Scrutinising images associated with human smuggling: the bigger picture

The experience of asylum seekers’ risky and dangerous boat journey to Australia was at the centre of the Four Corners episode on Monday night entitled ‘Trading Misery’.  The program focused specifically on a boat which sank in September of this year where 44 people died, including four pregnant women and 18 children.

Responding critically to this program, BOb’s Dr Gabriella Sanchez wrote a piece for The Convesration. Entitled ‘Four Corners: human smuggling and the spectacle of suffering’, Dr. Sanchez delves into these typical depictions which are portrayed by the media and how they do not address the root causes of these tragedies. She states:

“The engagement of global media with the smuggling phenomenon worldwide has done wonders at mobilising our moral outrage. And yet, it has been highly ineffective at generating any kind of critical understanding of the causes or implications of the widespread reliance on extra-legal border crossing services. The media has been dependent instead on undiscerning, exoticised and highly racialised representations of migrant and refugee “others”.”

Arguing that there are four types of portrayals, Dr. Sanchez points out the how this categorization is limiting the debate in this area. The portrayals (1) fail to scrutinize the role the state plays in creating the conditions which can lead to these tragedies, (2) depend on the spectacle of suffering of “brown bodies”, (3) reinforces characteristics of migrants as “gullible, infantile and unagentic adults ridden by ignorance and tragedy”, and (4) relies on characterization of men of colour as predatory and unscrupulous human smugglers who are only out to profit on their own kind.

Most people who are convicted of human smuggling are not these feared, hardened criminals brandished in the Four Corners episode. Instead, Dr. Sanchez argues, many of the people are unaffiliated with criminal syndicates. As of March last year, only four of the 400 people who face charges for smuggling in Australia have any ties to larger criminal organizations. And, in direct challenge to these portrayals, she argues:

“We should look beyond the weary rhetoric of the media and not let the images of suffering alone shape our conversation on smuggling.”

Read the article here. Learn more about Dr. Gabriella Sanchez here.

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