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- Distance makes the heart grow fonder: media images of refugees and asylum seekers
- Mares, Peter
- This chapter looks at the way the media in the developed world portray refugees and asylum seekers. It is written from the perspective of a journalist working in Australia but with a view to providing some insight into the way the media function in a broader context. I argue that, in general terms, the level of concern and empathy expressed in the media for the plight of refugees and asylum seekers is in inverse relation to their proximity to the place where any given report appears. Viewed from a distance, displaced people are often portrayed as helpless victims of circumstance, deserving of compassion and assistance. This imagery changes dramatically when refugees and asylum seekers make their way to the developed world to seek protection under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Refugees and asylum seekers who display this level of agency suddenly shed the veneer of innocence and become a threat to the order and security of the receiving state. They are transformed from passive objects of compassion into untrustworthy actors who provoke a sense of fear. Without absolving journalists and editors of responsibility for the manifest inadequacies in media coverage of refugee issues, I argue that this results in part from what is, at best, a lack of political courage among authority figures in developed nations, and, at worst, cynical political expediency. However, I also argue that humanitarian agencies are themselves at times responsible for promoting unrealistic and unsustainable images of refugees that ill prepare developed nation audiences for coping with the complexity of the unauthorized movement of people in the contemporary world. Finally, although there is no simple relationship between media reporting and political action on refugee issues, I propose some strategies for refugee advocacy groups who wish to promote more constructive media coverage.
- Publication type
- Book chapter
- Research centre
- Swinburne University of Technology. Institute for Social Research
- Refugees and forced displacement : international security, human vulnerability, and the state / E. Newman & J. Van Selm (Eds.), Chapter 15, pp. 330-350
- Publication year
- United Nations University Press
- Publisher URL
- Copyright © 2003 United Nations University. Reproduced here with the permission of the publisher.