Tuesday, August 30, 2016

CNN, Fox focus on refugee threat, not humanitarian crisis
When covering Syrian refugees, Fox News and CNN are reporting much more about the supposed threat posed by refugees than the continuing humanitarian crisis.

A Lexis Nexis study by the Center for Global Peace Journalism examined Syrian coverage using threat terms (threat, terrorism, terrorist, crime, ISIS) and humanitarian terms (humanitarian, suffering, relief, injured, pain, desperate, fear). On both CNN and Fox News, a majority of the coverage discussed Syrians as a threat, rather than as victims.

From May 1-Aug. 15, there were 66 Fox stories listed by Lexis Nexis under “Syrian refugees.” Of these, 49 contained the word threat (74%); 44 terrorism (66%); 45 terrorist (68%); 36 crime (55%) and 44 ISIS (66%).  In stark contrast, of the 66 Syrian refugee stories on Fox, only 3 contained the term suffering (4%); 0 humanitarian; 4 relief (6%); 16 injured (24%); 5 desperate (7.5%); 2  pain (3%); and 4 fear (6%).

CNN had almost three times as many Syrian refugee stories during the study period as Fox. However, like Fox, there was far more discussion of Syrians as a threat. There were 172 CNN stories listed by Lexis Nexis under “Syrian refugees” from May 1-August 15. Of these, 73 contained the word threat (42%); 61 terrorism (35%); 60 terrorist (34%); 68 crime (39.5%) and 88 ISIS (51%). CNN also had far less humanitarian reporting than threat reporting. Of the 172 stories, 5 contained the word suffering (3%); 9 humanitarian (5%); 10 relief (5.8%); 11 injured (6%); 13 pain (7.5%); 2 desperate (1%); and 16 fear (9%).

What these statistics don’t show is the tone of the stories about the Syrian refugees--if they are portrayed as terrorists or criminals, or instead as victims of incorrect, threatening stereotypes. Regardless of the tone of the coverage, the preponderance of the reporting is still dominated by a discussion about refugees as threats. Given the limited space in the news hole, especially during an election year, it’s not a stretch to suggest that one reason that the humanitarian coverage is so limited is because the threat narrative is so prevalent.

In Peace Journalism Principle and Practice (Routledge Publishing, 2016), I argue that refugee coverage can be better if it utilizes the tools of peace journalism, beginning with offering a more realistic balance between coverage discussing the threat with stories that highlight the humanitarian crisis. In reporting about refugees, peace journalists should avoid language and framing that reinforce racism, Islamophobia, or xenophobia; report stories that offer a counter-narrative to the distorted “Syrians-as-terrorists” narrative; and humanize refugees by giving their stories a platform.

CNN and Fox News can better serve their audience by adopting peace journalism as a framework for their reporting on Syrian refugees.

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