Changing the Refugee Narrative in Media

Media is a huge influence on society and the issues that society thinks about. Media is the gate keeper of public issues and public opinion. It brings important issues to the table and frames them in a way that shapes our knowledge and our views. It’s increasingly important for media to take responsibility for the amount of influence they have on the public and the way society thinks about critical issues.


Unfortunately, one of the most critical and important issues of our time has been framed exceedingly negative by the media. As described in  “Uncertainty, Threat, and the Role of the Media in Promoting the Dehumanization of Immigrants and Refugees,” an article by Victoria Esses and Stelian Medianu, the media turns constant uncertainty into crisis and threat. Refugees are dehumanized in media with three common portrayals:

  1. Refugees are sources and spreaders of infectious diseases
  2. Refugees are bogus queue-jumpers trying to gain entry to western countries
  3. Refugees are bogus and harboring terrorists



With these three themes, media focuses on the negative, rather than the positive. Behaviors like such are typically justified on the grounds that they are required to protect society from the “threats” that refugees pose. Media is promoting dehumanization by highlighting potential, but unlikely, threats to society and justifying these actions. Many individuals who play into these negative themes are more likely to believe that refugees deserve negative outcomes.


In addition, dehumanization leads to lack of support for government policies that aid in resettlement of refugees. But government is also responsible for these negative attitudes about refugees. In the article by Esses and Medianu, they found in Australia, “They found that 90% of the descriptive terms used by the federal government to describe asylum-seekers during this time were negative, with the asylum-seekers described as illegitimate, illegal, and threatening.”


It’s important as informed citizens to be critical of our news sources, the way we create opinions, and the knowledge we gather. We must support media organizations that are unbiased, factual, and truly care about informing citizens. If we can do so, the way we think about critical issues, such as the refugee crisis, will be more informed, fair, and valuable. Explore outside your comfort zone.




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