Demonizing the refugees

Published 25.01.2016 00:00
Updated 25.01.2016 01:09

As 2015 came to a close, the results of a study on how the media depicts Syrian refugees in Turkish media were published on Dec. 25 by İbrahim Efe in a Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) report titled "Syrian Refugees in the Turkish Media." The report focused on the negative images, derogatory language and negative perceptions applied to refugees by media outlets and the potential repercussions of such media bias.

While İbrahim Altay and I have grazed the edges of this problem when other situations cast light on the issue, this recent report implores us to start a debate on the type of media coverage given to the refugee crisis both in Turkey and abroad. Considering that we have received several letters from different ambassadors on the news articles that focused on the crisis demonstrates the importance of the media with regards to this situation.

Demonization via the media has always been an important tool used as a means of political action. While those who conduct such deliberately unethical behavior are already very aware of their actions, both the report and our words fall on deaf ears. Moreover, the majority of these problems seem to stem from either carelessness or ignorance.

Here is Efe's report on the dominant discourse swirling through the media regarding the refugee crisis and the problems presented by this in terms of how the discourse resonates with the public:

"-Quantitating the refugees or numbering them is a very common form of discourse adopted by many news sources. Apart from conveying the number of refugees this also causes a negative representation. First of all, this enables rendering the refugees as a batch of people. Secondly, these rounded up and crude numerical statements are also part of the underlying threat, as well as security discourses.

-Expression of humanitarian crisis is a positive fact in terms of the solution of the problem. However, since it also portrays refugees as masses of victims and hides the responsible parties while addressing sentimentality, this discourse falls short in terms of representation.

-Chaos and security discourse portrays refugees as troublemakers either directly or covertly. Especially the emphasis of problems in the urban areas emphasizes the underlying threat discourse.

-Discourse on the economic burden emphasizes the burden of refugees on the economy and the problems it stirs [increased rents, unemployment, and more]. Also, in the case of relaying the expenses made on the behalf of refugees, the positive ‘representation of us' discourse is solidified.

-Discourse of brotherhood serves as a positive fact in terms of the representation of refugees. However, the emphasis of the reason behind this brotherhood – be it Islamic, ethnic, or sectarian – as well as how it is used as a tool for political criticism varies depending on the news sources."

Considering the majority of media coverage on the refugee crisis, discourses tend to be of a negative nature, especially if we compare them to the findings above. Apart from the wording, the choice of focus in refugee-related news articles also seems to be erring on the negative side. It is worth noting though that throughout the refugee crisis, Daily Sabah has been acting according to ethical principles and is using careful wording in order to avoid demonizing the refugees in the eyes of the public. However, it appears that many media organizations in Europe do not share the same attitude – much less the media organizations in Turkey. Recent news articles on the events in Germany have been playing the "threat and security" cards regarding the refugees. Our colleagues should remember that the loudest voice is not usually the same as the popular voice. However, those loudest and most radical always manage to find many microphones available to them while the rest face the consequences. The media should abandon this mindset in order to allow the voices of moderates to be heard. At the very least, peaceful journalism demands it.

In the upcoming weeks, we will be returning to the problem to review both the national and the international media's take on the matter, and to continue the debate surrounding the Syrian refugees.

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