Before the lens: photographic portrayal of refugees in the print media in Uganda
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Refugees are a complex category of society: they carry distinct contexts from home but are expected to be homogenous in displacement. But the media in playing their information function have the duty to represent refugees objectively and truthfully. Photographs as media content have been praised for their powerful ability to portray closest to the truth than verbal or textual language. This study investigated how photographs of refugees in Uganda’s local dailies influence socio-political perceptions about them. Through visual analysis of photographs sampled from the state-owned New Vision and the independent Daily Monitor, the cause-effect relationship between the reality of refugees, what the audiences see, and what the press wants them to see was interrogated. The study was founded on two theoretical frameworks, namely framing and the semiotics approach. Framing was used to articulate the forces that drive news organisations to portray refugees as they do, while the semiotics approach helped to decipher the meanings derived from the visual signs within social-cultural contexts of the subjects and newspapers’ audiences. The study employed a mixed method approach: the empirical visual content analysis and the qualitative key informant interviews. Key informants were purposively selected to represent categories of refugees, social development workers, policy analysts, government officials and photojournalists. Findings indicated that newspapers have used photographs as a double-edged tool to legitimize policy actions and at the same time influence audience perceptions about refugees in Uganda. The study concluded that the generally perceived image of refugees in Uganda is a distorted creation of the print media rather than an apt representation of the lived experiences of refugees.