News Discourse and the Refugee Crisis

Here’s the thing: news outlets need to be objective. The whole premise of journalism is to relay information (read: truth) to the public. Its objective is to be objective. As much as there may be earnest, objective journalists out there, however, news stories are filtered through news outlets – most of which are either government-funded or have commercial interests. And a political agenda, albeit sometimes subtle, usually accompany those interests. And how do you subtly inject a political agenda? You inject it through discourse.

Sunday night’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver dissected the news media’s (aka Fox News) attempts at infusing anti-immigrant, and ultimately anti-Muslim, slants in their segments. The clip in question shows a video playing with a chyron on the screen that read “Terrorists Inbound?” Needless to say, those language choices are extremely loaded with prejudiced slants. We’re talking about refugees here, and they label them as terrorists by questioning that they may be terrorists. But here’s the kicker—Oliver’s team points out that the video loop they have on screen was uploaded to YouTube in 2010. As in five years ago. How much more subjective (and offensive) can you get when you’re using an old video to propel the discourse you’re aiming to send out into the public sphere?

To be fair, it’s not just news media —governments are just as guilty at managing their agendas through discourse (as are corporations, advertising, etc.). Oliver used the example of British Prime Minister David Cameron referring to a large group of refugees as a “swarm.” The word clearly has negative connotations and invokes a sense of danger and vulnerability. How will refugees ever be treated with humanity and respect when world leaders—I repeat, world leaders—verbally insinuate that they are pests to be feared and dismissed? I hope the answer is that most good-hearted people watching the news and listening to politicians know when to ignore and see through the “bullshit mountain.”

I implore you to watch this entire segment from Last Week Tonight—it’s poignant, frustrating, heart-warming and really effin’ funny. I’m so glad we have people like John Oliver and Noujain Mustaffa in this world to make it just a little better.

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