The influence of the media on public perspective of the Syrian refugee crisis

Without doubt the media influences our opinions. Media outlets continue to change and evolve with the fast pace of technological advancements, which depends a great deal on the demand of the public. The speed at which news travels around the world is unprecedented, because of the significant changes in the availability of new media platforms. The traditional methods of communication through television and radio have been surpassed by online resources. The news is more accessible to the majority of populations. As we live in a fast-paced society that has little time to read or research into the truth of the information given to us, we are sometimes swayed by attention grabbing headlines and as a result people tend to be influenced by these representations. Therefore, the media can greatly influence our opinions with an acute immediacy and it plays an ever-increasing role in shaping governmental policymaking.

For instance, the refugee crisis has triggered debates surrounding our government’s reaction and what we can do to help the masses of people seeking safety. This crisis is a perfect example of how public opinion can be shaped. There are instances where the same newspapers have gone from headlines demanding to “send in the army”, to “we welcome with open arms” seemingly changing opinions to sell more papers. The phrasing of “migrant” and “refugee” have also been used interchangeably, despite having completely different definitions. The shocking image of the washed up body of three-year old Aylan Kurdi led many British citizens to express disgust at the perceived lack of effort on our government’s part. With such a public outcry, Cameron felt forced to take action in order to maintain public support. He announced that we would now take 20,000 refugees over five years. However, there also seems to be a large number of people that are calling the mass media’s portrayal of little Aylan Kurdi’s drowning, with readers accusing the newspapers of deliberately distorting the facts in order to ‘morally blackmail the public’.

When information is largely controlled by a dictatorial government, such as in Syria, social media is essential. Since the beginning of Syria’s unrest, over a hundred journalists have been killed. This makes us increasingly reliant on social media for updates on the situation, as traditional newsgathering methods are too dangerous or difficult. The Syrian government deals severely with domestic opposition, with tens of thousands estimated to have been killed during the suppression of the 1982 uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hamas. With online videos on social media we are able to see the protests and massacres directly from the source. However, judging the accuracy of these unofficial videos and posts is exceedingly difficult.

Nevertheless, effort has been put in to internet data analysis to resolve authenticity or credibility doubts. Extremist groups like Jabhat al Nusra have been particularly vocal on social media platforms. Althoguh, their strong presence online can give an inflated sense of the group’s effectiveness on the ground, when we receive other first-hand accounts from various sources and footage that prove otherwise. Furthermore, Anti- Assad voices are having a polarising effect, eradicating much of the ‘middle ground’ in the public online conversation.

There is an increasing amount of scepticism at present, with critical thinking in regards to the accuracy and hidden agendas of the press. Media outlets like to pretend that they are independent from power. With citizen journalists, people also predetermine that there will be a certain biased attitude, maybe lack of professionalism or dearth of fact checking prior to publication. However, this sort of ‘rogue reporting’ is largely considered to be beneficial to the public as they get the information swiftly and uncensored. In regards to Aylan Kurdi’s death, virtually every detail of the story (published in the mass media), that had originally accompanied this image, even down to his name, had been demonstrated to be at least partially false, yet its emotional impact remains. It conveys a message that thousands of people will die like this young child, unless taken in by the countries of the West.

Then again, we must remind ourselves that social media can both inform and misinform the public. While there are pitfalls to the media influencing the general populace, it has facilitated a great change in people’s perceptions. It has had a positive impact on people’s awareness of different cultures and struggles.

Journalists’ integrity and their code of ethics keep the majority of news stories true to form, but it will always be crucial to keep an open but critical mind to anything you read whether it’s online or in your daily newspaper.


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August 2022
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