Over a million Syrians have fled to Lebanon since the war began but their reception across the border has grown increasingly hostile.

Pick up a Lebanese newspaper or turn on the TV and you might conclude that problems that have dogged Lebanon for years such as electricity cuts, a lack of jobs and chronic pollution all began with the arrival of the refugees.

The toxic rhetoric often starts at the political level, but since almost every news outlet in Lebanon has some kind of political affiliation the rhetoric often finds its way in the reporting.

"At the very beginning of the conflict, media outlets that were close to the Syrian opposition, were very open to the idea of Lebanon welcoming refugees, whereas media outlets that were close to the Assad regime spoke about the refugees with very negative terms," says Ayman Mhanna, executive director of the Samir Kassir Foundation.

We have an issue when it comes to how media outlets are talking about Syrian refugees...the outlets are encouraged by how politicians are talking about refugees. They are encouraged by how municipalities are banning Syrian refugees from moving around. They are imposing curfews on Syrian refugees and nobody is stopping them. So the media reflects that.

Diana Moukalled, TV producer & columnist

"Unfortunately, that narrative became more prominent, and managed to convince more people as the refugee crisis kept growing over time," he adds.

In 2015, the Beirut-based Maharat Foundation studied a three-week sample of refugee coverage. It found Lebanon's print media focused far more on security issues and the burden of asylum, than on things like integration, exploitation or the rights of refugees.

The same was true of TV coverage, where more airtime was given to arrests and security procedures than other stories. However it wasn't only the negative framing, it was the sourcing. The study found that journalists often simply republish reports exactly as they receive them from the security services.

"Suddenly, you have this idea that all these criminals are Syrians," says journalist Kareem Chehayeb. "The drug dealers, the weapons dealers ... the cases of rape and sexual harassment, all coming from Syrians."

In Lebanon, politicians don't have to look far for a friendly voice in the media. The men holding the three highest positions of power in the country, the president, the prime minister and the speaker of Parliament, all own a television channel.

When high-profile politicians use refugees to deflect from their own shortcomings, hyping up the existential, demographic threat facing Lebanon, those fears are eventually reproduced in the media.

"We have an issue when it comes to how media outlets are talking about Syrian refugees. The negative approach is dominant because of the political discourse in Lebanon. These outlets are encouraged by how politicians are talking about refugees. They are encouraged how municipalities are banning Syrian refugees from moving around. They are imposing curfews on Syrian refugees and nobody is stopping them. So the media reflects that," says Diana Moukalled, TV producer and columnist.

Contributors:
Ayman Mhanna, executive director, Samir Kassir Foundation
Kareem Chehayeb, journalist
Diana Moukalled, TV producer and columnist
Walid Abboud, editor-in-chief, MTV

Source: Al Jazeera