The Photographs of Alan Kurdi : Exploitative or Just What the Syrian Refugees Needed?

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Medier och kommunikation

Abstract: Abstract: This study explores how the photographs of Alan Kurdi were used by Swedish newspapers, how they may have been perceived by the readers of those newspapers, and whether there are any ethical considerations when using the photography of Alan Kurdi. It answers three research questions; “How were the photographs of Alan Kurdi used by Swedish newspapers?”, “What potential meanings of the photographs of Alan Kurdi were interpreted by the readers of the articles?” and “What are the ethical implications of using the photographs of Alan Kurdi in the newspapers?” In order to investigate this the top 5 Swedish newspapers were studied and all the articles containing the photographs were studied. Through Sensitising Concepts and Inductive Analysis several topics and categories were discovered. The most common topic used by the newspapers was the topic of Alan Kurdi himself. In order to analyse these results Stuart Hall’s Encoding/Decoding Model of Communication is applied. The model identifies three types of receivers. Those who use preferred reading, negotiated reading and oppositional reading. By applying this model the way the photographs of Alan Kurdi was perceived by the readers of the newspapers can be analysed through the three different perspectives. Through the analysis it was argued that the most common way to perceive the photographs was humanising. The photographs worked both as an icon for the refugee crisis and to describe Alan Kurdi or the situation he was fleeing from. These topics can be argued to have a humanising effect on the refugee crisis as a whole. This was evident when charitable donations increased and there was a change in policy for refugees in Sweden that was less strict than before. However, after only a few months the public opinion grew harsher towards refugees and immigrants. This leads to the question - was it worth it? The photographs were used without consent and they could be argued to be exploitative of Alan Kurdi as well as his family. They can also be argued to be unethical. This papers concludes that the photographs were used by Swedish newspapers extensively, it seems in the most part with the intention of humanising the refugee crisis, and when looking at the rise in charitable donations and change in policy it seems to have worked. For a while. In truth, the photographs made no lasting difference, and it can be argued that the use of the photographs was unethical and the results that came from their publication did not justify the exploitation of Alan Kurdi.

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