Refugees in Western Media
2011 saw the dawn of a new age of war. The people of the Syrian Arab Republic fell victim to a government retaliation against not only those who opposed the rules of the dictatorship, but the general population of the country. Specifically, east Aleppo has been under fire of barrel bombs that have desecrated entire city blocks, including residential, urban and tourist areas. While those who manage to escape seek refuge on the borders of neighboring nations, western media fails to portray the life after a refugee’s harrowing journey towards a new home and only shows a life desperate to escape persecution. Photography is a vital tool in communicating with audiences. However, in a predominately visual society, the lack of representation and/or narrow spectrum of viewing can greatly influence public opinion and political climate (Thorbjornsrud 775). Immigration of any kind is widely believed to be detrimental to the destination country and could be explained by the oversaturated photography of refugees on the move rather than the contributions they are making to society through employment, teaching, or helping others (Cromey 641). While the photographs are an accurate depiction of what a refugee is forced to experience in search of a safer life, they develop a very narrow perspective on why they must leave and the contribution they make to the destination country (Cromey 640). Unfortunately, western societies are of a capitalistic nature and they have a vested interest in readership and popularity rather than honest and thorough portrayal of subjects (Cromey 645). Contributing to the lack of refugee representation in photography is the concept of selective exposure whereby people, businesses and western media not only select what they wish to cover for capitalist interests, but also what audiences choose to read and visualize that may only support the one-sided representation of refugees on the move (Pegler 55). Documentary photography is viewed as a way to depict the identity of refugees yet, those photographers and outlets for displaying the images are only interested in the hardship and struggle of a refugee rather than the successful, happy life after being on the run (Hazan, 163). This narrow spectrum of photographic themes proves to portray refugees in only one perspective when they could have greater aspirations and make other contributions after their migration. This revenue based drive within media organizations means refugees are constantly fighting stereotypical belief that they cannot contribute to society in a positive way. This, therefore, can be detrimental to the fulfilling life they wish to live in the destination country (Thorbjornsrud 778). While the lack of well-rounded representation of refugees is an important topic to understand, racialized discourse is embedded in most visual media. In order to prevent discriminatory habits from erupting within a community, it is important for readers and viewers to understand that while this may be a true portrayal, it is not the only story or life a refugee possesses (Hazan 169). It could be argued that the written word works to conceptualize and solidify the understanding of photography and ensures integrity and accountability of the content and subjects in news media. However, integrity does not argue against the one-sided representation of refugees as conveyed in photography (Hazan 161). While subjectivity, interpreted from a photograph, is an effective way to convey a story and attract reader or viewership, it is a biased factor that often disregards other aspects of the subjects’ lives (Cromey 640). Being a refugee is not just about struggle and difficulty, it is about starting a new life and contributing to a new community. However, western media does not appear to find the success or happiness as appealing to audiences nor a topic worth development. Therefore, there is a lack of cohesive representation of refugees because of the capitalistic goals of western media.
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Photographs 7, 12 and 19 by Keats Jabri-Pickett.
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Hebbo, Mahmoud Apr. 6th. Reuters. https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/04/in-syria-four-years-of-war/389781/ Accessed March 18th 2017.
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Husejnow, Attilla Sept 18 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3239625/Days-sealing-access-Serbia-Hungary-announces-build-giant-fence-Croatian-border-neighbour-begs-migrants-stop-arriving.html Accessed March 18 2017.
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