Words Don’t Come Easy: Al Jazeera’s Migrant–Refugee Distinction and the European Culture of (Mis)Trust

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 19:30
Oral Presentation
Christopher KYRIAKIDES, York University, Canada
Al Jazeera’s August 2015 editorial decision to substitute ‘refugee’ for ‘economic migrant’ in its coverage of ‘the Mediterranean Migration Crisis’ provides an opportunity to re-frame the relationship between the politics of race, immigration and media representations of refugees. Situating the broadcaster’s publicly announced rationale for the decision within a critique of the migrant–refugee dichotomy enforced by European public policy, this paper, first, demonstrates that the policy couplet mobilizes oppositional yet interdependent identities. The discursive distancing of ‘migrant’ from ‘refugee’ in news content does not dislodge their mutually reinforcing power to define the parameters of ‘inclusion’. Second, the article examines how the policy onus placed on refugees to justify their claim as ‘victims’ reproduces racialized codes of belonging that perpetuate the denial of autonomy. Persons seeking refuge in Europe must sustain an identity of ‘non-threatening victim’ if they are to gain recognition in a securitized culture of (mis)trust. Al Jazeera’s intervention strengthens the media representation of refugees as human beings without choice; yet, the broadcaster’s decision to ‘give voice’ by ‘challenging racism’ does not break the European political consensus on immigration and asylum that positions ‘non-Western’ peoples as victim/pariah, to be ‘saved’ and ‘suspected’. The media–policy–migration nexus ensures that refugee exclusion is always possible.