The Netherlands in the British press

As part of of our research into the media's impact on the Brexit vote, we analyzed the coverage of different European Union member states in the British press. Specifically, we looked at references to these countries in the years 2005, 2010, and 2015 (i.e. prior to the main referendum campaign) in leading broadsheets and tabloid newspapers: The GuardianGuardian, the Observer, the Telegraph/Sunday Telegraph, the Evening Standard, the Mail, the Sun and the News of the World, and the Mirror.

Over the course of those 3 years, these papers published a little over 42,000 articles mentioning the Netherlands in some form (including references to Holland, Amsterdam, and The Hague). The table below shows the 20 words most associated with the Netherlands overall, and in individual years. In order to obtain these words, I looked at words that appear at least 100 times in a sentence referencing the Netherlands, and that appear in such sentences at twice as high a rate (or more) as they do in the overall corpus of articles published in these papers. Words are sorted in descending order of how much more frequently they appear next to the Netherlands than in the overall corpus


Overall 2005 2010 2015
constitution, van, winger, treaty, rejection, merger, friendly, qualifier, tribunal, striker, qualification, defender, cruise, goalkeeper, ace, coach, qualify, referendum, tournament, hamstring constitution, rejection, referendum, treaty, van, winger, merger, friendly, striker, ace, defender, goalkeeper, giant, vote, coach, international, tournament, keeper, debut, oil van, winger, tournament, cruise, coach, striker, friendly, final, joint, trial, de, defender, squad, flight, international, bid, beat, injury, defeat, scored van, winger, text, friendly, cruise, defender, striker, tonight, airport, assistant, coach, answer, finance, manager, flight, oil, international, squad, boss, loan


As we see in the first column, the Netherlands appears to be associated with three things in the British press: last names that begin with 'van', football (soccer), and the Dutch public's rejection of the European Union's Constitutional Treaty in a referendum in 2005. Results in the individual years add to this basic pattern, but do not eliminate it. In 2005, the referendum accounts for the top four entries; in the other years it fades out of view. 2010 boasts another common last name prefix ('de'), and in 20105, some financial references pop up.

If we filter out football-related terms and last name prepositions, the top 20 overall becomes: constitution, treaty, rejection, merger, friendly, tribunal, cruise, referendum, cycling, international, master, giant, joint, tonight, structure, airport, flew, flight, ship, politician. The main addition here are terms related to international travel, along with another sport associated with the Dutch (cycling). However, the overall impression does not change much.

Most of these words are nouns which do not convey a particular sentiment. Indeed, if we generate a word cloud of the texts mentioning the Netherlands, and strip out most football terms, the remainder is fairly generic, as the image below shows. (Here words are sized by their total appearance count, not by how strongly they are associated with the Netherlands, as was the case in the table above).

To get a closer look at how the British press thinks about the Netherlands, I took only those words that appear unusually often next to very positive adjectives (awesome, exceptional, etc.) or very negative adjectives (abhorrent, wretched, etc.). I then repeated the analysis just presented, but filtering down to just those words. Since these may not be as common, as changed the minimum number of appearances of a word to 50. Moreover, since we want to be sure that the negative word doesn't appear at the far opposite end of a sentence from the Dutch reference, I changed the analysis from the sentence level to a window of 10 words on either side of our key terms.

The most positive words associated with the Netherlands are: basten, cruyff, rembrandt, rhine, canals, 17th-century, xavi, budapest, cruises, cruise, destinations, bulbs, courage, goalkeeper, paintings. The top two are footballers, as is Xavi, who is, interestingly, Spanish rather than Dutch. In addition, we see references to Dutch 17th-century painting (Rembrandt, 17th-century, paintings), to the Netherlands as a travel destination (cruise, which also appeared in the table above) and to canals and bulbs.

On the negative side, the top words are abn, amro, far-right, crimes, nazis, prosecutors, prosecutor, defeat, and arrested (no other words meet the cut-off conditions). ABN-Amro was a large Dutch bank which failed; other than that it appears that nazi/far-right crimes committed in the Netherlands make the news in Britain too.

Finally, I conducted sentiment analysis on the UK press' coverage of the Netherlands. I used a lexicon-based method developed here at the STAIR lab, which takes the average sentiment values across 7 prominent sentiment analysis lexica, and scales them so that the average sentiment for a newspaper article in our broader corpus (all articles published in these newspapers in 2005, 2010, or 2015) is exactly 0. This allows us to see whether references to the Netherlands appear in a context of positive or negative sentiment overall.




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