Mainstream media’s coverage of refugees and migrants has had unintentional consequences. While media helped raise awareness of important issues that require rapid response such as Europe’s forgotten dead, their over-emphasis on negative stories about migrants, especially while using sensationalist headlines, has led to their dehumanization.
In an attempt to highlight injustices, media have unintentionally branded migrants with negativity. The word ‘refugee’ or ‘migrant’ has become synonymous with foreignness, crime, illiteracy, and poverty, etc.
Stories about refugees and migrants often elicit fear, pity, hopelessness and apathy making them appear without agency because they are reduced to numbers, country representatives, or faces of injustice. They are stripped of their other identities and are not seen as mothers, students, neuroscientists, carpenters, religious leaders, teachers or simply human beings.
They are also stripped of complexities. Mainstream stories often lack variety and portray newcomers as though they are all the same. Instead of showcasing their human multifaceted personalities, refugees and migrants are put in one box, as though we can reduce human beings to one word.
While media sometimes highlight positive stories, they often frame them as either an exception to the rule or as the main reason why Europe should welcome migrants. Structuring stories as either purely good or bad misses the point; it is not the complete picture. Migrants are human beings who deserve to live irrespective of their academic and economic background.
By no means am I denying the gravity of the horrifying situations facing refugees, media must and should talk about these issues, but they should do it in a balanced way that highlights their resilience and does not deprive them of agency. They can do this only by showing a complete and balanced picture. The single narrative should not be the only story.
I wonder if there is space for such complexities in today’s fast-paced media or if presenting refugees as the multifaceted human beings they are is something only possible in Literature?