Framing Rohingya across nations: for better or for worse

The Rohingya-crisis is becoming increasingly well-known to the general public. In western media, the issue-specific frames in which this crisis is represented (Schuck & Feinholdt, p.2, De Vreese, p.54-55) are pretty similar. However, the crisis is (obviously) framed very differently in non-western media.

According to The Guardian and Al Jazeera, Rohingya are being referred to as ‘Bengalis’ in Buddhist and Birmese media. I think this is a very pressing point. By referring to Rohingya as ‘Bengalis’, Birmese media reinforce an image of Rohingya as merely stateless, illegal, unwanted refugees from Bangladesh, although Rohingya maintain they are an indigenous Myanmarese community having been around for millenia.

We find an alarming example of how Rohingya people are framed on local newssite Irawaddy. This newspaper consistently refers to Rohingya as ‘Bengalis’, or at least in the Birmese version of their website. Moreover, they published this cartoon, referring to Rohingya as ‘boat people’, an even more denegrating slur referring to Rohingya attempting to find asylum overseas in crowded boats.

De Vreese defines framing as a process in which interpretative understanding is facilitated (De Vreese, p.51). In doing so, frames are ‘alternative ways of defining issues’. For example by providing stocks of cultural and moral values, and context (p.53). Frames tend to differ cross-nationally. De Vreese calls these differences in framing ‘local or national spin’ (p.59).

De Vreese shows how cross-national differences in framing teach us something about differences between nations and cultures in a broad sense. As I have tried to show, these differences are not always innocent. When it comes to the Rohingya people, I think there is a lot  of work to do in overcoming our differences, in order to provide a lasting global solution to this humanitarian crisis.

By Victor Berndsen


Schuck, Andreas T, and Feinholdt, Alina. ‘News Framing Effects and Emotions’. 2015. 1-15.

De Vrees, Claes H. ‘News framing: theory and typology’. 2005. 51-62.



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