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The local relevance of global suffering: articulations of 'self' and 'other' in television news discourses on distant suffering

Stijn Joye (UGent)
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Abstract
Applying Critical Discourse Analysis (Fairclough, 1992; Chouliaraki, 2006), this paper explores the construction of identities and cosmopolitanism in news reporting on international disasters. How does the mediation of global suffering challenge existing identities of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’? And how do these media representations construct (global and local) compassion for and identification with a distant other in need? Following a case-based methodology, we investigate how two Belgian television stations, the public funded broadcaster VRT and the commercial station VTM, have covered seven natural disasters, including the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The comparative analysis of news discourses on international disasters reveals glaring differences that reflect a biased geography of attachment. Suffering in the West was portrayed as comprehensible, relevant and close to the spectator who could identify with the sufferer. Such positive articulation of the ‘Self’ further adds on to a construction of a genuine and/or imagined transnational community of ‘We’. Through their representations of global suffering, news media can thus create, if only temporarily, a strong sense of communion and identification. Ethnic ‘Others’ are by contrast negatively depicted as passively undergoing the misfortune and being overpowered by the forces of nature. In addition, the ‘Other’ is represented as no cause for concern or action, thus blocking any possible engagement, identification or involvement of the Western spectator with the distant sufferer. By introducing the concept of domestication in Chouliaraki’s three-dimensional model of news discourses on distant suffering (2006), we are able to qualify the existing socio-cultural binary of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ with a third category of the ‘Domesticated Other’. In its mediated representation, the ‘Domesticated Other’ is represented by a mixture of elements that are generally attributed to the identity of ‘Self’ as well as to the identity of the ‘Other’. Referring to the latter, the ‘Domesticated Other’ is still a cultural or ethnic other who is not like ‘Us’. Nonetheless, by framing the suffering of the ‘Domesticated Other’ within the horizon of relevance or context of the Western spectator, these particular news discourses create the possibility of compassion, identification and eventually action. Confronting these results with the study’s underlying assumption that (foreign) news must essentially be about us (Sonwalkar, 2004), we can support the claim that news on global suffering is mostly and mainly about ‘Us’. Articulating the key concept of identification, it is about who we can relate to or who we can feel compassionate about. It is about whose suffering will be domesticated and whose in the end will be assessed as irrelevant and unimportant. However, it also deals with questions on how we represent ourselves as a caring nation or as a genuine or imagined community. In conclusion, we argue that global suffering eventually needs local relevance in order to evoke (the possibility of) compassion and identification. This local relevance can be an inherent element of the emergency event itself but, more importantly, it can also be constructed by the news media in their representation of global suffering. This implies an important democratic role of media in the construction of compassion and in opening up spaces for relief help, policy interventions and cosmopolitanism.

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Chicago
Joye, Stijn. 2011. “The Local Relevance of Global Suffering: Articulations of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ in Television News Discourses on Distant Suffering.” In Cosmopolitanism, Media and Global Crisis, Proceedings. Ghent, Belgium: Ghent University, Department of Communication studies.
APA
Joye, S. (2011). The local relevance of global suffering: articulations of “self” and “other” in television news discourses on distant suffering. Cosmopolitanism, media and global crisis, Proceedings. Presented at the Cosmopolitanism, Media and Global Crisis (CFP - 2011), Ghent, Belgium: Ghent University, Department of Communication studies.
Vancouver
1.
Joye S. The local relevance of global suffering: articulations of “self” and “other” in television news discourses on distant suffering. Cosmopolitanism, media and global crisis, Proceedings. Ghent, Belgium: Ghent University, Department of Communication studies; 2011.
MLA
Joye, Stijn. “The Local Relevance of Global Suffering: Articulations of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ in Television News Discourses on Distant Suffering.” Cosmopolitanism, Media and Global Crisis, Proceedings. Ghent, Belgium: Ghent University, Department of Communication studies, 2011. Print.
@inproceedings{1255456,
  abstract     = {Applying Critical Discourse Analysis (Fairclough, 1992; Chouliaraki, 2006), this paper explores the construction of identities and cosmopolitanism in news reporting on international disasters. How does the mediation of global suffering challenge existing identities of {\textquoteleft}Self{\textquoteright} and {\textquoteleft}Other{\textquoteright}? And how do these media representations construct (global and local) compassion for and identification with a distant other in need? Following a case-based methodology, we investigate how two Belgian television stations, the public funded broadcaster VRT and the commercial station VTM, have covered seven natural disasters, including the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The comparative analysis of news discourses on international disasters reveals glaring differences that reflect a biased geography of attachment. Suffering in the West was portrayed as comprehensible, relevant and close to the spectator who could identify with the sufferer. Such positive articulation of the {\textquoteleft}Self{\textquoteright} further adds on to a construction of a genuine and/or imagined transnational community of {\textquoteleft}We{\textquoteright}. Through their representations of global suffering, news media can thus create, if only temporarily, a strong sense of communion and identification. Ethnic {\textquoteleft}Others{\textquoteright} are by contrast negatively depicted as passively undergoing the misfortune and being overpowered by the forces of nature. In addition, the {\textquoteleft}Other{\textquoteright} is represented as no cause for concern or action, thus blocking any possible engagement, identification or involvement of the Western spectator with the distant sufferer. By introducing the concept of domestication in Chouliaraki{\textquoteright}s three-dimensional model of news discourses on distant suffering (2006), we are able to qualify the existing socio-cultural binary of {\textquoteleft}Self{\textquoteright} and {\textquoteleft}Other{\textquoteright} with a third category of the {\textquoteleft}Domesticated Other{\textquoteright}. In its mediated representation, the {\textquoteleft}Domesticated Other{\textquoteright} is represented by a mixture of elements that are generally attributed to the identity of {\textquoteleft}Self{\textquoteright} as well as to the identity of the {\textquoteleft}Other{\textquoteright}. Referring to the latter, the {\textquoteleft}Domesticated Other{\textquoteright} is still a cultural or ethnic other who is not like {\textquoteleft}Us{\textquoteright}. Nonetheless, by framing the suffering of the {\textquoteleft}Domesticated Other{\textquoteright} within the horizon of relevance or context of the Western spectator, these particular news discourses create the possibility of compassion, identification and eventually action. Confronting these results with the study{\textquoteright}s underlying assumption that (foreign) news must essentially be about us (Sonwalkar, 2004), we can support the claim that news on global suffering is mostly and mainly about {\textquoteleft}Us{\textquoteright}. Articulating the key concept of identification, it is about who we can relate to or who we can feel compassionate about. It is about whose suffering will be domesticated and whose in the end will be assessed as irrelevant and unimportant. However, it also deals with questions on how we represent ourselves as a caring nation or as a genuine or imagined community. In conclusion, we argue that global suffering eventually needs local relevance in order to evoke (the possibility of) compassion and identification. This local relevance can be an inherent element of the emergency event itself but, more importantly, it can also be constructed by the news media in their representation of global suffering. This implies an important democratic role of media in the construction of compassion and in opening up spaces for relief help, policy interventions and cosmopolitanism.},
  author       = {Joye, Stijn},
  booktitle    = {Cosmopolitanism, media and global crisis, Proceedings},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {London, UK},
  pages        = {6},
  publisher    = {Ghent University, Department of Communication studies},
  title        = {The local relevance of global suffering: articulations of 'self' and 'other' in television news discourses on distant suffering},
  year         = {2011},
}