ThesisPDF Available

How Narratives of Rohingya Refugees Shifted in Bangladesh Media

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This study investigates how Rohingya refugees were framed in Bangladeshi media outlets from August 2017 to December 2019. Rohingyas are ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state who have faced persecution since after the post second world war. The majority of Rohingyas fled to neighboring Bangladesh after a massive crackdown in Rakhine state in August, 2017. A total of 914,998 Rohingyas are now residing in refugee camps in Bangladesh (as of September 30, 2019). The current study uses framing theory and a qualitative content analysis of 448 news stories and opinion pieces of six daily newspapers and two online news portals. This study examines the dominant frames used by Bangladeshi news outlets to describe Rohingya refugees. The study then goes on to investigate how those frames shifted over time from August 2017 to December 2019. It also investigates whether framings vary based on character of the news outlets and their ideologies. The findings suggest that the frames varied over time, and online news outlets were more hostile towards refugees than mainstream newspapers. Contrary to previous research, this study finds that right-wing news outlets are pro-refugees in Rohingya crisis.
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University of Nevada, Reno
Good Rohingyas, Bad Rohingyas:
How Narratives of Rohingya Refugees Shifted in Bangladesh Media, 2017-2019
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the
Requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in
Journalism
by
Mushfique Wadud
Dr. Benjamin J. Birkinbine/Advisor
August, 2020
THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
We recommend that the thesis
prepared under our supervision by
entitled
be accepted in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
Advisor
Co
mmittee Member
Graduate School Representative
David W. Zeh, Ph.D., Dean
Graduate School
MUSHFIQUE WADUD
Good Rohingyas, Bad Rohingyas:
How Narratives of Rohingya Refugees Shifted in
Bangladesh Media, 2017-2019
MASTERS OF ARTS
Professor Benjamin Birkinbine Ph.D.
Professor Caesar Andrews
Professor Ian M. Hartshorn Ph.D.
August, 2020
i
Abstract
This study investigates how Rohingya refugees were framed in Bangladeshi media
outlets from August 2017 to December 2019. Rohingyas are ethnic and religious minorities
in Myanmar’s Rakhine state who have faced persecution since after the post second world
war. The majority of Rohingyas fled to neighboring Bangladesh after a massive crackdown
in Rakhine state in August, 2017. A total of 914,998 Rohingyas are now residing in refugee
camps in Bangladesh (as of September 30, 2019). The current study uses framing theory
and a qualitative content analysis of 448 news stories and opinion pieces of six daily
newspapers and two online news portals. This study examines the dominant frames used
by Bangladeshi news outlets to describe Rohingya refugees. The study then goes on to
investigate how those frames shifted over time from August 2017 to December 2019. It
also investigates whether framings vary based on character of the news outlets and their
ideologies. The findings suggest that the frames varied over time, and online news outlets
were more hostile towards refugees than mainstream newspapers. Contrary to previous
research, this study finds that right-wing news outlets are pro-refugees in Rohingya crisis.
ii
Dedication
This thesis is dedicated to my parents- A. S. M. Abdul Wadood and Shahara Wadood,
without whose inspiration and support I could not pursue my degree.
The work is also dedicated to the Rohingya people who are the most persecuted ethnic
group in the world. I sincerely hope Rohingya people will get a solution to their long-
standing problem.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1 .................................................................................................................................................. 1
INTRODUCTION ......................................................................................................................................... 1
BACKGROUND: WHO ARE ROHINGYAS ..................................................................................................... 2
BACKGROUND : GEOPOLITICS OF ROHINGYA CRISIS ............................................................................... 5
BACKGROUND : ROHINGYAS IN BANGLADESHS DOMESTIC POLITICS .................................................... 6
BANGLADESHS MEDIA LANDSCAPE ......................................................................................................... 7
CHAPTER 2 .................................................................................................................................................. 9
LITERATURE REVIEW ............................................................................................................................. 9
FRAMING THEORY AND THE ROHINGYAS ............................................................................................... 12
Frame Variation Over Time ................................................................................................................ 14
CHAPTER 3 ................................................................................................................................................ 16
METHODOLOGY ...................................................................................................................................... 16
ANALYSIS .................................................................................................................................................. 19
CHAPTER 6 ................................................................................................................................................ 23
RESULTS ..................................................................................................................................................... 23
DOMINANT FRAMES ................................................................................................................................. 23
Rohingya as Victims ............................................................................................................................ 23
Economic Burden ................................................................................................................................ 26
Baby Booming ...................................................................................................................................... 29
Security Threat .................................................................................................................................... 31
Disease Spreading ................................................................................................................................ 33
Prolonged Crisis .................................................................................................................................. 34
FRAMES VARY OVER TIME ..................................................................................................................... 36
ONLINE NEWS OUTLETS MORE HOSTILE THAN NEWSPAPERS ............................................................. 37
RIGHT-WING NEWSPAPER IS PRO-REFUGEE.......................................................................................... 38
CHAPTER 7 ................................................................................................................................................ 43
DISCUSSION .............................................................................................................................................. 43
REFERENCES ............................................................................................................................................ 47
LIST OF TABLES
Table 3.1. Publications Selected for Analysis 17
Table 3.2 Selection of Research Sample from Each Publication 18
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LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 1: Dhaka Tribune's September 29, 2017 front page leading story titled "No Respite for the
Rohingya 25
Figure 2: The Daily Star opinion piece titled " Bearing the economic cost of the Rohingya crisis"
published on October 30, 2017 28
Figure 3: The Daily Star's report on baby booming titled “Family Planning: Too important, yet
ignored” published on November 3, 2017 30
Figure 4 The Daily Star opinion piece titled "Is Bangladesh headed for a Prolonged Rohingya
crisis?" published on March 20, 2018 36
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CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
When I first visited Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’z Bazar district to
assist Washington Post South Asia correspondent in their coverage of the Rohingya crisis soon
after the crisis began in October 2017, I found the local people very sympathetic towards
Rohingya refugees who fled en masse from Myanmar’s Rakhine state because they faced
persecution. Many local people brought food for Rohingyas, gave them shelter, and helped them
built tents.
After a few months, when I returned the same camps in mid-2018 for another reporting
assignment, I found a difference about how local people feel about Rohingyas. In my
conversations with the local people, I found a section of the people very hostile towards
refugees. The situation got worse at the end of 2019 when some refugees were beaten to death
allegedly by local people (McPherson, 2019).
Interestingly, the narratives about Rohingya people in Bangladeshi media outlets have
also shifted. In the beginning of the crisis, Bangladeshi newspapers were sympathetic with the
Rohingya people. Rohingyas seemed to be framed as victims, while the Myanmar military and
the government were framed as villains by Bangladeshi media. Most of the news stories during
that time focused on the plight of the Rohingya people and the brutality of Myanmar military.
However, after three months, the same Rohingyas seemed to be framed as villains in
Bangladeshi media. From mid 2019, Rohingya refugees witnessed widespread negative coverage
from Bangladeshi media outlets. Rohingyas were portrayed as criminals, drug traders, and
security threats by the Bangladeshi media outlets (Shishir, 2019). The question is: why this shift?
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Is there any relation between the shift of the public opinion of Rohingyas and the shift of media
narratives? These are the questions that provided the impetus for the current study.
In addition to the shift in media coverage, the Bangladeshi government’s policy towards
Rohingya has also shifted over the same time frame. This can best be illustrated by two separate
statements of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. On October 1, 2017, Prime Minister
Sheikh Hasina said that “if necessary people of Bangladesh would eat one meal to feed Rohingya
refugees (Dhaka Tribune, 2017). After two years, on November 11, 2019 the Prime Minister
termed the Rohingyas a "threat to the security" of the entire region (The Times of India, 2019).
Newspapers also reported that government policy towards Rohingyas has also shifted. The
Bangladesh government tried to send Rohingyas to a distant island. Later, it did not go with the
plan as aid organizations and the Rohingyas opposed the idea (The Daily Star, 2019). One
wonders, then, whether government policy influenced both the media and the public in their
negative attitude towards Rohingyas?
Background: Who are Rohingyas
The term “Rohingya” is a controversal word in Myanmar’s politics. The term itself has
become a key conflict issue between the Buddhist and the Muslims in Myamar. Rohingya is a term
that the Muslim population in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state want themseleves to be
identified. Most Muslims in Northern Rakhine consider the self identification as Rohingya the
first step to ensure their human rights (Ullah, 2017). On the other, the Myanmar government and
majority people in Myanmar have objection to use the term Rohingya. They consider using this
term a political assult on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation. They call them
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Bengali or kala inside Myanmar. Kala is derogatory term meaning “foreigner” or “stranger”,
particularly of South Asian origin , and they are also referred to as Bengali for political reasons.
By calling them Bengali, the Myanmar government wants to indicate that they are not citizens of
Myanmar but rather from neighboring Bangladesh (Ware & Laoutides, 2018).
Rohingyas are both religious and ethnic minorities in Myanmar. Rohingyas are Muslims,
while the majority of the population in Myanmar is Buddhist. The Rohingya’s skin color is also
different from the majority Burmese. Often senior Myanmar officials describe the Rohingyas as
being as ‘ugly as orges’ and as not sharing ‘the fair and soft’ skin of other Burmese ethnic groups
(Ibrahim, 2018, p. 4).
Rakhine is the westernmost state in Myanmar along the Bay of Bengal. It has an overall
length of about 450 kilometers and it shares a 256-kilometre border with Bangladesh. It was
formerly called Arakan until 1989. The area is relatively isolated from the central Myanmar
because of a significant mountain range and so it is historically better connected to Bangladesh
than the mainland of Myanmar. Arakan has a long history of independence from Burma. Arabs
and Parsian traders are said to have visited the area from at least the ninth century ( Yegar, 1972).
Mrauk-U was a strong Arkanese Kingdom independent from the Burmish kingdom from 1430. It
was conquered by Burmese in 1784. Historial documents show that subjects of Mrauk-U included
both Muslims and Buddists. As such, scholars have consensus that Muslim settlements in Arakan
or Rakhine dated back to at least fifteenth century (Gutman 1976; d’Hubert & Leider 2008;
Serajuddin 1986; Ware & Laoutides, 2018).
Before the current crisis, Rakhine was home to approximately 3.2 million people. Of them,
about 2 million are ethnic Rakhine while 1.1 million were Muslims and the rest of the population
are Burman and from small ethnic minority groups (Uom, 2015). The conflict in Rakhine is three
4
dimentional and there are three parties in the conflict: Rohingya Muslims who are seeking
citizenship and basic human rights; Rakhine (Buddist) a local ethnic minority in Rakhine state who
are running arms and political struggles for autonomy for centuries and the Myanmar government
who want to establish Burman nationalism in Rakhine state. The Myanmar government has also
two centers- powerful Burman dominated millitary and the ruling party NLD government.
Rohingyas have conflict with all the parties in Myanmar politics (Ware & Laoutides, 2018).
The Rohingya crisis is at least eight decades old. The crisis periodically flared up, but it
has intensified in the last few years (Ware & Laoutides, 2018). Research finds that the flaring up
of the crisis has some relation with Myanmar’s domestic politics. Ibrahim (2018) observes
“Ever since Burma became independent in 1948 they (Rohingyas)
have been targetted whenever ambitious (or desparate) politicians
need to deflect attention from other matters. Both government
officials and party leaders have called for their expulsion from their
homeland, and the main opposition ignores their plight. The build
up to the elections in late 2015 witnessed the final destruction of
their civic rights in Myanmar (completing a process that began with
the 1947 Constitutions) and increasingly they are detained in what
are now permanent internal refugee camps, where they are denied
food, work and medicare (Ibrahim, 2018, p. 1).
Ware & Laoutides (2018) observes that “profound social cleavages date back more than a
century, and cyclical bouts of violence have occurred every few decades since at least the Second
World War. There were atleast four previous mass exoduses from Arakan, in 1784, 1942, 1978,
and 1991-2, with a mass exodus of Indians from the whole of the Myanmar in 1962-4 also
adversely affecting Arakan. Several of these were comparable in scale to that of 2017, and bear an
eerie resemblance (Ware & Laoutides, 2018, p-14).
5
The mistrust between Muslims and the Buddists in Myanmar intensified during the Second
World War. During the war, Myanmar was part of British Monarchy. In the war, Muslims were
loyal to the British while Buddhist supported Burman nationalists and the Japanese. When
Japanese forces with the support of Burmese and Arakanese forces chased an estimated 500,000
colonial officials and sympathizers out of Burma, the British used Muslim volunteers for
intelleigence and guerrilla operations ( Smith, 1994; Murray, 1949, 1980). It is said that the British
forces would have been defeated and the Japanese forces would have captured major parts of the
regions without Muslim help (Irwin, 1946). Thus, the Muslims and the Rakhine fought in the
opposite side in Second World War.
The recent crisis started on 25 August 2017 when a group of Rohingya militants of Arakan
Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked more than 30 police posts killing more than 12 people.
The military crackdown in the subsequent days forced tens of thousands of Rohingyas crossing
the border and taking shelter in Bangladesh (Al Jazeera, 2019). Inside Rohingya camps in
Bangladesh, they cannot go outside the camps or enroll in educational institutions or work.
Background: Geopolitics of Rohingya Crisis
Myanmar as a whole and Rakhine state in particular is considered a geopolitical hotspot
in South East Asia. Myanmar has border with two rising Asian powers China and India and it
has access to the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Myanmar has taken advantage of US-
China competition for influence in South East Asia (Kundu, 2018). In the recent years, both
China and India invested heavily in Rakhine state. In 2019, China invested around $4.8 billion in
Myanmar, up slightly from the $4.7 billion in investments a year earlier. As part of One Belt One
6
Road initiative, the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) was established and China
building $1.3 billion deep-sea port at Kyaukphyu in Rakhine state, high-speed rail links and
special economic zones. These projects would allow China to bypass the Strait of Malacca and
directly access the Indian Ocean (Albert, 2020). India is also building a highway spanning a
distance of 109 kilometers and connecting Paletwa and Zorinpui on the Indian border in
Mizoram under flagship Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (Bhattacharyya, 2020).
The latest Rohingya crisis emerged at a time when Myanmar has been trying to balance
its foreign policy between China and the Western power. Historically, China has dominance in
Myanmar’s foreign policy. Since its transition to democratic rule in 2010, it has significantly
improved its relations with the West, particularly the United States (Han, 2017). However, the
crisis resulted less western influence and more Chinese influence following the West’s
condemnation over the repression on Rohingyas (Albert, 2020). Myanmar always gets China and
Russia on its side whenever the United Nations security council tries to take any measures
against the country for atrocities on Rohingyas (Nichols, 2018).
Background: Rohingyas in Bangladesh’s Domestic Politics
The Rohingya are a debated issue in Bangladesh’s domestic politics. Islamist groups who have
strong influence in Bangladesh’s politics are supportive of Rohingya cause and giving them
shelter. Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party Jamaat E Islami and some small Islamist groups are
said to have connection with Rohingyas (Brennan & O'Hara, 2015). Most Islamist groups in
Bangladesh carried out street processions across the country following military crackdown on
Rohingyas in 2017 and called the Bangladesh government to arm Rohingya refugees (The Indian
7
Express, 2017). Two parties dominate Bangladesh’s politics: the ruling Awami League and
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party, Jamaat E Islami, and
other small Islamist groups have strong influence in BNP and shared power during its regime
from 2001-2006. Political observers said that one of the reasons the ruling party decided to give
shelter to Rohingyas was to make sure Islamist groups cannot do politics with the issue and to
gain support among Islamist voters. The ruling Awami League successfully used the issue for
their domestic political gains. The AL activists campaigned that the Prime Minister Sheikh
Hasina is the “mother of humanity” for giving shelter to the Rohingyas. Some pro-government
news outlets ran stories that the Prime Minister was short-listed for Noble Peace Prize (Yayboke,
2018, p. 1).
Bangladesh’s Media Landscape
In terms of the overall number of publications, Bangladesh has a vibrant media system.
However, scholars often question the quality of the journalism in the country. According to a
study, in 2017 there were 2,320 newspapers, 1,781 online news sites, 72 radio stations, and 43
television channels in Bangladesh. It said that there are 17,300 organized journalists working in
Bangladesh (Bour et al., 2017).
Elahi (2013) argues that the quality of the journalism is not encouraging in Bangladesh.
His study finds that journalists’ ethical standards are poor and that many indulges in corrupt
practices. He observes that “some journalists and certain sectors of the media imposed self-
censorship because of journalists’ and editors’ personal political bias or the media owner’s
political position (Elahi, 2013, p. 197).”
8
As most of the print media is owned by businessmen cum politicians, there is an indirect
political influence (Riaz and Rahman, 2016). In late nineties, Bangladesh government disbanded
the state-control trust. It also closed all state owned newspapers and this was the end of the
decade old government ownership in the print media. Mahmud (2013) argues that the entrance of
business conglomerations into print media may appear depoliticization of the state ownership but
it is actually a form of “corpo-politicization (Mahmud, 2013, p. 44).
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CHAPTER 2
LITERATURE REVIEW
Research has found media coverage can influence refugee policies (Somaini, 2019;
Gunter, 2015; Kingsley & Timur, 2015). The photograph of the little body of Alan Kurdi face
down in the water on a Turkish beach is a good example how media coverage influences refugee
policies. After the publication of the photograph, many Europeans became sympathetic with the
suffering of refugees, and European policies towards Syrian refugees shifted (Somaini, 2019).
Mass media has power to influence people by creating narratives about people and crises.
The research of how mass media influence public opinion has received immense scholarly
attention in the last few decades. Johnson-Cartee (2005) argues that “the mass media potentially
have two potential levels of effects: 1) micro-effects, or those effects related to an individual, or
2) macro-effects, or those effects related to society at large.” She says that effects on the
individual can be 1) cognitive effects, which are associated with influence on what an individual
knows or is aware of, 2) affective effects, which are influences on how an individual emotionally
responds to what is known, or 3) behavioral effects, which include influences on how an
individual acts on what is known and felt (Johnson-Cartee, 2005, p.8). Johnson-Cartee (2005)
also argues that “knowledge is socially constructed, and the news media, in particular, play an
increasingly powerful role in the process of constructing political reality” (p. 147).
Research also shows that mass media plays an important role in societal effects. Kraus
and Davis (1976) observe that,
10
The mass media create common reality by shaping the conceptual environment in which
humans communicate….Political reality is formed by mass communication reports which
are talked about, altered, and interpreted by citizens in a society. The totality of this
process constitutes reality (211).
Research also says that there is a relationship among audiences, media, and the social
structure. None of these three elements cannot attain its goals without depending on the other
two (DeFleur & Ball-Rokeach, 1990). I assume in this study that Bangladeshi media outlets
needed both the public and the social structure to create Rohingya narratives and that these three
forces are interdependent. Rohingya refugees have put pressure on the government and the
public in a country where resources are very limited. In a country where 24 million people live
below the poverty line, it is challenging to host 914,998 Rohingyas (World Bank, 2020). To a
certain degree, then, one can understand why a portion of the population and the policymakers
are not happy with the refugees. However, these sentiments are amplified and circulated by
media, policymakers, and the public, which can shift the tone of the narrative over time.
I also assume that news is a narrative and it has an effect on shaping public opinion.
However, whether news is narrative or not has been a long-debated issue. Scholars have
observed that journalists feel uncomfortable when academics and social critics refer to their
communication products as either stories or narratives (Bird and Dardenne 1988; Schudson
1991). The Oxford Dictionary (1996) defines narratives as “ a spoken or written account of
connected events in order of happening,” providing as synonyms “ story, tale, chronicle,
description, revelation, portrayal, account, reports, record history, recital, and statement (Oxford
Dictionary, 1996). As such, I understand journalism as involved in the creation of narratives. I
have found McNair’s (1998) observation useful in this regard:
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Journalism, therefore, like any other narrative which is the work of human agency, is
essentially ideological a communicative vehicle for transmission to an audience
(intentionally or otherwise) not just of facts but of assumptions, attitudes, beliefs and
values of its maker(s), drawn from and expressive of a particular world-view (6).
Furthermore, this study draws from framing theory. Gitlin (1980) argues that media frames are
tools that both news media professionals and audiences use to contextualize information. He
explains,
Media frames, largely unspoken and unacknowledged, organize the world both for
journalists who report it and, in some important degree, for us who rely on their reports.
Media frames are persistent patterns of cognition, interpretation, and presentation, of
selection, emphasis, and exclusion, by which symbol handlers routinely organize
discourse, whether verbal or visual. Frames enable journalists to process large amounts of
information quickly and routinely: to recognize it as information, to assign it to cognitive
categories, and to package it for efficient relay to their audiences. Thus, for
organizational reasons alone, frames are unavoidable, and journalism is organized to
regulate their production (Gitlin, 1980, pp. 6-7).
For the purposes of this study, I want to investigate the ways in which journalists used
different frames in interpreting the Rohingya refugee crisis. The primary goal of this study is to
find out dominant frames used in Rohingya refugee narratives. Second, I want to investigate how
the frames changed over time from August 2017 to December 2019 as well as whether frames
varied based on the format and ideology of the media outlets.
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The study will contribute to the existing literature in three ways. First, this will help
understand the dominant frames used in Rohingya coverage. Second, the study will help
understand how frame can change over the time and based on the format and ideology of news
outlets. Third, the study will also contribute to the existing literature of refugees. This will
contribute to an understanding of the growing hatred against refugees worldwide.
Framing Theory and the Rohingyas
Media framing of Rohingyas get little scholarly attention. I have found only five articles
that discuss media framing of Rohingyas. Two of them compare media framing in different
countries. For example, Afzal (2016) discussed media framing of Rohingya crisis by British and
Pakistani media outlets (Afzal, 2016). Islam (2018) discussed media framing of Rohingya crisis
by Bangladeshi, Indian and Chinese newspapers (Islam, 2018). One article discusses the framing
of Rohingya refugee crisis by Bangladesh’s largest circulated English daily The Daily Star
(Ubayasiri, 2019). It should be mentioned that Afzal’s (2016) article was written before the present
crisis began. In my review of the literature, I did not find any articles that discuss variation of
frames about the Rohingya over the time or differentiates between the format and the ideology of
the media outlets.
I also reviewed the articles that discuss how refugees worldwide are framed by the media
outlets. A few articles discuss about the variation of media framing. Greussing and Boomgaarden
(2017) discuss the most dominant frames employed in the coverage of refugee and asylum issues
between January 2015 and January 2016 in six Austrian newspapers. The article mainly focuses
on potential differences between quality and tabloid media, and on frame variations over time.
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A review of early research of refugee framing shows that there are mainly three dominant
media framing of refugees. First, refugees are framed as victims. When framed as victims, news
stories generally focus on the plight and suffering of refugees and illegal migrants, and the stories
often encourage support for the ‘victims’ by demonstrating how they are not responsible for their
condition (Van Gorp, 2005; Horsti, 2008). In victimization framing, news stories attempt to call
for humanitarian assistance (KhosraviNik 2009; Harrell-Bond 1999). Second, refugees can be
framed as a problem (Greussing & Boomgaarden, 2017). The “problem” frame can be of two
different varieties. On the one hand, refugees and asylum seekers are often framed as criminals
and terrorists (Bennett et al. 2013; El Refaie 2001; Goodman and Speer 2007; Ibrahim 2005). On
the other, refugees and asylum seekers are framed as responsible for economic crisis and “are
accused of draining public resources (Greussing & Boomgaarden, 2017). Furthermore, Lynn and
Lea (2003) demonstrate that when refugees are framed as an economic problem people start
questioning whether refugees and asylum seekers should get support or not. Third, refugees are
framed as threats to the society of the host country. Refugees are blamed for destroying language,
cultural identities and values (Gilbert, 2013). Research finds that this framing creates polarization
in the society of the host country (Hickerson and Dunsmore, 2016; Benson, 2013).
The study is built on framing theory. Goffman (1974) argues that “individuals cannot
understand the world fully and therefore actively classify and interpret their life experiences to
make sense of the world around them. The individual’s reaction to sensory information therefore
depends on schemes of interpretation called ‘primary frameworks’” (Goffman, 1974, p. 24).
Goffman’s main argument is that the public can see events in different ways and it is the journalist
who employs the framework. Goffman says, “The type of framework we employ provides a way
of describing the event to which it is applied (p. 24).
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Scheufele (2000) argues that “two concepts of framing need to be specified: media frames
and audience frames. Media frames have been considered “a central organizing idea or story line
that “provides meaning to an unfolding strip of events. … The frame suggests what the controversy
is about, the essence of the issue” (p. 143). Audience frames are defined as “mentally stored
clusters of ideas that guide individuals’ processing of information (Entman, 1993, p. 53).”
Frame Variation Over Time
Downs (1972) shows that news coverage of an issue has five cyclic stages. The five stages
are 1) Pre-problem stage, 2) Problem stage, 3) Discovery stage, 4) Declining stage, and 5) Post
problem stage. In the pre-problem stage, only experts and interest groups know about the problem.
In problem and discovery stage, the public know about that problem. Some people become hopeful
that the problem can be solved. When the problem is not solved and the economic and social costs
become unbearable, public lose interest in the problem and this is the declining stage. And this
declining stage leads to post problem stage (Downs, 1972; Greussing & Boomgaarden, 2017). Post
problem stage refers to situation after the problem is over.
Frame Variation Among Tabloids, Mainstream Media , and Online Media
Research shows that media organizations’ format or characteristics are important factors
for their reporting (Vliegenthart and van Zoonen 2011; Greussing & Boomgaarden, 2017).
Scholars argue that mainstream media are more serious reporting style (Jandura and Friedrichm,
2014). On the other hand, tabloids have tendencies to give one-sided and populist narrative to an
event (Greussing & Boomgaarden, 2017). Furthermore, research shows that tabloid media has a
15
central role in creating negative narratives of migration related groups and asylum seekers (Innes
2010; Van den Bulck and Broos 2011). It is argued that in case of immigration and asylum
coverage, tabloid papers use significantly more negative terminology than mainstream papers
(Gabrielatos and Baker 2008; Threadgold 2009; Greussing & Boomgaarden, 2017)
Also, based on qualatative interview, Khan (2012) observed that his “interviewees
perceived the right-wing press as allied to the Conservative Party and likely to report that
migration was an economic liability to the state (Khan, 2012).” Research also finds that right-
wing media in their coverage oppose migration (Delanty, 2008, p. 680).
Considering all this, the Rohingya crisis provides an interesting case study. It offers an
opportunity to investigate the ways in which news framing of the crisis shifted over time as well
as the ways in which those frames varied across different media outlets. The research questions
guiding this study, then are as follows:
RQ1: What are the dominant media frames about Rohingya refugees in mainstream
Bangladeshi news outlets from August 2017 to January 2019, and how did they change
over time?
RQ2: Does the framing of the Rohingya refugees differ depending on the format
(newspapers, tabloid, and online newspaper) or ideology of the news outlets?
16
CHAPTER 3
METHODOLOGY
Content from six daily newspapers and two online portals was analyzed for this study. I
wanted to study the coverage of Rohingya refugees by tabloid outlets. However, there was only
one taboild in Bangladesh (Manab Zamin). This outlet is tabloid in format but not in
characteristic. It covers serious issues. The paper has also recently shut down its print edition. As
such, I have excluded the outlet. Six out of eight newspapers are Bengali language newspapers
and two of them are English language paper. The news outlets are Prothom Alo, The Daily Star,
Dhaka Tribune, Naya Diganto, Bangladesh Protidin, Inqilab and online Bangla Tribune and
bdnews24.com. News stories and opinion pieces were selected based on time published between
August 25, 2017 and December 30, 2019. Two news stories from each news outlet were selected
for each month of the timeframe. The sampling was random. I have selected one story from the
beginning of the month and one from the end of the month. Thus, a total of 448 news and
opinion stories were gathered. Of them, 48 were opinion pieces and 400 were news stories.
Bangladesh Protidin is the largest circulated Bengali daily in Bangladesh. Its daily
circulation is 553,000. Prothom Alo is the second largest circulated Bengli language newspaper
while The Daily Star is the largest circulated English language newspaper in Bangladesh (The
Daily Sun, 2020). Prothom Alo has a daily circulation of 500,000. The Daily Star has a daily
circulation of 44,814. Dhaka Tribune’s daily circulation is 40,600. Inqilab’s and Naya Diganta’s
circulation is more than 100,000 for each publication (Banik Barta, 2020). Naya Diganta and
Inqilab are selected because of its right-wing ideology while bdnews24.com and Bangla Tribune
17
was selected because they are online outlets and they have a pro-government stance. The
Nayadiganto and Inquilab are religious conservative media outlets. Nayadiganto’s founding
chairman was a leader of Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party Jamaat-E-Islami. The Islamist
group is said to have strong influence in the newspaper (Chowdhur and Abdullah, 2016). The
founder of the Inqilab was a leader of teachers organization of Bangladesh’s Islamic education
system popularly known as madrassa. Madrassa based Islamist groups are said to have strong
influence in this newspaper (Riaz and Naser, 2011). Table 3.1 below provides a clear illustration
of the publications selected for analysis.
Table 3.1. Publications Selected for Analysis
Publication Title
Format
Daily
Circulation/Views
Political Ideology
1.
Bangladesh
Protidin
Newspaper
553,000
Liberal/Secular
2.
Bdnews24.com
Online
333,333
Liberal/Pro-
government
3.
Bangla Tribune
Online
158,141
Liberal/Pro-
government
4.
Inqilab
Newspaper
100,000
Right-wing
5.
Prothom Alo
Newspaper
500,000
Liberal/Secular
6.
The Daily Star
Newspaper
44,814
Liberal/Secular
7.
Dhaka Tribune
Newspaper
40,600
Liberal/Pro-
government
8.
Naya Diganta
Newspaper
100,000
Right-wing
18
The time between August 25, 2017 and December 30, 2019 was chosen because this was
the most important time of Rohingya crisis. On August 25, 2017 Myanmar security forces started
the crackdown against the Rohingya minority groups after a group of Rohingya insurgents
attacked several police posts. A total of 914,998 Rohingyas are now residing in refugee camps in
Bangladesh (as of September 30, 2019).
To gather relevant stories from each of the publications, I conducted a search by using the
search engines embedded in the websites of these eight news outlets. I began by simply
searching for the term, “Rohingya.” In Prothom Alo, 74,600 results were found, which included
news stories, opinion pieces, editorial and a few letters to the editors. To reduce the total number
of stories, while also ensuring that I captured stories across the relevant time line, I selected two
stories or opinion pieces from each month. This gave me meaning 56 total news stories and
opinion pieces from the desired time frame.
Table 3.2 Selection of Research Sample from Each Publication
News outlet
Search Result
Stories Selected
for Analysis
Prothom Alo
74,600
56
The Daily Star
529,000
56
Dhaka Tribune
102,000
56
Bangladesh Protidin
320
56
Naya Diganta
11,800
56
Inqilab
23,700
56
Bdnews24.com
3,301
56
Bangla Tribune
69,800
56
Total
814,521
448
19
I repeated this same process for each of the other publications as well. In The Daily Star,
the key word search Rohingya generated 529,000 results. A total of 56 stories and opinion pieces
were selected from there. A total of 102,000 results were found in the key word search in Dhaka
Tribune website and 56 were selected from there. A key word search in Bangladesh Protidin
website generated 320 results, or which 56 were selected. A total of 11,800 results was found in
Naya Diganto website and 56 were selected. The search in Bangla Tribune generated 69,800
result. Of them, 56 were selected. In bdnews24.com, I got 3,301 results and 56 were selected.
Analysis
To analyze the selected articles, I first downloiaded the selected articles from the each
publication’s website and compiled them in a single Word file. I followed Staurt Hall’s advice of
“a long preliminary soak” in the material (Hall, 1980). In drawing inspiration from Hall’s
techniques for her study, Steeves (1997) argues that the purpose of this “soak” is to “identify
valid themes and illuminating examples consistence with a concentual argument or question
(Steeves, 1997, p. 24).” Klaus Krippendorff (1980) also argues that after inferences have been
made, that is, after it is known what the data mean or what they indicate, there is the need to do
the following:
summarize the data, to represent them so that they can be better comprehend, interpreted,
or related to some decision the user wishes to make
discover patters and relationships within data that the “naked eye” would not easily
discern, to test relational hypotheses
20
relate data obtained from content analysis to data obtained from other methods or from
other situations so as to either validate the methods involved or to provide missing
information (Krippendorff, 1980, p. 109).
I follow Krippendorff’s advice. I read the articles several times and took notes each time.
I should mention that I was in Bangladesh during the time these stories were written. Not only
did I read most of the news everyday, but I also had the chance to discuss the news stories in the
news room. Discussions about these news stories on Facebook has also provided additional
contextual familirity with the stories.
To develop the frames for this study, I followed Todd Gitlin’s method of framing. Gitlin
(1980) revealed hegemonic processes at play in the New York Times and CBS News television
coverage of the anti-Vietnam War resistance movement, Student for a Democratic Society
(SDS), in the 1960s. He argues that “media frames, largely unspoken and unackowledged,
organize the world both for journalists who report it and, in some important degree, for us who
rely on their reports. Media frames are persistent patterns of cognition, interpretation, and
presentation, of selection, emphasis, and exclusive, by which symbol handlers routinely organize
discourse, whether verbal or visual (Gitlin, 1980, p.7).
I identified my frames through a process of initial coding, which then became more
refined after repeating my analysis. My process of initial coding began by first categorizing each
story based on its type (i.e., whether it was a news story or opinion piece). I did this because I
specifically wanted to separate out editorial content from that which was reported as hard news.
In my view, identifying the frames used in hard news was going to be more consequential
because those stories are presented as factual and therefore can have a potentially more potent
impact on the way the public views the Rohingya crisis. Second, I categorized the stories based
21
on the section in which the story appeared (i.e., international news, national news, business, or
culture). I did this because each section of the publication would necessarily highlight certain
aspects of the story. Therefore, I wanted to see the degree to which stories either coincided with
the section focus or deviated from that focus to offer an additional frame for understanding the
crisis.
In following Gitlin’s (1980) framework, I also tried to find out if the reporters put
emphasis on one aspect while overlooking other aspects. In what such exmaple, the daily paper
Prothom Alo published a story on October 19, 2019 titled “Rohingya Songkot: Sonchoy
Vengechen 28 percent sthaniyo manush” (Rohingya crisis: 28 percent local people lose their
savings).” Written by Iftekhar Mahmud and Gias Uddin, the report says the “Rohingya crisis is
destroying Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district’s forest land, drinking water resources, agricultural
land and the local people are suffering from food insecurity.” The story focuses on how
Rohingyas became a burden on Bangladesh and how they were harming Bangladesh’s resources.
In other words, the story frames the Rohingya as an economic burden by depleting resources.
However, it ignores the fact that Rohingyas are in distress and they have no where to go.
After reflecting on multiple rounds of analysis and further refining my frames, I
ultimately arrived at six dominant frames used in the coverage of the Rohingya refugees. They
are:
Victims: Rohingyas are framed as victims.
Economic Burden: Rohingyas are framed as an economic burden for the country.
Baby Booming: Rohingya mothers are giving birth to huge number of babies in
Bangladesh.
22
Disease Spreading: Rohingyas are spreading diseases in the local areas.
Security Threat: Terrorism, Law and order deterioration. Rohingyas are framed as a
threat to the security of the hosting country.
Prolonged Crisis: The Rohingyas are framed as a crisis which will not be solved in the
near future.
Once these frames were established, I returned to the stories again to capture more
granular qualitative detail on how these frames were used in stories. This ultimately led to my
results, which are presented in the following chapter.
23
CHAPTER 4
RESULTS
In this chapter, I discuss each of the frames I identified in my study. I ultimately
identified six dominant frames: Victims, Economic Burden, Baby Booming, Disease Spreading,
Security Threat, and Prolonged Crisis. I explain the specific emphasis of each frame as well as
provide examples of how the frames were used in the stories from my research sample.
Dominant Frames
Rohingya as Victims
The Rohingya crisis is a decades-old issue for Bangladesh. The crisis flares up
periodically and often many Rohingyas cross the border or take a sea route into Bangladesh.
Immediately before the 2017 Rohingya refugee crisis, there was an influx (Griffin, 2015). Anti-
Rohingya sentiment was always there in Bangladesh. Despite this, newspaper coverage in the
initial stage was very pro-Rohingya. During that time, Rohingyas were framed by the media as
victims who are suffering because of inhumane policies of Myanmar government and the
brutality of Myanmar’s armies. Anti-Rohingya sentiment was ignored during the time, and this is
largely reflected in my research sample.
The daily Prothom Alo first ran a report on August 30, 2017 titled “ Naikhangchori
Shimante Hazaro Rohingyas (Thousands Rohingyas in Naikhangchori border). Written by
Buddhajyoti Chakma, the six-column-inch report says that Rohingyas were suffering from a food
and drinking water crisis on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, as the Bangladeshi government
24
was still undecided if it would allow Rohingyas to enter Bangladesh. Coupled with two
photographers showing Rohingyas in distress and run on the front page of the newspaper, the
report starts with the paragraph: Thousands of Rohingyas took shelter on the no-man’s land at
Chakdhala and Ashartoli at Naikhangchori in Banderban border. They are staying at six points
on slope of the hills using makeshift made of polithines. They are sufferring from foods and
drinking water crisis and leading a humanitarian life. Every day new Rohingyas are joining
them.” The reporter uses sources from government officials, locals and Rohingyas. The report
quoted Rohingya Abdul Majid saying that they are not getting drinking water. The report ignored
that the fact that the growing number of Rohingya refugees were already presenting a problem
for Bangladesh, which had the potential to lead to some crisis in the country.
The Daily Star first reported on the crisis on August 26, 2017. In a story titled, “Fresh
influx on” and written by an unnamed staff reporter, the report says Rohingas in large number
fled Myanmar to Bangladesh after Myanmar armies fired bullets at the Rohingya camps and
burnt their houses. Run on the front page of the newspaper, the 578-word-long story starts with
the paragraph: “In the wake of Rohingya insurgents' attacks on police and army personnel in
Rakhine State, Bangladesh yesterday saw a sudden influx of Rohingyas who fled Myanmar for
fear of persecution.” The report does mention that Bangladesh had already been hosting 500,000
Rohingyas for three decades. It also did not talk about the problem this could cause to
Bangladesh. Government officials, locals, and Rohingyas are used as sources for the report. The
report quoted a Rohingya fisherman, Syed Hossainas, saying he along with his 15 family
members fled Myanmar's Maungdaw after he saw fire and plumes of smoke in nearby areas.
Similarly, on August 29, 2017 Dhaka Tribune ran a front page leading story titled “‘No
respite’: Myanmar troops force Rohingyas into Bangladesh. Written by Adil Sakhawat, who
25
reported from Naikhongchhari border in Bangladesh, the report says that the reporter heared two
bursts of gunfire, then saw smoke began to curl up from the horizon, and the Rohingyas were in
distress as the Bangladeshi government was not allowing them to enter. At the same time, they
could not return to Myanmar. Written as a first-person narrative, the report starts with: “I was at
a strategic point from where the Bangladesh-Myanmar border fence and a border post of
Myanmar Border Guard Forces (BGF) on the other side was visible. What I observed from this
vantage point came as a complete surprise. Around 11am, while I was talking to the newly
arrived Rohingyas at a temporary shelter at the international border, they were suddenly
instructed to voluntarily dismantle their shelters and move near the border fence.” The report
uses government officials, locals and Rohingyas as sources.
Figure 1: Dhaka Tribune's September 29, 2017 front page leading story titled "No Respite for
the Rohingya
26
Portraying Rohingyas as victims and discussing their situation as a humanatarian crisis
was other coverage as well. For example, in an opinion piece published in Prothom Alo written
by Tahmina Amir, titled Poshutto Kobe Sesh hobe?” (When will the brutality end?), the writer
questions the silence of international community to Rohingya repression. She says she cannot
forget the picture of dead bodies of Rohingya children floating on the sea. In another opinion
piece in the same same newspaper titled, Mayer Bari Myanmar: C My Ghor Jayum (My
mother lives in Myanmar: Let’s go home, mother), the writer Gowhar Naim Wara describes the
plights of some Rohingya children. He tells the story of a three years old child Hafiz who was
crying when the writer was speaking to him and asking his mother to go home to Myanmar.
In this frame, Rohingyas are portrayed as victims, and I have found humanitarian appeals
used in this frame. This frame was noticed only in the early stages of the crisis. As time went on,
humanitarian framing was absent except in the right wing newspapers. Humanitarian framing
might be used to justify government decision to give shelter to Rohingyas in the initial stage.
Economic Burden
Earlier research has found coverage of immigrants and asylum seekers is often associated
with problem orientation (Gemi, Ulasiuk, and Triantafyllidou, 2013; Heller, 2014; Lynn and Lea,
2003; Greussing and Boomgaarden, 2017). I have found a similar pattern. After the initial shock
passed, newspapers started discussing the economic burden the crisis could cause to Bangladesh.
The discussion of the economic burden started after a few weeks of the crisis. While discussing
about economic burden, news outlets overlooked humanitarian and other aspects.
On September 28, 2017, the Dhaka Tribune newspaper published a report titled
“Rohingya influx may hurt Bangladesh economy.” Written by Ishtiaq Husain and Ibrahim
Hossain Ovi, the story summaries comments of leading Bangladesh economists and indicates
27
that Bangladesh’s economy is going to face impacts due to the Rohingya crisis. The report starts
with the paragraph: “Bangladesh’s economy will face multiple adverse impacts if the recently
arrived Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine State are not repatriated soon, economists and
experts have warned.” The reporters spoke to three leading economists in the country: the Centre
for Policy Dialogue distinguished fellow Debapriya Bhattacharya, senior economist of Policy
Research Institute Ashikur Rahman, and a former finance adviser to the government ABM Mirza
Azizul Islam. They also spoke to Bangladesh Hotel and Guest House Owners Association
secretary general James Babu Hazra, chief executive officer of Bangladesh Tourism Board Nasir
Uddin and some locals. It is worth noting that the Cox’s Bazar district where Rohingyas are
residing is a tourist spot. The report suggest that the Rohingya crisis will harm Bangladesh’s
tourism industry. “Once our economy is affected badly, food items and household materials will
witness price hikes,” economist ABM Mirza Azizul Islam was quoted as saying in the report.
Shamsul Alam, a local in the adjacent area of the Rohingya camps was quoted as saying: “The
prices of almost everything have risen in the last two weeks due to higher demand following the
Rohingya influx.
The Daily Star ran an opinion piece on October 30, 2017, which was written by an
economist, Dr Abdullah Shibli. The article argues the crisis has already cost Bangladesh both
directly and indirectly: Among the indirect or imputed costs, we should include the following:
infrastructure, government services including security, natural resources, health and sanitation,
and the labour market. According to some accounts, the tourism industry in Cox's Bazar has
taken a hit,” Dr Shibli argues in his opinion piece. The article says: “Bangladesh has been taking
in Rohingya refugees from Myanmar since the 70s, right after independence, and the rate
accelerated in the 1990s. Currently, we are sheltering, feeding, and providing various assistance
28
to well over a million refugees and it is possible that the situation might get worse before it gets
better.”
Figure 2: The Daily Star opinion piece titled " Bearing the economic cost of the Rohingya crisis"
published on October 30, 2017
Prothom Alo published a story on October 19, 2019 titled “Rohingya Songkot: Sonchoy
Vengechen Athash Shotangsho Sthaniyo Manush” (Rohingya crisis: 28 percent of local people
ate into their savings).” Written by Iftekhar Mahmud and Gias Uddin, the report summerized a
study conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and seven other
aid organizations. The report starts with the paragraph: Rohingyas are destroying Cox’s Bazar
district’s forest land, drinking water resources and agricultural land while the local people are
suffering from food insecurity.” The report quotes a local, Nabi Hossain, as saying he is in
financial crisis because Rohingya refugees had built 22 houses on his agricultural land.
29
There are similarities in the coverage of all media outlets studied when they frame
Rohingya as economic burden. The major narratives are: sky rocketing of neceesity foods,
impact on tourism and high cost on local natural resources.
The economic burden frame was noticed one month after the crisis began. Media
occasionally cover the Rohingya crisis and try to give the impression that Rohingyas are
responsible for Bangladesh’s economic crisis. This frame has created a narrative that
Bangladeshi economy is suffering due to the refugees.
Baby Booming
One of the tendencies of news outlets has also been to portray Rohingyas as others, who
are not like us. Some news outlets build a narrative that Rohingya women are uneducated and
do not use birth control, which runs the risk of baby booming in Bangladesh. On October 4,
2017, the Dhaka Tribune newspaper publisheed a report titled, “Why are Rohingyas not
interested in birth control?” Written by Abdul Aziz, the 329-word report says Rohingya women
have no idea what birth control is, as there is no access to birth control in Myanmar’s Rakhine
state. The report starts with the paragraph: “The Directorate General of Family Planning (DGFP)
has started working to bring the adult Rohingya refugees sheltered in Bangladesh under a family
planning programme.” The reporter spoke to local health officials, locals and Rohingyas. The
report concludes with a quote of Cox’s Bazar Family planning official, Dr Pintu Kanti
Bhattacharya, as saying, “More than 25,000 expecting Rohinya mothers have fled Myanmar and
entered Bangladesh since August 25. More than 700 children were were born since then. At least
10,000 more Rohingya mothers will give birth very soon.” The story indicates that baby
booming is going to be a problem to Bangladesh.
30
The Daily Star newspaper ran a similar story on November 3, 2017 titled: “Family
Planning: Too important, yet ignored: Rohingya mothers, children in danger for lack of
services. Written by Porimol Palma, the 1023-word report quotes a NGO official in the camps
as saying, “every Rohingya couple has six to seven children on average and that Rohingyas are
not educated.” It says that contraceptive is not popular among Rohingyas due to lack of
education and awareness. The report starts with the paragraph: Shortage of family planning
services may aggravate the health problems of Rohingya refugees, especially mothers and
children suffering from malnutrition, say government officials and experts.” The reporter spoke
to mainly health experts and NGO officials. However, it did not talk to any Rohingyas. The
report quotes a health expert Dr Bhattacharjee as saying they are also considering permanent
method of contraceptives like vasectomy and tubectomy for Rohingyas.
Figure 3: The Daily Star's report on baby booming titled Family Planning: Too important, yet
ignored published on November 3, 2017
31
The Prothom Alo publised a similar story on May 17, 2018 titled “Choy mashe
Rohingyashibir a jonmo niyeche cholo hazar shishu (16,000 babies were born in Rohingya
camps in 6 months. Written by unnamed desk reporter, the article is based on a report of The
United Nations Children's Fund is a United Nations agency UNICEF. Quoting UNICEF, the
report says that 60 babies are born in Rohingya camps every day.
The baby booming frame was observed approximately one year after the crisis began, but
it was used less frequently as time went on. This frame provides a narrative among the masses
that refugee numbers will surpass the local people because of high birth rates and all the newborn
children will be Bangladeshi citizens who will put burden on Bangladesh.
Security Threat
Earlier research has found that one of the aspects of associating Rohingyas with problem
orientation is to relate them to the security of the country (Bennett et al., 2013; El Refaie, 2001;
Goodman and Speer, 2007; Ibrahim, 2005). I have found a similar framing in Rohingya crisis. In
Rohingya’s case, the aspect of security threat has two dimensions. They are associated with
global terrorism and responsible for the deteriorating law and order situation in the areas of
Rohingya camps. In case of deteriorating law and order situation, Rohingyas are framed as drug
peddlers and causes for increased crime rates.
Most of the news outlets included in this study published stories framing the Rohingya as
a security threat and part of the ongoing threat of global terrorism. For example, Bangladesh
Protidin ran a story on September 9, 2017 titled “Rohingya der sathe jongi Onuprobesher
32
Ashongkha (Terrorists can enter Bangladesh along with Rohingyas).” Written by an unnamed
reporter, the report quotes a senior Bangladeshi minister namely Obaidul Quader as saying the
Bangladesh government is worried that arms, terrorists and national and international
conspirators could enter Bangladesh with Rohingyas.
Online bdnews24.com ran a story on September 4, 2019 titled “Two NGOs banned in
Cox’s Bazar for ‘secretly assisting’ Rohingya rally, ‘instigating’ no return. Written by the
outlet’s Cox’s Bazar correspondent, the report says the government takes action against two
NGOS for “instigating” Rohingyas. The report starts with the paragraph: “The government has
ordered a halt on operations of two NGOs in Cox’s Bazar for “secretly assisting” a Rohingya
rally in and “instigating” the refugees to not return to Myanmar.” The report quotes a
government official as saying “ the two NGOs are also accused of instigating the refugees not to
return to their homeland.” The official added that the government also ordered a halt on bank
transactions of the two NGOs- ADRA and Al-Markazul.
Online bdnews24.com ran another story on April 6, 2018 titled “15 killings and 163 crime
incident in Rohingya camps in 8 months.” Wrriten by Mithun Chowdhury, the report quotes a
police official as saying that Rohingyas were involved in 15 killings and 163 crime incidents in
the eight months. It added that cases were filled against 336 Rohingyas. The report quotes a
senior official as saying that Rohingyas have high tendencies for crime, as they came from a
confined area. The report tries to give an idea that crime rates are higher among Rohingyas than
the local Bangladeshi community. However, it did not give any comprative figures. A tendency
of portraying Rohingyas as others who are not like Bangladeshis was also noticed in the report.
This report was widely shared among the Bangladeshi Facebook community to establish a
narrative that Rohingyas are making Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district a crime zone.
33
Prothom Alo published an interview of a security expert, the President of Bangladesh
Institute of Peace and Security Styudies, Major General ANM Muniruzzaman on December 23,
2019. In the interview, Mr. Muniruzzaman said the Rohingya crisis can be a security threat to the
region. He said there are some indications to that. First, there are some conflicts between
Rohingyas and the local people. Second, Rohingyas are invovled in the drug business in
Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar region. Third, Rohingyas are involved in small arms trade in the
region.
The Daily Star published a report on May 17, 2019 titled “Refugee Camps: Crime spikes
while Rohingyas despair.” Written by Mohammad Al-Masum Molla, the report says “With
uncertainty shrouding the Rohingya repatriation, crimes from petty thefts to drug peddling,
abduction to murder have become a commonplace at the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.”
The framing of the security threat started after a few months of the crisis, and the media
revisit the issue occassionally. Except the right wing news outlets, all media used the security
framing as routine reporting. There is a dominant narratives in Bangladesh that Rohingya
refugees are responsible for drug trafficking in Bangladesh. The framing has contributed to anti-
Rohingya sentiment.
Disease Spreading
Rohingyas are also framed as the source for spreading diseases in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Protidin published a story titled “Myammar a arai lakh AIDS rugi: Bangladesh a
Sonkromon er Shongkha (250,000 AIDS patients in Myanmar: Fear of spread to Bangladesh)”
on October 15, 2017. Written by an unnamed reporter, the article says that Bangladesh is at high
34
risk of an AIDS epidemic because of the Rohingyas. Quoting a local health official, the report
says that until the report was writted on October 15, 19 Rohingyas were found HIV positive.
On November 23, 2017, The Daily Star ran a story titled “83 HIV-infected Rohingyas
traced”. Written by an unnamed online reporter, the report cited the Health Minister in saying
that 83 Rohingyas had tested HIV-positive. The report informed that of them 29 are males, 41
are females. The minister was quoted in the report that the government has taken necessary
measures so that it will not spread to the local communities.
In this frame, Rohingyas are considered as a public health threat to the local
communities. The media using this frame try to give an idea that Bangladesh does not have
AIDS problem but Rohingyas are responsible for the spread. I think this may have parallels to
the narrative that Chinese people are responsible for spreading coronavirus in the west. It should
be mentioned that these reports try to create fear among the masses. For example, the headline
says “250,000 AIDS patients in Myanmar” which creates panic, but the report said only 19 were
tested positive. The number of Rohingya patients in Myanmar was used to create panic among
the people. There is a dominant narrative in the local communities that Rohingyas are spreading
diseases in the areas adjacent to the Rohingya camps and the narrative seems to have created
anti-Rohingya sentiment in these areas.
Prolonged Crisis
News outlets also frame Rohingyas crisis as a prolonged crisis, which will be a burden on
Bangladesh for a long time. Stories using this frame seemed indicated that there was no solution
in sight for the Rohingya crisis, the crisis will continue and, as such, Rohingyas will stay in
35
Bangladesh forever. Bangla Tribune published a story on October 4, 2017 titled “Choloman
Rohingya Somossa Shosai Somadhan Hobe Na” (Rhingya crisis will not be solved soon). The
report cites sources from parliamentary standing committee members who warn that the
Rohingya crisis will be prolonged.
The Daily Star published an opinion piece on March 20, 2018 titled “Is Bangladesh
headed for a prolonged Rohingya crisis?” Written by Nahela Nowshin, an editorial team member
of the paper, the article argues that “with every passing day, any hope of the safe return of
Rohingyas, who have endured the most horrific of experiences, gets dimmer.” The writer
concludes that “their [Rohingyas] fate hangs in the balance as Bangladesh continues to grapple
with a monumental humanitarian burden and Myanmar does as it pleases with no one to question
them.”
The framing of a prolonged crisis gives the message to the public that Bangladesh should
not be too sympathetic to the cause of Rohingyas, but they should be concenred about the crisis.
It’s worth noting that I have seen numerous Facebook discussions based on this narrative that
Rohingyas will live Bangladesh forever and they will take over the areas from the local people.
36
Figure 4: The Daily Star opinion piece titled "Is Bangladesh headed for a Prolonged Rohingya
crisis?" published on March 20, 2018
Frames Vary Over Time
My findings in this study have have followed a similar to what Downs (1972) identifies
as the five cyclic stages of the coverage of an issue, which are: 1) Pre-problem stage, 2) Problem
stage, 3) Discovery stage, 4) Declining stage, and 5) Post problem stage. In the Rohingya crisis,
the pre-problem stage was the first week when the crisis began. The problem stage then
continued during the next four weeks. In problem and pre-problem stages, the media frames were
predominantly focused on victimization and the plight of the Rohingya people. Pathos was used
during these two stages to appeal the public’s sense of sympahty for a downtrodden people.
These reports tended to focus on the humanitarian nature of the crisis; Rohingyas were framed as
37
victims who were tortured by Maynmar army. Things started to change, however, in the next
stage.
In the discovery stage, media outlets started framing the crisis as an economic burden and
highlighting the long-term costs for Bangladesh. This started at the end of September 2017, one
month after the crisis began. Framing Rohingyas as security threat comes a little bit later,
approximately one month after the discovery stage. I have found a gap in coverage after that.
There were only occassional reporting. I argue that this was a declining stage. The dominant
frame during this time is the Prolonged Crisis frame. At the time of writing, the crisis continues,
which means I did not find any evidence of Down’s (1972) post-problem stage. Anecdotally, I
can say that the dominant frames continue to be the Security Threat and Prolonged Crisis frames.
Online News Outlets More Hostile Than Newspapers
Online portals were found more hostile towards Rohingya refugees than mainstrem
newspapers. The online Bangla Tribune published a news story on August 23, 2019 titled,
“Rohingya der mukhe khabar tule deya Faruq Rohingya sontrashi der hate khun (Faruq who fed
Rohingyas was killed by Rohingya criminals). The report says a local by the name Faruq fed and
gave shelter to Rohingyas when they arrived. However, he was killed by “Rohingya criminals.”
The source for this story was a Facebook post. Bangla Tribune published a report on August 23,
2019 titled, “Rohingya Der Pisone Dui bosore Khoroch 72 Hazar Koti Taka! (Bangladesh’s
Spendings on Rohingyas is 72,000 Crore Taka! (720 Billion Bangladeshi taka, USD 8.46
Billion). The report quoted Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister as saying the total spending on
Rohingyas for two years was USD 8.46 billion. Online bdnews24.com published a story on
38
October 18, 2019 titled, “Rohingya Songkot NGO Der Vumika Niye Proshno” (Rohingya crisis:
Questions about NGO’s role). The report using the source of a Bangladeshi organization namely
“Ghatok Dalal Nirmul Committee” (Elimination Committee of Colaborators) saying that some
Non-Governmental Organizations are using Rohingyas to cause violence inside Bangladesh.
Another report published on September 25, 2019 titled, “Who Controls Rohingya Camps” claims
that Non-Governmental Organizations are recruiting Rohingyas for jobs, which is a violation of
laws. The report also says that money is coming illegally to the refugee camps from Middle East
countries. The main tension at the heart of the focuses on how the Bangladeshi government has
given land and spent money, yet NGOs are controlling Rohingya camps. On September 30,
international NGO Plan International issued a rejoinder saying that the report gave fabricated
information about their activites in Rohingya camps.
Right-Wing Newspaper is Pro-Refugee
Earlier research shows that right-wing newspapers typically oppose refugees and
migration (Delanty, 2008; Khan, 2012). However, in case of Rohingya crisis, the opposite is true.
In my study, there were two right-wing newspapers, Inqilab and Naya Diganta. Both the
newspapers were consistently sympathetic towards the refigees throughout the crisis. Most of the
coverage from these sources tends to be pro-Rohingya, and they always try to avoid framing the
Rohingya as an economic burden or any of the other problems caused Rohingyas to Bangladesh.
Instead, the frames used by the right-wing newspapers tend to emphasize fellow Muslims in
distress, Muslim brotherhood, Muslim unity, and Muslim solidarity. One interesting fact is that
both the newspapers use the phrase Rohingya Muslim in all their reports, whereas other
39
newspapers only use the word Rohingya in describing the Rohingya people. The right-wing
newspapers always try to tell the religious identity of Rohingyas to their readers. Also, the right-
wing newspapers had a tendency to portray Rohingya repression as religious violence than an
ethnic violence. In truth, repression against the Rohingya is multifaceted and not solely due to
their religion. There are other Muslims in Myanmar, but they do not face the same treatment the
Rohingyas face (see Ware & Laoutides, 2018).
The reasons why right-wing newspapers are pro-Rohingyas might best be understood by
interviewing the reporters. However, this fell outside the scope and possibility of the current
study. I would argue that the primary reason is the shared Muslim identity of Rohingyas and the
right-wing Muslim newspapers. Therefore, the papers found it an obligation to support fellow
Muslims in distress. Additionally, political Islam has a strong influence on the right-wing
Muslim newspapers in Bangladesh and pan-Islamism is at center of the political Islam idelogy.
Rohingyas are part of this pan Islamism. One of the key figures of political Islam, Turkish
president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been very vocal of Rohingya rights (Barut, 2017).
On August 29, 2017 the daily Inqilab published nine stories, and all of them were
editorialized. The stories included headlines like Injured refugees struggling in the border;
Give Shelter tto Rohingyas: Khaleda (Khaleda Zia is the opposition leader); Endangered
Humanity; We are not terrorist but national salvation army: Interview of Arakan Solvation
Army (The Rohingya insergent group); World silent despite barbarity against Rohingyas;
Refrain from human rights violation: Iran to Mayanmar; Protest against brutality on Rohingya
Muslims, 475 Rohingyas forced to return to Myanmar;” and UN Chief concerns about
Rohingyas, urge Bangladesh to give shelter.
40
On August 30, the Daily Inqilab ran an opinion piece titled We must stand beside
Rohingyas who are facing ethnic cleansing.” Identity of the writer was not given in the report.
He supports the independent movement the Arakan Rohingya Solvation Army (ARSA), the
insurgent group. The writer describes the history of Muslims in Rakhine and how Islam reached
there. The article starts with the sentence: the Rohingya Muslim community in Rakhine are
facing the most brutal genocide and the longest state-sponsored crime in the recent history. The
articles tries to give the impression that Muslisms all over the world are struggling and facing
persecution.
On September 6, 2017, the Inqilab ran a story based on a statement of a Islamic party
leader titled “ Helping Rohingyas is part of religious duty of every Muslim. The report quotes
Secretary General of the Islamic party Khelafot Majlish Mawlana Mahfuzul Haque as saying it is
the religious duty of every Muslim to help other Muslims in their crisis. He said that Bangladeshi
Muslims are ready to help Rohingya Muslims.
On August 29, 2017, the Daily Nayadiganta ran 6 stories on Rohingyas, of which four
appeared on the front page. The stories are: “Army’s rampage in Maungdu’s Rohingya village
continues; “Myanmar’s army is worse than animals;Khaleda (opposition leaders) urges to
give shelter to Rohingyas; Bangladesh proposes to conduct operation in Myanmar border;
Even Rohingya children not spared from Myanmar army’s bullets; and “Stop ethnic hate
activities against Rohingyas.
The headlines of the reports and opinion pieces show that from the very first day of the
crisis, right-wing news outlets were pro-Rohingya. Some of the headlines of the report are even
editoralised. The right-wing news outlets tried to use sympathy towards Rohingyas by using
Muslim inspiration. One of my research questions was whether frames varied based on the
41
ideaology of the paper. The right-wing news outlets remained consistently pro-refugee up until
the time my study concluded.
On August 29, 2017 the newspaper’s leading news on the front page was: “Army’s
rampage in Maungdu’s Rohingya village continues. Written by four reporters GM
Ashekullah, Golam Azam Khan, Humayan Kabir Jushan and Mufizur Rahman the report gave
some descriptions of how Rohingyas are getting killed and fleeing Myanmar. The report was a
red-banner headline with a photograph showing a young Rohingya mother with her baby. The
report starts with the paragraph: the cry of distressed Rohingyas in the border continues. The
persecuted Rohingyas are passing through hard time in pain and hunger. The reporter spoke to
local officials, local people and the Rohingya refugees. Based on interviews of Rohingyas, it
gave vivid description of how Myanmar army conducted crackdown on Rohingyas.
On the same day, the newspaper ran a one column report at the left side of the leading
report. The report titled “Myanmar’s army is worse than animals.Wriiten by an unknown staff
reporter, the report is mainly based on interviews of Rohingyas. The report uses the word
shelterless, distressed, helpless. The next day on August 30, 2017, the paper ran another red color
headline titled “Burning Rohingya houses: killings, rapes continue.” Written by Golam Azam
Khan, the report uses the world brutal to describe the Myanmar army.
On September 9, 2017, the newspaper published an editorial titled “Rohingya
humanitarian crisis: Why are the United Nations and the international community silent.”
Written by an unknown editorial team member, the editorial argues that Maynamr wants to force
its Muslim population leave the country and want to make a Buddhist only nataion. The editorial
also questions about the “silence” of the United Nations and the international community and
calls for the solidarity of Muslim countries.
42
The policies of Bangladesh’s right-wing Islamic political parties is reflected in the
coverage of the right-wing newspapers on Rohingya refugee crisis. And the newspapers’ framing
and pro-Rohingya coverage seem to exert influece on the government to give Rohingyas shelter
within Bangladesh because the Islamic political party members have strong influence in the
country. This is perhaps due to Muslim identity of Rohingyas. Right-wing newspapers see the
issue from an Islamic perspective and want to create a narrative favouring Rohingyas.
43
CHAPTER 5
DISCUSSION
Refugee crises are a global reality. At present, there are 25.9 million refugees in the
world, and this number is growing every year. This is the highest level ever recorded. Half of
these refugees are children who are often growing in hunger, malnutrition, lack of education, and
other basic needs. The situation is even worse in poor countries. A third of refugees 6.7 million
people are hosted by the world's poorest countries (Amnesty International, 2020).
At the same time, refugees are facing growing hostility worldwide (UNHCR, 2020).
Refugee issues and human rights violations are considered a defining issue of this century (Betts,
2015). Research finds that host societies' feelings of hostility, anger, and mistrust toward
refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants after the September 11 attacks and the subsequent
wars (Rebelo, Fernández & Achotegui, 2018). This is especially true for those from Arab
countries. And these hostilities and mistrust have a harmful impact on the refugees’
“biopsychosocial well-being, often triggering feelings of helplessness, anger, frustration, and
general mistrust” (Rebelo, Fernández & Achotegui, 2018, p. 239).
Research also finds that media play a strong role in creating public opinion about
refugees especially in creating hostile environment in the hosting countries. Media coverage can
also influence government policies towards refugees (Somaini, 2019; Gunter, 2015; Kingsley &
Timur, 2015).
The research reinforces Downs’ (1972) patterns of frame changes over time. I have found
that the frame has changed over time as the crisis entered a new stage. In the pre-problem and
44
problem stages, news outlets used humanitarian frames and portray Rohingyas as victim.
However, in the later stages, they portray Rohingyas as responsible for security, economic and
social burden to the local community.
The research has found some new frames used by Bangladeshi media in case of Rohingya
crisis that the previous other research I reviewd on refugees did not find. For example, the
research has found that Rohingya refugees are considered as a threat to the public health and they
are spreading AIDS and other diseases. This narrative seems to have created anti-Rohingya
sentiment among the local people. The research has also found that Bangladeshi media has used
“baby booming” framing. The framing gives an idea that Rohingyas have very high birth rate
and a large number of babies will be born in Bangladesh and they will be Bangladeshi citizens
who will burden the society.
One important finding of the research is that right wing news outlets are pro-Rohingya.
Early research has found that right-wing news outlets are always anti-refugees. This research
contradicts some of the literature on right-wing newspapers being hostile to refugees. Instead,
what was most important in this case was the shared religious identity of the refugees and the
conservative news outlets. In case of Rohingya crisis, right-wing news outlets saw the crisis from
pan-Islam and Islamic brotherhood point of view. They tried to use the crisis to emphasize
Muslim nationalism among the population in the Muslim-majority Bangladesh.
The findings will contribute to the existing literature in three ways. First, it reveals the
major framing used by Bangladeshi media in their coverage of Rohingya refugees. The study has
found some news framings (i.e. spreading diseases) that previous studies did not find. Second, it
gives an idea about the root of the hostility towards refugees. Media framing play a key role in
the hostility. Third, the study reveals that ideology of the media plays an important role in the
45
way they frame an event. Even right-wing news outlets can be pro-refugees if the refugees have
the same religious of those right-wing people.
Rohingyas are “the most persecuted minority in the world” (Phillips & Sheth, 2017). This
study will help policy makers understand that Rohingyas are also facing hostility in their current
host country of Bangladesh. It will contribute to the world movement of securing rights of
refugees and to take effective measures to solve the crisis.
The study has some limitations. First, a news story comes to the readers through multiple
hands. There are reporters, copy editors and other gate keepers. My study did not investigate who
influences the framing in Rohingya coverage. Future research can investigate this by in-depth
interview of the reporters and other newsroom staff. Second, the study could be expanded
through an analysis of television coverage. Television plays a big role on creating narratives and
influence the society and government policies. One of the reasons I excluded television coverage
from this study was because access to the archives of Bangladeshi television channels would
have been too difficult to achieve from the United States where I am residing now. Third, a
comparative study that incorporates other international media outlets would be interesting, as it
would allow for the opportunity to see similarities and differences in coverage of the crisis.
Also, Rohingyas have very little resources to counter these predominant narratives in
Bangladesh where they are refugees as well as in Myanmar. In Bangladesh, they are not allowed
to go outside of the camps and enroll in educational institutions. In Myanmar, they are not
allowed to leave Rakhine state, and they do not have any representation in the media. However,
they are active on social media, especially on Facebook. They try to use different Facebook
groups to counter the negative narratives. This study is based on newspaper narratives and
investigating the Facebook groups is outside the purvew of this study. However, future research
46
can investigate the strategies used by the Facebook groups by Rohingyas. Finally, future
research could address the public opinion aspects of the crisis to determine whether media
reports have made people more hostile towards refugees.
47
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bangladesh-playing-politics-people-crisis.ss
... 64 Since 2018, studies have found that Bangladeshi news outlets have repeatedly used negative stereotypes, characterizing refugees as "baby boomers", "disease carriers" or "violent". 65 Coverage of this kind has impacted host-refugee relations, distracting policymakers from responding to real needs and significantly shrinking opportunities for cooperation. ...
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