2 Debating solidarity across borders
Debating solidarity across borders: The public sphere and role of the media
Introduction: the public sphere as locus of contestations
Since the foundational work by Habermas on the ‘public sphere’ (Habermas, 1989, orig. 1962), the idea that democracy is grounded in relational spaces of bottom-up communication - by which citizens intervene through their public interactions on the largest array of issues and daily concerns — has stood out as a new and more meaningful framework guiding much sociological research on citizenship, including their relationships of contestation and solidarity, beyond the more traditional attention to main institutional actors and processes. Habermas himself took his first steps within the disciplinary field of ‘critical theory’, drawing on the astonishing technological progress in communication systems from the 1950s onwards, and hence, the expanding media-based ‘culture industry’ (Adorno, 2001; Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002). Accordingly, sociological research on the public sphere has been developed side by side with the most extensive reflection over the functions of the mass media in modern society, to the point that today, the way the mass media contribute to the shaping of contestation of solidarity among citizens in a large scale and anonymous society is a consolidated topic of sociological inquiry (Lasswell, 1948; Wright, 1960). This strand of research has extended the focus of attention from the public to the policy sphere, and to the relations between them (Ambrosini et al., 2020).
In any large democracy, it is impossible for everyone to engage discursively together in a single physical space. Consequently, individuals must rely to a considerable extent on the mass media to make information available to them and to debate over different positions, issues and choices within the sphere of politics (Cinalli and O’Flynn, 2014). In turn, individuals contribute to democratic life by engaging in public discourses within the mass media and the communicative interactions these entail, irrespective of whether these interactions are conflictual or consensual. This also applies to this book’s field of study: public contentions about solidarity with refugees. The mass media play a decisive role in providing individual and organised actors with information on related events and developments, but they also host public debates regarding how the issue of immigration should be dealt with and the extent to which solidarity should be granted to refugees. In fact, the number of organised actors engaged in public debates about solidarity towards refugees is large, including political parties, unions, churches, as well as a range of charities, NGOs, social movements and groups of refugees themselves. A comprehensive investigation of public debates thus allows us to identify the conflictual or consensual relations of these actors over issues of solidarity. It thus enables us to study ‘national publics’ that are the object of policy-making (Cinalli, 2004 and 2007; Gray and Statham, 2005) in connection with the policy sphere, which is composed of institutions and main political elites that lead processes of decision-making (Ambrosini et al., 2020; Cinalli, 2017).
While there is a growing body of research that seeks to assess in detail this complex relationship between public and policy spheres on the one hand, and, on the other, their display in the media (Cinalli and Giugni, 2013a, 2016a; Dolezal et al., 2010; Ferree et al., 2002; Page, 1996; Wessler et al., 2008), the process does not remain private but claims generalised validity (Calhoun, 2002). To assume that discourse in the media can be understood as a form of ‘engagement’ and mutual ‘challenge’ among a panoply of actors endowed with different opinions and strategic aims in terms of policy choices might seem controversial or counter-intuitive, as the media and journalism are first and foremost meant to be fact-based, objective and neutral (Loffel-holz and Weaver, 2008). Yet this assumption is consistent with the idea that the public sphere is an arena of relational exchanges over the definition of the main issues of public relevance, within which individuals and actors of different kinds negotiate (and fight for) different meanings, construct political issues and nurture public controversies. Accordingly, the mass media provide spaces for a continuous and contentious process of communication through which the participants create their preferred frames to understand social reality and try to impose the way they see it onto others (Goffman, 1974; Nelson et al., 1997).
Moreover, in Western liberal societies, journalism and democracy have entered a symbiotic relationship where news representation and critique are interwoven (Habermas, 1989; McNair, 2000). This is important for our understanding of how the media shape contestation over solidarity, because it helps us to see the variable way in which they represent human suffering with normative critique and justification (Ambrosini et al., 2020; Boltanski, 1999). In the public sphere, the moral mechanism of this form of engagement applies to social relationships established by anonymity and distance (Habermas, 1989). Public discourse is used to exchange information about the needs of others and the moral obligations and commitments that follow on from it from a perspective of social justice (Brunkhorst, 2005). Hence, the main point to retain is that in any modern pluralistic society, different individuals will tend to see the world in different ways. In turn, this opens the possibility of communicating (or denying) experiences of injustice of people who are not present, or who even live at a distance but who are nevertheless included in a discourse of moral commitment (or disengagement) and are thus recognised (or not) as carriers of rights and legal subjects.
Conceptualising the mass media as interlocked arenas of solidarity contestation
The mass media play a crucial role in constructing solidarity. This has been evidenced repeatedly in regard to the national level, where nationally structured systems of news coverage facilitate public debates about national solidarity (Aalberg et al., 2013; Calabrese and Burke, 1992; Van Dijk, 1988). Even here, solidarity remains a contested object, as will be explained below, given the diverse views and interests associated with the principle of solidarity. Contestations within the public sphere develop more complexity once we move to transnational solidarity. Mass mediated arenas are structured into national compartments, thus addressing transnational solidarity — e.g., within Europe - from the perspective of national agendas, preconceptions and interests. However, this does not necessarily hold true for the public debates they facilitate and guide. Particularly in regard to debates about European solidarity towards refugees and asylum seekers, we see an interlocking of national arenas of solidarity contestations. Not only do they host debates about the readiness of national governments and fellow citizens to act in support of refugees, but also expedite deliberations about each other’s readiness to engage in mutual support within the EU. Solidarity contestation thus develops a relational aspect that transcends national borders (see also Lahusen, 2021).
Driven by the expansive logic of the public sphere, solidarity engagement has a potential to become transnational. To the extent that such external linkages become institutionalised and translate into solidarity practices beyond the national, we can speak of transnational solidarity as discursive links that define commitments among distant groups of people. Such a widening of our horizon of moral commitment relies on the availability of a mediating infrastructure that helps to bring distant events to our attention and make them relevant to us. The solidarity of the public sphere builds on the mass media, which are not just a neutral transmitter of information about what is happening at a distance, but also a forum of critique and of normative debate about the interpretation of these events and their relevance for our moral self-understanding.
This transgression of a national frame of reference is partly due to the normative underpinnings of the principle of solidarity. Solidarity can be defined as a disposition and practice of support towards others (Bayertz, 1999; Deken et al., 2009; Stjerno, 2012: 88). Solidarity is practiced at the level of individuals within kindship or friendship relationships (Komter, 2005), organised at the level of civil societies in terms of philanthropic organisations, welfare associations or advocacy groups (Giugni and Passy 2001; Lahusen et al., 2021; Smith et al., 1997; Zschache et al. 2020), and institutionalised within the welfare states through constitutional principles and public policies of redistribution (Banting and Kymlicka, 2017; Federico and Lahusen, 2018). Solidarity contestations within the public sphere are essential for all these forms of lived solidarity, given that the mass media provide a highly patterned arena of voicing and debating ideas and claims about the content and scope of solidarity. In this sense, one element merits special attention: the notion of group-bound rights and obligations of mutual support. In fact, solidarity as a norm or rule transcends the unilateral orientation of concepts such as care, empathy or altruism, because it is more strictly tied to the idea of reciprocity. Solidarity does not only entail the idea of (personal, organisational or institutional) obligations to help others in need, but also the notion of rights of recipients to be helped by others. Solidarity might be restricted to national communities (particularistic solidarity) that exclude outsiders (e.g., migrants), but solidarity can also refer to a wider community of equals (e.g., humankind — universalistic solidarity) that questions the distinction between insiders and outsiders, and promotes the idea of shared rights and obligations among all humans. Overall, the different conceptions of solidarity converge in a political component that stresses the notion of shared rights, responsibilities and obligations (Lahusen, 2020) to be applied to particular and/or universal groups.
The mass media provide us with the communicative infrastructure that allows for the formulation of mutual obligations and responsibilities among individuals, and for the validation of claims for (or against) particular or universal solidarity. This mediating role relates to different dimensions of solidarity contestations. The public sphere of the mass media facilitates an almost instant and global dissemination of distant events, but also turns this information into news that is discussed by underlying common criteria of relevance (Michailidou and Trenz 2014; Neidhardt, 1994; Risse, 2014). The shared world of news is in this sense also a world of shared concern and commitment. Responses to images of the pain of distant others, and their translation into a political language of commitment, follows established and institutionalised narratives that structure our social relationships to strangers and justify our moral stance towards them (Boltanski, 1999). Solidarity debates in the news therefore follow established narrating structures that are held valid over time and across social context.
In this regard, it is important to highlight that the mass media do not confine solidarity relationships to national communities of citizens (Habermas, 1996), but they also continuously confront us with the suffering and the needs of distant people, who are primarily defined as strangers (Bohman, 1998). As such, they unfold a critical force to put to the test established solidarity relationships within this horizon of (global) social justice (Boltanski, 1999; Chouliaraki, 2013; Silverstone, 2006). In this sense, they also play a crucial role with regard to European solidarity. On the one hand, the coverage of European news can be a discursive challenge, because it can provoke an engagement with the needs of others. On the other side, it facilitates contestations about the extent to which solidarity in Europe and among Europeans should be either promoted or opposed. For these reasons, it is advisable to focus attention on these extensive interactions across Europe, its states and regions, with the aim to uncover, if any, evidence of Europeanising synergies across very distinct national publics, which would otherwise remain apart owing to differences in geographical distribution, language, and cultural and political conceptions.
The analyses of this book underline the necessity to transcend the nation state as the only pertinent arena of solidarity contestation. Seminal studies on
Debating solidarity across borders 17 immigrants and policy-making have tended to privilege a national framework, for example, by highlighting the strength of policy actors and institutions (Freeman, 1998; joppke, 1996), and by looking at the ways national publics have had an impact on policy actors and decision-making (Faist, 1994; Husbands, 1994). In this sense, scholarly research has put emphasis on the prominence of nationally based mass media, institutions and policy elites since the alternative notion of a pan-European policy domain with an integrated European-wide public sphere is still unrealistic (Chabanet, 2008; Hooghe, 2008). However, interest has been growing for the two-way interaction between national and European public spheres, given that both arenas of public and policy debate are interlocked, for instance, in terms of actors, issues and claims. In fact, studies have unveiled that the divide between dominant and marginal actors within public debates runs across the national and supranational arenas of contestation. Some inquiries have centred on top-down relations between discourse participants by emphasising the impact of EU institutions, policy elites and their interventions on public debates at the national or local level (Favell, 1998). In this case, scholars have gone beyond the limits of the migration field, engaging with both normative and empirical analyses (Curtin, 2006; Maloney and van Deth, 2008; Smismans, 2006). Others have insisted on bottom-up relations between discourse participants, for instance, when addressing the role of European civil society in the public sphere (della Porta and Caiani, 2009; Ruzza, 2006) and its ability to raise a voice of solidarity with refugees (della Porta, 2018). In particular, investigations have focused on the inclusion of a European civil society within the new modes of EU governance (Armstrong, 2002; della Porta, 2008), even though some studies have called into question the tight relationship between the public and the policy spheres in Europe (Magnette, 2003; Saurugger, 2008), showing that governance dynamics in Europe are not necessarily inclusive of weaker interests (Beyers, 2004; Eising, 2004).
Out of this flourishing field of scholarship inquiring across the national and the transnational level, our book takes a prudent stance that acknowledges the importance of national arenas of solidarity contestations, while inquiring into potential intersections and interrelations. Here, we follow evidence generated by studies of contentious politics that has insisted on the ability of political activists and protest groups to unleash dynamics of mobilisation across the national and the transnational levels (Balme et al., 2002; della Porta and Tarrow, 2005; Imig and Tarrow, 2001; Smith et al., 1997), as shown also by studies dealing specifically with the migrants and refugees (Giugni and Passy, 2000, 2002; della Porta, 2018; Lahusen et al., 2021).
Beyond social movement analysis, scholarship with a bottom-up approach has also testified to the increasing use of transnational frames and justifications in normative and ethical debates about rights, justice and solidarity (Soysal, 1994; Sassen, 1999). Norms and ideas spread on a global scale due to intensified communicative exchanges across national public and media spheres (Meyer, 2000). Within the European Union, a European communicative space has consolidated not only in the way EU actors and institutions regularly feed themedia with news content, but also in the way formerly dispersed publics follow the same news stories through their national media, and discover issues of shared concern (Trenz, 2005 and 2015). The Europeanisation of public debates in the media does not necessarily lead to a convergence of views and opinions expressed by journalists and shared by audiences, but is frequently driven by the new politicised dynamics of European integration that enhances the salience of EU issues and debates in the media, and gathers actors from different national backgrounds as protagonists of ‘mediatised conflicts’ (Michailidou and Trenz, 2010). The making of a European public sphere can, in this sense, be observed with regard to the intensified dynamics of public claims-making that evolve through vertical and horizontal exchanges among actors who engage in controversial debates about issues of focused attention within and across national media spheres (Koopmans and Statham, 2010).
Following scholarly writing, we can thus assume that solidarity contestations do not only evolve within a vertically intersected space of national and European arenas of claims-making, but also within a horizontally interlocked space of diverse national debates. This is why the analysis of this book is put in the context of the broader debate about the various pathways to the formation of a European public sphere. Accordingly, we are interested in evaluating the effects of the refugee crisis on solidarity contestation of Europeans, looking more specifically at the effects of how the main organised actors and news readers intervene across the public and policy spheres, as well as across the national and the transnational level, to raise their voices and thus contribute to the formation or erosion of solidarity among Europeans with incoming refugees.
The contentiousness of solidarity towards refugees in the news
Solidarity towards refugees as ‘distant others in need’ remains contested in the news media. On the one hand, national media organisations and journalism will often give preference to a nationalist-exclusive framing of solidarity that distinguishes between insiders and outsiders (Williams and Toula, 2017). Especially in the case of the refugee crisis, we can expect a contentious politics in defence of a nationally exclusive understanding of solidarity against European or global humanitarian commitments (Della Porta, 2018). On the other hand, the media and journalism have the potential to defend an ethos of transnational and global solidarity (Brunkhorst, 2007; Calhoun, 2005). In our case, the news coverage of the ‘refugee crisis’ facilitated not only almost instant global dissemination, but also turned information about distant events into news that raised questions of solidarity and moral responsibilities. Sharing news about the European ‘refugee crisis’ is, in this sense, also a way of sharing concern and commitment.
In tracing these contentious dynamics of solidarity discourse in the news media, we build on a specific research design of claims-making that links actors’ positions to public justifications. Solidarity contestation in the public domain manifests itself in public claims-making within the media. Media claims are
Debating solidarity across borders 19 partly related to social actors’ (individuals, political representatives or institutions) strategies of agenda-setting. As such, they relate to power positions of moral entrepreneurs, who compete for attention in the public arena (Koopmans and Statham, 1999, 2010). Media claims are, however, also given selective salience by media actors who filter and frame public discourse in such a way as to draw audience attention. As such, media claims follow a particular media logic of publicity (Altheide, 2(X)4; Couldry, 2012). This is important to stress, because there is always an infinite number of potential targets of solidarity, which are only brought selectively to the attention of the public. Calls for solidarity or its rejection are, therefore, dependent on successful strategies of agenda-setting that relate to the power positions of the respective public claims-makers, who in turn compete for attention in the public arena. Selective attention of the media institutions further narrows the horizon of pity and compassion, and what passes through the media as a solidarity filter encounters an audience that is not necessarily interested and/or willing to engage.
A focus on refugees and asylum seekers as a particular target group of solidarity contestation is particularly interesting because the case of solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers has divided public opinion all over Europe. News media report about advocates of human rights and open borders opposing supporters of exclusive, nationalist welfare (Della Porta, 2018). But also online commenting joins these debates as a form of bottom-up mobilisation, by voicing opinions that take shape either as a politics of fear or a politics of pity (Boltanski, 1999; Wodak, 2015). We expect that public claims-makers and the social media community of news readers is divided on these issues, and that top-down and bottom-up contestation of refugee solidarity are triggered by particular events and their interpretation in the media, such as the humanitarian disasters at Europe’s external borders (Triandafyllidou, 2018). The dramatic events brought into focus by the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015 and 2016, are particularly interesting because they were staged in many countries as direct confrontations between citizens and refugees (Thomas et al., 2018). It is therefore all the more interesting to zoom in on solidarity contestation at the peak of a heated debate, when media claims-making was most intensive.
The focus on the so-called refugee crisis allows us to investigate the contentiousness of public debates. It is to be expected that the dramatic growth of migration flows, which were associated with humanitarian tragedies, uncontrolled border crossings and unresolved problems of asylum and integration, provoked substantial conflicts between contending parties. Accordingly, we will be able to unveil potential normative biases that dramatise the conflict between contrasting interests at stake during the crisis. In particular, the element of crisis enables us to provide more evidence regarding the major changes that have (allegedly) been produced, the way issues are debated in the public domain, the position of different actors, and the forms these public interventions take. Our data allow us to pay special attention to social actors such as charities and NGOs, social movements, group organisations of different types (including refugees themselves), traditional political actors along the right/left spectrums, publicinstitutions and policy elites. And it also opens insights into the importance of both national and transnational politics in terms of structures, actors, and strategic interventions.
The case of the ‘refugee crisis’ also enables us to dig deeper into contestations among Europeans, as the crisis has reinforced old geographical cleavages in Europe (the south vs. the north; the east vs. the west) with new reasons for division. The main point is social — whether the increase in humanitarian emergency has indeed loosened social bonding across the European countries — but also political, since the increasing clash between the winners and the losers of the crisis, the strengthening of populist and extreme-right wing parties, and in particular, the retreat of expansive citizenship regimes, may have struck a final blow to European solidarity, whose effects will be more visible over time.
The refugee crisis: a media event
How can we account for this constitutive role of the news media in solidarity contestation? The functions of the media in the promotion of debates can be summed up as follows. First, the media portray the world for us. News journalism creates publicity: It brings possible subjects of solidarity to our attention by representing their (often distant) suffering and their need for assistance and help; for instance, the image of a drowned boy on the beach in Turkey. Secondly, the media interpret the world for us. Journalists provide interpretations of the causes and effects of human suffering; for instance, they divide the world into victims and perpetrators. Yet, media coverage is not simply objective and classificatory. A third function which journalism often fulfils is to engage us in normative debates and critique: they turn us into witnesses of human suffering and discuss the deservingness of victims or the responsibility of perpetrators. Finally, the media tell us what to do, for instance by helping us to understand the possible option of expanding and/or restricting our solidarity engagement. They confront us with the urgency ‘to do something about it’ and to take action against perceived injustices. Such calls for action can address us as citizens and thus trigger our personal engagement in solidarity action, but more regularly, they address our political representatives, nationally and transnational^ (Michailidou and Trenz, 2019; Mortensen and Trenz, 2016; Trenz, 2020).
To understand how relationships of solidarity towards non-present others are extended and/or restricted, it is of crucial importance to unveil whether all these issues are debated consensually or controversially in the media. Do various media outlets portray the same events and help us to focus our attention on the same instances of human suffering? Do they converge in their interpretations of the causes and effects of these instances of injustice, and do they address political representatives in the same way? As mentioned above, the political space wherein solidarity relationships are expressed and agreement can be reached about our normative commitments towards others is commonly held to be identical with the nation state. This does not foreclose the possibility that
Debating solidarity across borders 21 the confines of solidarity are constantly contested between different social groups and political actors, and possibly also extended beyond the nation state. In this context, it is important to remember that public debates within the national public spheres are exposed to controversies about a complex set of legal entitlements and obligations. Nation-states have established institutional and procedural prerequisites - in particular, social rights tied to citizenship — that commit both citizens and political representatives to solidarity, e.g., through social assistance and redistribution (Miller, 2007). This commitment to citizenship, however, comes with a commitment to human rights that is equally constitutionally enshrined and drives journalistic orientations and working practices (Hannerz, 2004). From the latter perspective, contestations of solidarity always extend beyond, or even question, the boundaries of the national community.
The mass media exhibit a Janus face, because they are a transmission belt for universal notions of justice (they represent the world), and a filter for the consolidation of thickened and contextualised relationships of solidarity (they speak on behalf of a national community of equals). This double nature offers opportunities for transnational solidarity mobilisation. There is, in other words, a transnationalising mechanism built into the mass media, because they provide an arena to constantly challenge politically confined solidarity relationships and voice criticism by reference to the justificatory requirement of global justice (Habermas, 1996). In light of this criticism, the political space within which solidarity relationships are established can always be considered to be transitory and amenable to be opened up to external linkages. According to this expansive logic of the public sphere, solidarity engagement might become transnational in the sense that it establishes discursive links that define moral commitments among distant groups of people. Such a widening of our horizon relies on the availability of a mediating infrastructure to bring distant events to our attention and make them relevant for us. The mass media fulfil this mediating role, as indicated above, because they are not just a neutral transmitter of information about what is happening at a distance, but also a forum of critique and of normative debate about the interpretation of these events and their relevance for our moral self-understanding.
In this volume, we will focus on this often-overlooked role played by the media in establishing solidarity relationships among individuals across established borders of national communities. We will empirically investigate and compare mediated solidarity discourses within national public spheres in which mutual obligations between states and the equal rights of individuals across borders are discussed controversially. Given that special interest in solidarity contestations within the public sphere, we will focus our attention on the specific opinions and positions that become relevant within these debates. In this regard, we will be interested in a number of elements or variables that may help to operationalise the notion of solidarity contestations within the public sphere. First of all, we will take a closer look at the entrepreneurs who call for the extension of solidarity relationships or their rejection. There are those, for instance, who provide the basic information about distant events and the needsof others, or those who emphasise the primacy of locals over people in distant places. This typically comes along with different moral values and justifications, for instance, in how claimants express a behaviour of benevolence towards these others, or perceive them as threats to their national community. There are, secondly, the targets of solidarity, usually particular categories of social actors in need of assistance. These targets are mainly treated as objects, whose needs are defined by others and represented in public discourse; yet they can themselves take a more active role as subjects with the power to self-define their needs and negotiate the conditions under which they receive assistance. There are, thirdly, media organisations and mediating institutions, such as newspapers and journalists, that facilitate flows of information, create the conditions for the selective visibility of the suffering and the needs of others, and thus selectively amplify the calls for solidarity. Finally, there are the passive and not so passive audiences of those who listen to or are addressed by solidarity discourse. Particular attention will be granted to those members of the audience who decide to post comments on published news articles and thus raise their voice through social media in response to media discourse.
For the analysis of solidarity contestations, it is important to stress that the thematic scope of these debates is highly selective and focused. In the first instance, there is an infinite number of potential targets of solidarity, who are only brought selectively to the attention of the public. Calls for solidarity, or its rejection, are further dependent on successful strategies of agenda-setting that relate to the specific interests, agendas and power positions of the various entrepreneurs competing for attention in the public arena. The selective attention of the media institutions further narrows down our horizon of pity and compassion, and what is transmitted through the media filter encounters an audience that has its own sensitivities, preferences and opinions. In sum, it is highly plausible to assume that ‘focusing events’ play a pivotal role in the arousal of transnational solidarity debates in the media that are able to draw the attention of national as well as transnational/global audiences.
Media engagement in transnational solidarity debates is usually linked to the salience of particular events like war actions or earthquakes that bring the needs and suffering of distant others to our attention. The exceptional character of news coverage about selected instances of distant suffering follows the rules of the media attention market. As such, transnational solidarity contestation is typically linked to forms of humanitarian campaigning through old and new media, which can be very efficient, for instance, in mobilising humanitarian aid in cases of disaster or famine (Baringhorst, 1998). The reliance on the drama of external events is characteristic in the way the mass media trigger transnational solidarity contestations, and this approach is distinct from the more routinised reciprocal solidarity among citizens. This might be the reason why these eventspecific forms of transnational solidarity mobilisation often find expression in public charity campaigns that are conditional on the selective attention paid to distant events and instances of distant suffering (Andersen and de Silva, 2017; Pallotta, 2012). Through media campaigns, ad-hoc assistance in emergency
Debating solidarity across borders 23 situations can be mobilised quickly, without necessarily evoking more long-lasting reciprocal commitments. This form of selective aid remains bound to particular circumstances, and as such, needs to be distinguished from the solidarity of mutual obligations and commitments.
Online and social media communications have enhanced the potential of solidarity contestation around events of distant suffering. What these platforms have in common is that they engage users with media content that conveys information or messages about the needs of other people. Through the confrontation with such content, social media users become witnesses of instances of distant suffering by others. Such witnessing creates a situation of moral spectatorship (Boltanski, 1999; Silverstone, 2006). This spectatorship can build more immediate relationships between online users/citizens and the objects of suffering, while at the same time it can activate their critical capacities (Mortensen and Trenz, 2016). The witnessing of human suffering through the media can be, on the one hand, paired with the expression of strong emotions such as pity, indignation or hatred. On the other hand, it can arouse moral commitments that can motivate and encourage media users to commit and group around a cause. In contrast to the more passive reception of political news through legacy media, social media exposure to controversial, shocking or concerning news content can easily arouse more personal reactions and commitments (Chouliaraki, 2013; Mortensen and Trenz, 2016). Forms of moral spectatorship can, for instance, create new opportunities for global solidarity mobilisation through visuals that are shared through social media and translated into political speech that claims solidarity with victims in other parts of the world, while ascribing responsibility (Chouliaraki, 2013; Chouliaraki and Stolic, 2017). In contrast, it can also fuel perceptions of stigmatisation, threat or hatred towards minority groups - particularly when combined with the circulation of inauthentic material (Georgiou and Zaborowski, 2017). In both respects, they mobilise emotional debates. By expressing this commitment through posting or liking, for example, the expression of emotions is translated into forms of political speech. Instead of an emotion or sentiment analysis of political debates, we propose paying attention to these translations of sentiment into political speech. Such political expressions of emotion in response to media encounters with refugees indicate clear preferences about whether or not the concerned person or group deserves solidarity, and in expressing them in such a controversial way they ascribe political responsibility and thus urge for political action.
In this volume, we wish to argue that the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015 is to be treated first and foremost as a phenomenon that was constructed within the public sphere by and through the mass media. The ‘refugee crisis’ is a ‘media event’, which means that its salience and its political repercussions need to be discussed in relation to the debates triggered within the mass media and the way media audiences were addressed by politicians and public intermediaries, such as journalists. To emphasise the event-like and exceptional character of the ‘refugee crisis’ might seem controversial as one might arguethat the ‘refugee crisis’ is not a new and recent phenomenon. Besides the fact that Europe’s eastern border has always been porous to the inflow of undocumented migrants, large numbers of refugees have made their way to Europe by boat through the Mediterranean since the early 1990s and throughout the 2000s, with increasing inflows following the Arab Springs in the 2010s. Why, then, were European politicians so alarmed at the rise of asylum seekers in 2015? (Lucassen, 2018).
The reference to real events provides possible answers, and our analytical focus on the ‘refugee crisis’ as a media event is not meant to invalidate an interpretation that refers to facts and causal effects such as the civil war in Syria, the political unrest in the Middle East and the flight of many citizens these events prompted. However, real events matter only partially for the unfolding of the ‘refugee crisis’, because they do not determine the way they are debated and interpreted within the public sphere and by the media (Triandafyllidou, 2018). The focus of this volume is therefore not on the causality of flight, but on the patterns of perception and commitment: online and mass media grant organised actors and individual readers with opportunities to voice their opinions, but they also contribute to public opinion formation through the way they inform, highlight and interpret events and developments. The ‘refugee crisis’ was thus highly mediated. This observation can be corroborated by the patterns of reception, given that refugees were welcomed, rejected or simply met with indifference. The arrival of refugees thus triggered quite different responses, which were not just context bound, but in addition also heavily contested. For these reasons, we will thus focus the analyses of the following chapters on how the media created the contextual conditions for the public perceptions of refugees as ‘deserving’ ‘our’ attention (making ‘them’ ‘relevant’ for us). Additionally, we will be interested in unveiling the role of the mass media as the principal arena of public contestations, where different attitudes towards ‘them’ are shaped, given expression and translated into policy alternatives that define ‘our’ collective responses towards ‘others’.
To talk of the ‘refugee crisis’ as a media event might seem cynical or even unethical for some. In fact, media images are not necessarily ‘fake’, but often reflect the real suffering of the people behind them. Refugees are not only objects of media coverage, but real persons who became victims of violence, terror and war. Moreover, what needs to be taken into account is the possibility that the enhanced visibility of the 2015 ‘refugee crisis’ is also to be explained by real life encounters between the European population and incoming refugees. Many Europeans drew on lived experiences of encounters with refugees and their needs in the streets, at train stations, in schools or at work and not just on televised images, when they made up their mind on whether they deserve our help or not.
Our interpretation of the refugee crisis as a ‘media event’ does not devalue the relevance of real encounters. On the contrary, we assume that encounters with human suffering do have a significant impact on shaping individual and collective responses. Higher numbers of incoming refugees increase the likelihood
Debating solidarity across borders 25 of real-life encounters, but by doing so they also shape media images, even though this transferal comprises an element of translation and transformation. The misery of refugees and their basic needs become a frequent topic of media stories, both in the form of visuals with often strong content (such as mutilated or dead bodies), and of textual narratives that translate our experiences as witnesses into collective feelings and reactions. In the same way, our daily encounters with the arrival of refugees are turned into media stories, for instance, the photographs or videos taken at ports and train stations in Greece, Italy, Hungary and Germany.
The ‘reality’ behind the refugee crisis is also evidenced by the impact of mass media coverage on civic engagement. Many have argued that the ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015 was distinct in the way it triggered at least a momentary civil society bottom-up mobilisation in support of solidarity with refugees (Della Porta, 2018). The ‘real events’ that accompanied the so-called refugee crisis of the summer and autumn of 2015 personally engaged many people in European countries like Greece, Italy, Austria, Germany or Sweden in humanitarian action. The ‘real’ was made visible in the elementary needs of the refugees, and in the personal confrontation with their ‘real’ suffering. A ‘welcoming culture’ was made possible in some parts of Europe through the direct and/or mediated confrontation with human suffering, and in the end, it mattered little whether public perceptions were shaped by live encounters of the local population with refugees on the streets, or through televised live broadcasting. The emotions and the engagement of thousands of ordinary citizens engaged in humanitarian action created their own media images and stories, which played a crucial role in the collective mobilisation of solidarity.
The events of summer 2015 stand out in the way they enhanced the visibility of human suffering for western viewers. However, international and humanitarian organisations had attempted to mobilise practices of public mourning during previous instances of shipwrecks in the Mediterranean (Albahari, 2015). These attempts had a limited impact and remained confined to the periphery of Europe’s southern borders, where municipalities, civil society groups or journalists appealed to politicians in the capitals of their countries and to larger audiences to pay attention to the events on their remote islands. These cases unveil that the shift of attention from the local to the national and transnational requires a massive intervention of mass media organisations. This shift of attention is all the more difficult if national politicians resist the humanitarian agenda of structural injustice by emphasising uniquely such aspects as the so-called war on human smuggling, and by depicting refugees not as ‘victims’, but as non-deserving economic migrants to be swiftly processed and deported.
If we wish to specify the conditions for the refugee crisis to become a wakeup call for the moral consciousness of a transnational, European public, we therefore need to turn our attention to the public mobilisation for humanitarian concerns through mainstream media channels. In this regard, the ‘crisis’ frame is crucial to understand how media events are staged and how the media help to focus the attention of audiences. This ‘crisis’ frame, however, is ambivalent. Onthe one side, the ‘crisis’ frame can evoke feelings of compassion and pity with victims, which offers opportunities for humanitarian mobilisation out of an emergency situation. On the other side, it is used by those who express concern with mass arrivals of refugees as a security threat, or as a threat to national culture, identity and material resources. In this volume, we are interested in the way media events around the refugee crisis were constructed, and how they were communicated in such a way as to facilitate such a turn from humanity to security, or from security back to humanity. Along these lines, we will be interested in unveiling how the media events aroused solidarity commitments and how long they were able to last.
The analyses of this book are thus committed to better understanding the refugee crisis as a media event that drew its specific dramatic effects precisely from the symbiosis of the ‘real’ and ‘palpable’ human suffering and the moral framing tied to the media stories. Media and cultural studies have insisted on the importance of these media stories, because they emphasise that real events need expression in terms of cultural frames and narratives. In particular, they insist on the dramaturgical elements of ‘staging’ or ‘orchestrating’ media events (Dayan and Katz, 1992). This insight is helpful to better understand the relevance of non-media actors, who interact with and for the media as protagonists in the public performance. These performers are professionals, for instance, celebrities, royals or sportspersons, who do not work for the mass media, but are strongly familiar with them and know how to perform in front of them. Dayan and Katz especially stress the ritual character of such performances. These events are usually announced at a fixed date in such a way as to arouse expectations, and they are carefully staged and marketised. Audiences as well develop their rituals of celebrating the events by holding the time of broadcasting off, inviting family and friends or organising public viewing. As rituals, media events have, first and foremost, an integrative function. In television, such media events have the potential to gather the whole nation, or even a worldwide viewing public (Dayan and Katz, 1992).
This conceptualisation of media events requires prudent reflection (Couldry et al., 2010), because media communication in a globalised media environment does not seem to emphasise the ritual, but rather the exceptional character of these events. The latter are not necessarily routinely staged. The attention is drawn instead to the extraordinary character of occurrences, in the sense that media events are something that are not expected and/or that are particularly dramatic, potentially affecting large parts of the audience. Couldry et al. (2010, p. 12) criticise the media ritual approach for disregarding other phenomena like moral panics, conflicts, scandals or crisis, which are regularly staged by the media. In all these cases, events are no longer routine, but disruptive. This brings to the attention the contentiousness of media events, because the media are a stage for the performance of rivalries among actors, who have an interest in pushing their competing interpretations about the event, about its relevance and about its lasting consequences. Media events can serve the purpose of drawing the public’s attention to potential harm for the community, or harm
Debating solidarity across borders U for others, from which follows the urgency to take action. Accordingly, news coverage around such ‘focusing events’ can open ‘windows of opportunity’ for diverse actors to push for policy change (Kingdon, 1984). An adequate analysis has thus to consider not only the media event’s agenda-setting function (Birkland, 1998), but also needs to examine the drama of the actors who compete for attention and the heightened attention of audiences. From this perspective, media-staged conflicts are often staged as a media-morality play about the interpretation of the events and its political consequences (Wagner-Pacifici, 1986). This does not necessarily lead to the confirmation of norms, because these norms can be contested during these debates, thus affecting the self-understanding and identity of the political community.
The solidarity contestations under analysis in this book provide a particularly interesting case, because the media events reach beyond national borders and achieve a broader cultural significance. On the one side, they resonate with global values and cosmopolitan narratives, and provide evidence for the need to engage in solidarity with refugees. In this sense, they provide opportunities for the manifestation of shared visions of brother- and sisterhood in reaction to humanitarian disasters. On the other side, they are often interpreted as essential threats to the local community at stake. The way such disasters or threats are defined is itself part of the media spectacle, where it is often not the single event, but a sequence of events over time that is used to build drama. Previous studies examining migration related debates have shown that mediated events are typically organised around competing normative discourses that guarantee the consistency of the debate over time (Fiske, 1994) and allow audiences or electorates to identify with the different positions at stake. News events do in this sense not necessarily trigger new debates but rather keep the narrative going. In fact, established narratives require constant renewal in terms of normative arguments and justifications in order to reassert their general validity. This applies to the case of immigration, because nationally exclusive and transnational!}' inclusive narratives constantly refer to and reinterpret events from their own perspective, portraying them as an opportunity for the arousal of global solidarity, or a threat to national communities (Helbling, 2014).
Beyond the commonly held assumption of media events as ‘routines’, we thus arrive at an interpretation of ‘crisis’ as media staged and media constituted (Michailidou and Trenz, 2015). ‘Crisis’ is an attribute of media discourse, not a core feature of the natural course of events. The notion of crisis is so central to a media event because it provides the opportunity to focus public attention and to stage public or collective reactions in response to a particular grievance targeted by public and media discourse. Media are in this sense seen as constitutive to the ‘refugee crisis’, both in terms of offering core mediating capacities and providing the public stage for the crisis conflicts. Crises unfold through the available media spheres and infrastructures in Europe - new and old media, offline and online and news. Delving into the media perspective of the crisis is paramount for understanding how the refugee crisis is interpreted either as a major threat to security, or as a humanitarian disaster. Mediating capacitiesare needed to arbitrate between the security threat and the humanitarian dimensions of the crisis and to sustain vital information and communication flows between and across the different space dimensions of the crisis, namely, the subnational, the national, the European and the global. The media play a fundamental role in this process, not only in shaping the perceptions and development of the crisis itself, but also in driving political and social (re)actions to the crisis, and any measures taken at the elite level to counter it. They function as agenda setters (e.g. highlighting particular aspects of crisis and actors who are dealing with the crisis); as crisis actors themselves (e.g., exacerbating a critical situation or creating moral 'panics’); and, perhaps above all, as the general 'interpreter of public voice’ (e.g., amplifying popular perceptions of blame for the crisis, and often reinforcing collective identity stereotypes). These 'blaming dynamics’ are of crucial importance within the ‘refugee crisis’ debate, because they amplify popular perceptions and stereotypes about the deservingness of refugees, on the one hand, and of countries as recipients of solidarity on the other, and thus have a direct impact on the reaffirmation or erosion of transnational and/or European solidarity.
The unfolding of the media-refugee crisis: how the media contribute to the ‘reality’ of a European media event
The analysis of this book starts from the assumption that the 'refugee crisis’ is a media event and should thus also be investigated in these terms to better understand its patterns and dynamics. For such an examination, we need to lay down what the distinct characteristics of this media event were, and what allowed European audiences to identify the refugee crisis as a rupture to how immigration debates unfolded in previous times. Staging the refugee crisis as a distinct media event is a complex phenomenon that involves participating actors, different legacy and social media, as well as wider audiences. The fact that this crisis was perceived and enacted as a common European emergency situation even underlines the complexity of the phenomenon under study, evidencing that the crisis unfolded as a synchronised, interlocked or transnational^ integrated media event. In order to prepare the empirical analysis of the following chapters, it is thus advisable to highlight those factors that seem to have contributed to the distinctiveness of the media events of summer 2016. Four points must be highlighted:
Debating solidarity across borders 29 the Mediterranean Sea — provided a less dangerous route to Europe. The disruption allows us to delimit the ‘crisis’ in time and space and to trace the movement from its point of departure to the expected places of arrival within Europe. The unprecedented and exceptional character of these events was constantly emphasised by all actors involved, which contributes to a crisis rhetoric as an important element of the media drama.
- 2 The live coverage: The mere size of the phenomenon matters when explaining how the ‘crisis’ came to the attention of western publics, but the arrival of the refugees brought the war victims much closer to the television cameras. Large numbers of journalists were deployed to cover the journey of the refugees and to deliver live images from the Turkish shores, the Greek islands, the Macedonian border and the train stations in Hungary (Feinstein and Storm, 2017). The dramatic moment was amplified by televised images of ‘sudden’ departure, ‘mass exodus’, ‘coming closer’ and a general sense of ‘losing control’. The crisis unfolded as a real-time event, so to speak, on the screens in front of our eyes. This was made possible by a flow of journalists who accompanied the flow of refugees, thus delivering live coverage en route. Media-staged closeness also allowed for a combination of eye-witnessing and media witnessing. Once the war refugees crossed ‘our’ own borders, their presence was no longer virtual and media stories could be authenticated and enriched through personal encounters.
- 3 The activation of audiences: Through the representation of human needs and suffering, a mediated public sphere can turn into a humanitarian space of personal involvement, where passive members of the audience take active responsibilities as citizens (Andersen and de Silva, 2017). Media stories do not simply activate the moral consciousness of western viewers directly, as this requires exemplary or illustrative action. Media stories do this by addressing witnesses of human suffering as protagonists of human aid. The ‘welcoming culture’ is part of a ‘politics of pity’ (Boltanski, 1999) with role models of ‘ordinary citizen heroes’ — as conveyed by the media — providing their spontaneous assistance to the needy. Pity, which is to be defined as an emotional reaction to the witnessing of human suffering, can be considered as an important element in the mobilisation of solidarity, because it allows for rapid changes of opinion from indifference, or even antipathy towards the object of solidarity, to attention and personal emotional engagement that might be followed by individual or collective support action. Especially in Germany, the so-called ‘welcoming culture’ became a story of national pride that expressed the collective will of the local people to assist the needs of the refugees. Hospitality and empathy towards refugees were encouraged by mediated images of human suffering, such as the image of the drowned boy, Alan Kurdi, on the Turkish beach. They contributed to rapid shifts in opinion in the receiving countries and to considerable levels of political mobilisation (Mortensen and Trenz, 2016). A ‘politics of pity’ is the reversal of the ‘politics of fear’, a strong emotional involvement of the audience that was directed against the incoming refugees, stimulated westernpublics to assign for themselves the role of victim, and seemingly legitimated them to mobilise resistance and fight against expected short-term or longterm negative consequences (Wodak, 2015). A ‘politics of fear’ can be distinguished as a proper style of political mobilisation because it portrays refugees in the media as threats to be excluded from the solidarity community. In line with such a discourse, media coverage often builds on fearappealing metaphors such as flood, swarms or marauders, or on attributes such as unwanted, irregular or illegal.
- 4 The internalisation of negative consequences: Approaches to crisis differ, depending on whether negative consequences are externalised or internalised. As long as the refugee crisis remained confined to Syria, aid remained optional. Care-taking assumes a different meaning, when people in need are among us. Rules of care-taking apply at first reception as they are not only codified as responsibilities of states, but also bound to moral obligations of hospitality (Benhabib, 2004). Such moral codes of hospitality regulate, in particular, our relationship towards people we encounter at the borders of our community. Once they are among us, hospitality cannot be escaped, care-taking can no longer be delegated, but becomes our responsibility. From the European perspective, the refugee crisis was marked and staged as a series of events of border crossings. First, the symbolic act of crossing the border between Asia and Europe in the Aegean Sea and, secondly, the crossing of the border between Hungary and Austria and Germany marked the refugees’ final entry from the periphery right to the core of what defines the Europeans’ ‘own world’. The predictable arrival of the refugees made it inevitable for Europeans to discuss their own attitudes towards hospitality. The internalisation of negative consequences implied acceptance of a collective responsibility for the fate of the refugees, which again justified the mobilisation of political capacities and resources to take control of the process.
These different elements and processes contributed to the formation of the refugee crisis as a distinct media event that was perceived as a common experience across the various European member states. This distinctiveness is of particular relevance, because it contributed to the salience of solidarity as a core topic of public debates about the crisis. It needs to be added, however, that the mediated experience with the ‘refugee crisis’ was perceived as a shared and split experience. Differences between countries prevailed, given the specific transit routes and destinations of most refugees, but also given the different ways this reality was arbitrated by national media systems, policy debates and citizens’ mobilisations. The experience of a shared crisis often triggered these national differences, because it raised awareness within European countries of different national sensitivities and priorities, thus encouraging the various governments to either look for European solutions or insulate their country from European developments. The analysis of the refugee crisis thus requires a nuanced empirical investigation that is able to disentangle solidarity contestations as a complex
Debating solidarity across borders 31 phenomenon that is segmented in national public spheres, interlocked trans-nationally and embedded into the shared experience of a European crisis of humanitarian aid. In this sense, we require an analysis that is able to simultaneously unravel and interrelate the national and European dimension of solidarity contestations.