In a powerful statement of journalistic intent, yesterday saw Germany’s biggest selling tabloid, Bild (which is basically Germany’s answer to The Sun, topless girls and all) publish an edition entirely devoid of pictures. In their place sat empty frames, boxes and silhouettes to show just exactly how much the readership was missing with the photos gone.
Why did the paper do this? Well, it was self-defence. Last week, Bild joined a lot of its contemporaries in publishing the harrowing pictures of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi (initially reported as Aylan Kurdi) lying dead on a Mediterranean beach.
The picture of the lifeless three year old, a refugee and victim of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, was extremely harrowing and it’s publication on front pages brought an outpouring of emotion the likes of which has not been seen for a long time. Bild, traditionally apparently caught some backlash from oversensitive readers who prefer reading titillating celebrity gossip to seeing the uncomfortable truth of a humanitarian crisis laid out before them, prone, on a beach that was just a little too close to home.
Bild’s move is a bold one, and one that is sure to grab headlines in it’s own right, but it’s far from the only interesting about the headlines surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis in the wake of Alan’s death at sea.
Since the pictures of Alan were published and more of his backstory came to light, such as his family’s desperate attempt to escape their war-torn home and head to Canada, the reporting of the crisis has changed dramatically.
It’s been subtle in places, swapping out ‘migrant’ and ‘immigrant’ for ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘refugee’ being the main change, but the shift in semantics and approach employed by our more vocal newspapers (The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express spring immediately to mind) has been more jarring.
Days after the Mail published derogatory cartoons and The Sun clutched it’s pearls they suddenly decided now was the time to help, that these were people after all and not inhuman swarms
Newspapers have an agenda, and they balance that with the majority view of their readership, it’s symbiotic. When the agenda becomes untenable though, when the public will no longer stomach any old bile so long as it comes with a sugary spoonful of celebrity gossip, then the papers bend in the wind and change approach. It’s all about staying as the voice of the people, which ever people constitutes the largest proportion of the readership in any case, and it works. The understanding of the workings of the media across the UK is still so lacking as to ensure that an awful lot of people will still carry on buying their favourite paper regardless of what they published yesterday or the day before.
Still, there’s not really a lot we can do about that. What is important is that, every now and then, sections the press do something brave and uncomfortable like publishing the pictures of Alan, creating a catalyst that forces the narrative to change and shifts perception.
Hopefully now those people who desperately need help will have to fight just a little less hard to get it.