How the media covered Aylan’s grim and iconic photograph

The photograph has gone viral across social media and news outlets, and in most cases apparently rarely obscured

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The harrowing photograph of the lifeless body of Aylan, dressed in a red T-shirt and blue shorts, has sparked an outrage at what the United Nations has repeatedly called the “greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.”

While national newspapers in the UK opted for an image of a Turkish gendarmerie soldier carrying Ayaln’s small body, The Independent opted for the hard-hitting close-up of the young refugee’s body lying face down in the sand, the sea lapping up around his body.

Abeer al-Najjar, a professor of media studies at the American University, said this image is powerful because of what it represents.

“It’s symbolic because it represents how the whole world is turning its back to humanitarian suffering during the four-year-long war in Syria,” she told Al Arabiya News.

But Aylan is not the first child to wash up on a shore after attempting to get to Europe, nor is this the first picture. So why has this photograph sparked this reaction?

“Somehow relatively, as a war image, this picture is clean,” Najjar said.

“There is no blood…the child could be sleeping, it’s next to the sea, so all the elements of distressing and disturbing pictures do not exist within this [image], at least from a very superficial point of view,” she explained.

The picture was heavily shared on social media, a quick search of the #Syria hashtag on the photo-sharing app Instagram will show a steam of images of Aylan.

“There was some verification to the symbolic significance of the picture itself based on the response on social media. So somehow it is reinforcing what is already there,” Najjar said.

“Like with all iconic pictures,” she added, referencing the pictures of Palestinian Mohammad Al Durra, whose documented death became the "defining image of the second Intifada" and the photograph of south Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture in the 1990s.

So will these picture spark any change?

“This picture, and similar stories, but particularly this picture helps change the conversation and brings us back to the bottom line that these are not immigrants who are looking for welfare, these are refugees who are trying to take refuge elsewhere and they are seeking safety from the horrors that they face at home,” Najjar explained.

The photograph has gone viral across social media and news outlets, and in most cases apparently rarely obscured.

Headlines that accompanied the already iconic picture focused on the harsh reality behind Europe’s migrant crisis.

In recent months thousands have died trying to cross into the European Union. Many of those who drowned in the Mediterranean were Syrian refugees escaping the ongoing war. Aylan’s family had been repeatedly displaced by the fighting in Syria, a local journalist told AFP on Thursday.

“The shocking, cruel reality of Europe’s refugee crisis,” the Guardian’s front page read above a photograph of the Turkish soldier carrying Ayaln.

The Sun juxtaposed an image of a baby born to refugee parents in a Hungarian train station next to Ayaln’s picture with a headline reading: “It’s Life & death.”

“The Sun says: Mr Cameron, summer is over…now deal with the biggest crisis facing Europe since WW2,” a caption underneath read.

The Daily Mail, which was criticized in May for publishing an article on “boat people” that focused on the discomfort of holidaymakers vacationing in the Greek island of Kos, ran the headline: “Tiny victim of a human catastrophe.”

“Drowned Syrian toddler embodies heartbreak of migrant crisis,” was the headline of choice by the Los Angeles Times.

The Washington Post’s headline included Aylan’s name: “Aylan’s story: How desperation left a 3-year-old boy washed up on a Turkish beach.”