Reporting Distant Suffering: Photographic Representation of Famine in Turkish NewspapersTuğba Taş, Burcu Sümer, Oğuzhan Taş
Famine is a serious problem that causes millions of people to suffer globally. During the 20th century, over 70 million people died due to famine while millions more had to endure the adverse conditions created by it. It is predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic will trigger a new wave of famine, affecting 130 million people globally. The discourse on famine articulated by the media, which governs the visibility of distant people’s suffering and provides the audience with resources to imagine and understand that suffering is significant. Accordingly, this research sought to analyze the aspects of famine that are represented in photographs. A total of 517 news stories containing 659 photos were collected from the online editions of 30 daily newspapers published in Turkey between April 20, 2020, and August 30, 2021. Content and semiotic analysis was used in tandem as research methods in this study. The data were categorized as ‘human in famine,’ ‘approved personnel, relief distributors, and aid supplies,’ and ‘famine space.’ The results demonstrated that stereotyped representations of famine are common in pictures. It was determined that children’s photographs were used disproportionately often to depict famine; bodies in pain were a prevalent theme in the photographs; aid givers and aid materials were included in the representation of the famine; and aid centers and camps were the most frequently photographed locations.
Uzaktaki Acıları Göstermek: Türkiye’de Haber Fotoğraflarında Kıtlığın TemsiliTuğba Taş, Burcu Sümer, Oğuzhan Taş
Kıtlık küresel olarak milyonlarca insanın acı çekmesine neden olan temel sorunlardan biridir. 20. yüzyılda 70 milyondan fazla insan kıtlık nedeniyle hayatını kaybetmiş, milyonlarca insan kıtlıktan kaynaklanan olumsuz şartlar içinde yaşamak zorunda kalmıştır. COVID-19 pandemisinin küresel olarak yeni bir kıtlık dalgasını tetikleyeceği ve 130 milyon insanın daha kıtlıktan etkileneceği öngörülmektedir. İzleyicinin, uzaktaki acılarla nasıl ilişkileneceğinin şartlarını oluşturan, hatta bir dereceye kadar bu şartları tanımlayan medyanın, kıtlığa dair ürettiği anlam çerçeveleri bu noktada önemli hale gelmektedir. Bu araştırmada, kıtlığın görsel temsilini analiz etmek için Türkiye’de yayınlanan 30 günlük gazetenin internet nüshaları 20 Nisan 2020 ile 30 Ağustos 2021 tarihleri arasında taranarak kıtlıkla ilgili 517 haber ve bu haberlerin içerdiği 659 fotoğrafa ulaşılmıştır. Fotoğrafların analizi için içerik analizi ve göstergebilimsel analiz bir arada kullanılmıştır. Elde edilen veriler ‘kıtlık çeken insan’, ‘yetkili kişiler, yardım dağıtanlar ve yardım malzemeleri’ ve ‘kıtlığın mekânı’ temaları altında analiz edilmiştir. Sonuç olarak kıtlığın klişeleşmiş temsillerinin yaygın bir biçimde kullanıldığı görülmüştür. Kıtlığın temsilinde çocuk fotoğraflarının ağırlıklı olarak kullanıldığı; acı çeken bedenlerin fotoğraflardaki hâkim temalardan birini oluşturduğu; yardım dağıtanlar ve yardım malzemelerinin bir tema oluşturacak ağırlıkta kıtlık temsiline dâhil edildiği, yardım merkezi ve kampların ise en sık görüntülenen mekânlar olduğu tespit edilmiştir.
Disasters, crises, and human suffering are key issues that receive global media attention. Lacking physical proximity, viewers can witness the pain of distant people only through media representations. Since the 1990s the international literature on this topic has concentrated on how the media has offered audiences a narrative of pain, particularly visually. These studies have treated the media as a narrative space that governs the visibility of distant people’s suffering and provides the audience with resources to imagine and understand that suffering. Famine is a serious problem that causes millions of people to suffer globally. During the 20th century, over 70 million people died due to famine while millions more had to endure the adverse conditions created by it. It is predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic will trigger a new wave of famine, affecting 130 million people globally. The discourse on famine articulated by the media is thus crucially important. Experience of various global campaigns has confirmed that a meaningful public response materializes only if famine is effectively covered by the media, paving the way for government intervention. What is essential is not only whether famine is covered as a global issue by the media but also how famine is depicted. Existing research on this topic in Turkey consists mostly of translations of various scholarly texts. No original research has been undertaken on the visual representation of global famine in the Turkish media, a gap that the analysis offered here seeks to correct. Furthermore, this paper reflects on the relevance and limitations of the theoretical and conceptual frameworks adopted in the existing international literature.
This study sought to analyze how often global famine becomes part of the media agenda; the aspects of famine that are represented photographically; and whether famine is framed as a phenomenon requiring action or as something that need not concern the audience. With respect to methodology, content and semiotic analysis was applied in conjunction to observe and study these visual texts. A total of 517 news stories containing 659 photographs were obtained by searching the online editions of 30 Turkish newspapers published between April 20, 2020, and August 30, 2021. Contrasting previous approaches, this project also has unique methodological value in its use of mixed methods, that is, simultaneous content and semiotic analysis. It thus aims to set a benchmark for further research and to provide valid and reliable data for future scholars in this field.
Of 659 photographs analyzed, 450 contained representations of distant suffering, 240 included children only, and 59 were photographs of women with their children. This “feminized” and “infantilized” representation of distant suffering due to famine is consistent with descriptions in the international literature, which criticizes the reproduction of these stereotypes. Moreover, body parts and bodies in pain were also frequently used in the photographs, with this subject matter being controversial due to its “biopolitical” nature. In all the photographs where people suffering could be identified, they were overwhelmingly represented as either “bodies to be governed” or as passive victims in urgent need of care. Strikingly, the place of their suffering could not be identified in the majority of the photographs. Thus, not only the sufferers themselves but also their connection with their locality was dehumanized. In contrast with those presented as “victims,” people depicted as “care givers” were overwhelmingly male and active.
This research confirms that the representation of distant suffering in Turkish news photographs of famine continues to reproduce stereotypes that are much criticized in the literature on humanitarian communication. Arguably, this preferred visual regime for representing distant suffering continues to position us as global citizens who empathetically monitor the global crisis of famine as it occurs across the world. As the literature also suggests, however, this is inadequate to promote collective responsibility for further action.