English Market: The Danish Government’s Handling of the Refugee Crisis

Malene Maria Wallin Birkrem & Michelle Bjarnø Jensen

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis examines if Denmark’s reputation is negatively affected by the Danish government’s actions during the refugee crisis. Due to an increase in refugees fleeing from war and conflict, the Danish government has taken several initiatives in order to handle the expected pressure the refugees will have on Denmark. Most of the initiatives have caused international media to criticise the Danish government, which in turn has sparked a debate in Danish media on the negative effect it will have on Denmark’s reputation, leading us to the following problem statement: How has the Danish government’s handling of the refugee crisis affected Denmark’s reputation on the English market?
The thesis investigates how Denmark is portrayed in the English newspapers with agenda- setting and nation branding theory in mind. Through a content analysis of the English media we found, on first level of agenda-setting, that there are 680 articles written about the Danish government’s actions during the time period August 1, 2015 – March 25, 2016. However, media coverage of the English, German and Swedish governments’ handling of the refugee crisis exceeds that of the Danish government. Further, Denmark is in fact not the only focus of most articles as Denmark is mentioned as a subordinate clause. On second level of agenda- setting the tone in the articles is generally neutral, but articles solely about Denmark is substantially more negative. On the third level of agenda-setting 13% of all articles compare the Danish government’s actions to how Germans treated the Jews during World War II. However, there is no trace of agenda-setting effects in our conducted focus groups with English citizens. There is a tendency that the participants have not heard about the Danish government’s initiatives and still have a generally positive image of Denmark. This leads us to the conclusion that Denmark has a generally positive reputation in England. Consequently, we decided to do an additional content analysis of the Danish media coverage on Denmark’s reputation in order to figure out if the media coverage is simply media hype, since there were no signs that the Danish reputation was affected in our focus groups. 59,5% of this coverage relies on international media sources criticizing the Danish government. There are clear intermedia agenda-setting effects in play between the Danish and international media agendas and especially two sources, an article in The Washington Post and a caricature in The Guardian, gained a lot of media coverage in Denmark. Additionally, many Danish articles are copied and reprinted in other Danish newspapers reinforcing a very uniform picture that Denmark’s reputation is negatively effected.
Politics play a huge role in the Danish media coverage on Denmark’s image with 83% of the articles mentioning politicians, quotes from politicians or bill proposals. We argue that there is political agenda-building in play as politicians fit quotes to the news theme in the media in order to build the agenda around the specific politician’s values and beliefs.
Lastly, as the media coverage is mostly portraying that the Danish reputation has been effected negatively, we end our thesis with a discussion on media hype and the power of opinion leaders in the media. There is a discrepancy between the Danish media coverage and the reality; that the English citizens have in fact not changed the image they have of Denmark.
The Danish media coverage is mostly building their claims on opinion leaders’ statements, however, the claims are based purely on the opinion leaders own personal opinion and often with no further documentation. Further, the positive stories about Denmark seems to be forgotten in the debate, only focusing on the negative stories that are being told at the moment.
The final conclusion to the problem statement is that Denmark’s reputation is not harmed by the Danish government’s actions on the English marked. Further, there are no visible consequences of the new immigration policies on an opinion leader level yet. However, as we come to learn, nation brands consist of the stories that are told about the nation. If the story is repeated the chances are it will stick, thus making it possible that the Danish government’s new policy might influence the reputation in the long run.

EducationsMSc in Business Administration and Organizational Communication, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages137