The job of the media is to tell, and sometimes show, truth to power and also the public. Editors and journalists who made the conscious decision to publish the photos of the drowned Syrian refugee toddler did just that. The question is will this image be the catalyst to change history as others have in the past? 

Should the little lifeless body of a three-year-old Syrian refugee lying face down in the sands of a Turkish beach be published?

It is a question editors and journalists have been grappling with around the world since the image of Aylan Kurdi was despatched.

When I first saw the close-up photo, even though I knew what it was to be of, it hit me.

He actually looked as if he could be sleeping. Resting after his and his family’s desperate ordeal.

Instead he represented the clear, unadulterated proof (as if any more was needed) of the failure of the entire world with respect to the war in Syria. A war that few could actually tell you what they are still killing for.  

Aylan Kurdi could be a child of any of us, and there he was dead because most countries spend more on trying to keep out the likes of him and his family, than offer them shelter and the right to a life.

We never have to face the calculations his parents did in their desperate bid to save him and his brother Galip.

The boys both died, along with their mother, leaving a distraught father and an extended family in Vancouver who, despite trying to bring them to Canada, were rebuffed by the Harper Government in June.

Well done Canada with its so far shameful promises which have to date brought in only 2,300 Syrian war refugees.

Something serious has changed in the ideological leadership of a country which, during the Vietnam War brought in 70,000 so-called boat people.  

But rest assured that Immigration Minister Chris Alexander took a little time out from his election campaign today to meet with officials “to ascertain both that facts of the case of the Kurdi family and to receive an update on the migrant crisis”.

The reason he so generously interrupted his electioneering was because of the publication of the photo.

Were it not literally in his face, the Kurdi family’s plight would never have again darkened his doorway.

His response to his critics was to blame the media for ignoring the crisis.

Apparently the media had “failed to put (the crisis) in the headlines where it deserves to be”.

This photo appears to have rattled him because it has brought back from the dead the Kurdi family file his office never saw fit to action.

Were the photo not circulated around the world, Aylan’s Aunty in Vancouver would have received the news, but her tragedy would have been another silent devastation alongside the thousands of others directly affected by their loved ones dying while trying to reach Europe.

Aylan would have been a statistic.

Now he is a tragedy and he has world attention - way, way too late of course.

Ironically in death, this little toddler has the power to shame those who have tried so hard to wash their hands of any responsibility for the fates of those fleeing unimaginable situations.

Britain’s David Cameron appears to be on the list of the shamed.

The Eatonian who has referred to the refugees as a “swarm” has been forced to look at the innocent dead face of a member of that “swarm” and admit he does not see an insect.

The British press has gone from, in some cases, “cockroaches” to, in most cases, “catastrophe” and seems to have united in a call on Cameron to execute a U-turn in his attitude to the humanitarian crisis on his doorstep.

They have not done that because of a report of more nameless (to us) children dying while trying to live.

It is the photo - either the close-up or the one of the poor Turkish policeman cradling Aylan’s tiny body that has taken away the right of politicians to brush off these desperate people as statistics.

Photos can do that, when in the hands of editors and journalists strong enough to publish.

Their strength deserves our respect and in turn demand action on this 21st century exodus.

Such photos work when they simply, graphically and in a non-gratuitous manner tell the story  - Kim Phuc as a child hideously burned by napalm running naked down a road; the gunshot execution of a Viet Cong soldier by a South Vietnamese police chief. 

When you see these photos you can not unsee them.

They catapult wars into your comfort zone in a way column inches just can’t.

They cut through nationailstic, jingoistic headlines for all but the most nationalistic and jingoistic right wing publications and far right political parties. 

The image of Aylan Kurdi is a human face on this crisis if ever one were presented.

Look at it.

Remember it as a reason to demand that politicians in countries who have the wealth and ability to help, also look closely and seriously and do whatever they can to avoid more humanity needlessly washing up on shores.

As Angela Merkel is trying to show, when the burden is shared everyone can manage something...even a country as far away as New Zealand.



Comments (6)

by mudfish on September 04, 2015

Seems the same image might be poking John Key out of intransigence - although the images on TVNZ (body being carried) were not nearly as poignant as those on Al Jazeera (body alone).

So why does it take the thousand words of a picture to provoke the shame you describe, when being "a statistic" is exactly the same outcome?

How many refugees a country should take is a how long is a piece of string question, there are many different answers, none of them right. The human side of things can be very important in eliciting a response (otherwise why would we chip in thousands to sponsor an individuals treatment through social media) but I also get the sense that the media could somehow do more with scale, perspective, analysis of statistics and trends, historic comparisons etc.

As populations have grown, how do the problems of our time stack up with those of previous (and future) generations? Ok maybe that's a book rather than a media story, but you get my drift...? And yes, the burden needs to be shared somehow. If not, share the shame.

by mudfish on September 04, 2015

Meeting the 0.7%GDP promises might be a good start (different issue of course).

by Lee Churchman on September 04, 2015
Lee Churchman

Something serious has changed in the ideological leadership of a country which, during the Vietnam War brought in 70,000 so-called boat people.  

Canada is a mess right now. It's not that most people wouldn't like things to be better; it's that Anglospere societies appear no longer capable of getting these things done. We can't even organise a flag replacement process properly.  And it's worth pointing out that there would likely have been no refugee crisis if not for the idiotic invasion of Iraq, an action for which nobody has yet been forced to take responsibility. If we can't punish political failure, what's the point?
by Murray Grimwood on September 04, 2015
Murray Grimwood

Here we appear to have a Green version of the Red piece from Pagani - albeit more thoughtful.

But Young obviously hasn't investigated money, debt, resources or the future. Much the same way the Green front-folk haven't. We are wealthy? Who told her that? I challenge her to produce the investigated proof. We are fossil-fuel dependent, in personal and collective fiscal debt requiring ever-more energy availability to repay it....

This is no more a 'crisis' (underlying word; temporary) than the GFC was either fiscally-caused or temporary. We are nudging up - at an exponential rate - against planetary limits, and the bottleneck is beginning to wash over us. This is the beginning of an increasing problem, ultimately running into billions.

Western middle-class conscience-salving post accidental visual exposure, is all out of proportion. Sorry, but it's emotion overcoming logic.

NZ - in the long term (say, beyond 2050) will be struggling to support 4 million at all. Tell that to even intelligent folk and the recoil; they hide. They avoid, they shoot the messenger, they ignore.

Reducing is what global population will do - and mother nature will do it if we don't. You can't save everyone in an overshoot situation, but you could have a dispassionate discussion about the best way forward.

by Chris Morris on September 06, 2015
Chris Morris

If one reads the Guardian:

the circumstances regarding the Kurdi family are a lot more murky. The father is now returning to Syria. They are hardly the actions of a refugee.

by Stewart Hawkins on September 08, 2015
Stewart Hawkins

Pity poor Jane for believing the tripe served up by the media. So the dead boy has been living in Turkey for the last three years with his family. Surely we should be investigating a case of neglecting a child at the beach and calling in CYFS rather than demanding the importation of thousands of economic migrants? I guess that doesn't fit the European culture-destroying leftist narrative. I watch with amazement as the European races commit not only cultural suicide but actual suicide as the tide of Islam sweeps across them. We will need to keep NZ as empty as possible for our turn will come to take a share of the survivors of the greatest holocaust over the next few decades. Can the USA, Canada, Australia and NZ find the room to take in those 400 million or so European refugees when they realise what their parents and grandparents have done?

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