Closeup of Bimbisar Irom
Bimbisar Irom

PULLMAN, Wash.-Visuals of two children affected by the ongoing Syrian conflict underscore connections between communication ethics and processes of mediation, according to a recent study in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.

Bimbisar Irom’s work appeared in the August issue of the journal Communication Theory.

“For most of us, the devastating effects of the Syrian conflict have come to be defined by the visuals of two children,” Irom said.

Irom’s study uses the visuals of Alan Kurdi and Omran Daqneesh to gain further insights into the relationships between communication ethics and the mediated representations of “distant sufferers.” The three images of Kurdi that were shared the most on social media show the 3-year-old boy dead, laying face down on the beach; a Turkish policeman approaching his body; and the man carrying him away.

Photographers took photos of 5-year-old Daqneesh, his face covered in dust and blood,  following his rescue after an airstrike in Aleppo city. An image of Daqneesh appeared on the front page of the New York Times.

“We gain familiarity with these children through news images and stories,” Irom said. “The important question is how does the media build relationships of proximity and distance between audiences and people they are unlikely to ever meet? How do strangers ‘speak’ to us through the media?”

The study brings together two areas not often thought of in conjunction: communication ethics and the processes of representing others in the media. This yoking together of disparate areas in communication studies allows us to consider the most ethical forms of representing culturally and geographically distant strangers.

Irom will speak on Western media coverage of the ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis. The presentation, at 5 p.m. Sept. 23 in Todd Hall 130, is sponsored by the Common Reading Program. In “Through Western Eyes: Humanitarian Communication and the Rohingya Refugee Crisis,” Irom will examine cross-platform media coverage of the Rohingya crisis including Reuters’ Pulitzer-winning photographs and cutting edge virtual reality artifacts such as “I am Rohingya.”