Last week, we decided to tackle Turkish media coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis after doing the same for Western media. The picture it painted was not pretty, as the core problems remained the same just like the victims. We covered how a sizeable portion of the media presented them as a threat, and just like the baseless speculation, wording was also a big factor in this portrayal.
However, it is important to remember that too much of a "good thing" can also hurt the main purpose.
A mistake shared by national and foreign media when it comes to reporting on refugees lies with overexposure or more specifically the huge number of news articles that cover refugee issues. This is borne out of the belief that repeatedly focusing on a specific problem can lead to more awareness and hopefully, solutions.
However, studies show that this simply is not true. The term in this matter is compassion fatigue, and it became all the more relevant with the rise of social media.
Information bombardment is a reality of our day. When a person endlessly learns the problems a refugee faces through social media, newspapers, TV channels and magazines, compassion turns into indifference as fatigue sets in. In the meantime, repetitive wording in every news article, which gives a feeling as if writers are simply checking boxes, makes one of the worst humanitarian crises of our day trivial in people's minds.
This also diminishes the hospitality of people and their ability to empathize with refugees. Combined with news articles to the contrary, more and more people start to say "enough," as they start to simply wish the problem away without contributing to any actual solution. With compassion eroding, the threat perception we mentioned in the previous article sets in. It leads to aggressive behavior towards refugees in some cases.
In other words, overexposure or fixating on the refugee crisis with political and security concerns can lead to a number of problems in the near future. Some of them are already visible and contribute to the increase in negative media coverage. As a result, we find ourselves in a feedback loop, unable to look away but also unable to fix problems.
Nevertheless, this does not mean we should ignore the crisis altogether since that is another problematic approach that will lead to refugees feeling voiceless and helpless. The suggestion is not to eliminate well-founded and well-researched human-interest stories. But, carbon copy news articles that repeat and report the same ills without any purpose other than serving as fillers on webpages is not the way to go. The same goes for social media, of course. Using the plight of refugees as an attention-gathering tool, while attacking those already suffering from compassion fatigue with accusations of cruelty will only further aggravate the problem.
In the end, our share of the burden is rather heavy in this situation just as our responsibility. We must set ethical codes for covering refugees with optimal responses in mind and actually implement them instead of paying lip service. If not, members of the media will also be amongst those who have to answer for the evils of our times and a possible grim picture of the future.