Do The Media In Jordan Manipulate The Syrian Refugees To Return Back Home?

1755 words | 6 page(s)

Problem Background
Jordan has a rich and long-standing history of playing the role of a hostess for refugees from different countries. According to the statistics of 2015 presented by the Greater Amman Municipality, the total number of the refugees in the state was about 30.6% of the overall population with 10% (that is 435,578 people) out of this number being represented by the Syrians (City Migration Profile 2017). More current statistics show that the number of Syrian refugees hosted in Jordan has reached 657,000 by 2017 (Ghazal 2017). In this regard, it should be pointed out that these numbers only describe the refugees registered with the UNHCR so that the real number of refugees in Jordan is apparently higher.

El-Abed (2014, p. 82) argues that Jordan’s refugee policy is guided by three major discourses: “the guest discourse, the development discourse, and the security discourse.” While speaking about the guest discourse, he explains that the main problem resides in the fact that there is the lack of balance between conditional and unconditional hospitality practices. The former practices are guided by the state’s political interests whereas the latter practices are determined by the ethical framework that is determined by the three dimensions – Bedouin ethics, Islamism, and Arabism. Ideally, the conditional and unconditional hospitality practices should be balanced; in practice, however, the political interests dominate over the ethical norms what leads to the situation when a refugee feels like an illegal and unwanted immigrant rather than like a welcome guest. In the frame of the development discourse, the notion “a migrant is a burden” appears. Thus, in reality, the economic consequences of immigration are rather ambivalent. On the one hand, the state spends millions of dollars to provide the refugees with the proper infrastructure and services. On the other hand, the refugees are a reliable source of income for Jordan and its economy. The key problem, here, is that the local media offers a one-sided view on the problem publishing regular reports on the expenses that Jordan shares to support refugees and espousing the idea that refugee is a burden to the national economy. Finally, the security discourse is associated with a similar problem, i.e. with a situation when the media exploits the idea that refugees are “others” and that they pose threats to the state’s security and stability (El-Abed 2004, p. 89). In such a manner, it can be seen that media plays an important role in triggering intolerance and hostility in local population towards refugees.

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The first thing that catches the eye while looking through the recent Jordanian media outlets is that there is an unspoken strategy aimed at stimulating a voluntary return of the Syrian refugees. The manipulation is realized through two approaches. The first approach suggests that the media actively exploits the idea of the conflict’s de-escalation and the strong potential for the stability enhancement implying in such a manner that the refugees can consider the return to their homeland in the nearest future. For example, the Jordan Times often emphasize the active involvement of Russia and the US in the Syrian conflict hinting at the fact that this involvement guarantees “peaceful solutions.” Jordanian media has been actively using this approach for a couple of years now making positive predictions about the talks between the involved parties and pointing at the inevitability of the conflict’s resolution. Another approach that is an integral part of this manipulation suggests an implicit imposition of the negative image of a Syrian refugee. This negative image is depicted through comparing refugees with a burden and drawing parallels between them and the economic crisis so that the words “refugees,” “crisis,” and “burden” appear together in almost every news heading. , In the meantime, these negative connotations are introduced indirectly taking the forms of individual journalists’ reflections and suppositions so that the official position of the Jordanian government remains perfectly safe from the ethical standpoint as evidenced by the recent interview with Queen Rania. In such a manner, the Jordanian press creates a strong stimulus for what is called an “imposed return” pushing away the Syrian refugees by means of enhancing xenophobia and intolerance as well as spreading the misleading illusion of the soon resolution of the Syrian conflict.

From a scientific perspective, the effect of the first approach used by the Jordanian media, i.e. the implicit hint at the interconnection between refugees and the crisis as well as their continual comparison with a burden can be explained by the Hypodermic Needle Theory. The Hypodermic Needle Theory is defined as a theory that “equates the influence of the media with the effect of the intravenous injection: certain values, ideas, and attitudes are injected into the individual media user, resulting in particular behavior” (Fourier 2001, p.294). Applying this theory to the explanation of the situation with the refugees, the “injected” idea is the idea about the negative influence that Syrian refugees have on Jordanian economy and social stability, and the particular behavior stimulated is the intolerance and aggression towards these refugees. It can be, thereby, suggested that such attempts result in the growing domestic xenophobia that is worsened by the general resistance to globalization and imposed cultural assimilation. Thus, while many countries are now facing “the burden” of refugees, their media (and Jordanian media is not an exception here) tend to use the refugee factor as the explanation for the domestic problems, both social and economic. As a result, local population views refugees as a challenge rather than as people who can be potentially assimilated into the local culture.

In this regard, it should be explained that refugees face a wide spectrum of challenges even in normal settings and inside a non-hostile environment including the problems of socialization, cultural integration (that is particularly relevant to elderly generations), psychological adaptation, and restricted access to the job market and economic welfare, , to name but a few. These problems are naturally worsened by the manipulative strategy of the Jordanian media that stimulates the enhancement of the domestic xenophobia and reduces all the Syrian refugees to “a burden” in the eyes of the local population. Here is when the spiral of the Spiral of the Silence Theory should be discussed. In his book, Berger (1995, p. 70) refers to Noelle-Neumann’s definition of the spiral of the silence theory, according to which “the mass media have to be seen as creating public opinion; they provide the environmental pressure in which people respond with alacrity, or with acquiescence, or with silence.” The situation with Syrian refugees in Jordan is a rich source of the examples how this theory works in practice. For instance, the Jordanian media creates public opinion when it draws parallels between refugees and the burden. In this case, the media targets the public opinion of the locals. Another example is when it emphasizes the strong probability of a soon resolution of the Syrian conflict. In this case, it targets the public opinion of the refugees stimulating them to think that they can return to their homeland. Most importantly, the result of these manipulations is that the refugees involuntary acquire the sense of being unwelcomed and begin considering the return. In such a manner, the true face of the new humanitarianism turns out to be highly unattractive failing to meet the authentic norms of ethics and morality. Being rejected by the host country, some refugees make a decision to return back home. Their decisiveness is enhanced by a continual emphasis on the possible de-escalation in the local media. In the meantime, such precipitate returns pose serious threats to the refugees’ lives.

In this regard, the described scenario has some negative implications for the further development of the situation. The research shows that the Jordanian media uses two strategies that affect the Syrian refugees. The first strategy resides in creating an image of a soon de-escalation, and the second strategy resides in creating a negative image of a refugee. Both these strategies imply some negative outcomes. One possible scenario is that the negative attitude towards the refugees will progressively spread on to economic labor migrants that are those people who contribute to the development of a state’s economy and who are normally tolerated by the local population because these people can support themselves financially. Another scenario is that the refugees’ maladaptation will result in the spate of criminal activities and civil disturbances.

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