MRCF has written a report to draw the attention of the Leveson Inquiry to the practices of certain sections of the British press in reporting immigration and protection (asylum) issues. In particular, we have highlighted the failure of the press to provide the British public with accurate, objective and factual information, raising serious concerns about the media’s ethics, standards, professionalism and motives.
MRCF believes that freedom of the press is essential to every democratic society. We also believe that with freedom comes responsibility. We all have a right and a responsibility to engage in the immigration debate in an informed, balanced and reasonable way, in order to ensure equality and justice for all.
[h4]Toxic and Racist Headlines in the Media[/h4]
In the past 10 years, media coverage of immigration has increased in both volume and hostility towards all categories of immigrants, to the point of demonising migrants completely.
In 2003, in a report entitled What’s The Story?2, Article 19 found that media reporting of the asylum issue is characterised by an inaccurate and provocative use of language to describe those entering the country to seek asylum. Fifty-one different labels were identified as making reference to individuals seeking refuge in Britain, including derogatory and incorrect terms such as ‘illegal refugee’, ‘asylum cheat’, ‘would-be asylum seekers’, ‘would-be immigrants’ and ‘would-be refugees’.
[h4]Inaccessible Complaints Process[/h4]
Asylum seekers and refugees feel alienated, ashamed and sometimes threatened as a result of the overwhelmingly negative media coverage of asylum. Many of the Article 19 report interviewees had direct experience of prejudice, abuse or aggression from neighbours and service providers, which they attributed to the way in which the media informs public opinion.
Asylum seekers and refugees are reluctant to complain about inaccurate or prejudicial reporting. Interviewees from the Article 19 research expressed a mixture of doubt that their views would be accurately represented and concern about the consequences of being seen to complain.
Presently, the system of media self-regulation makes it almost impossible for organisations such as MRCF to challenge poor practices, bias and inaccuracy on behalf of vulnerable individuals because individuals must file their complaint themselves. Most of these individuals feel so stigmatized that they will not engage with this process.
[h4]“The Public Interest” Is Not Selling More Papers[/h4]
When accused of being racist, chauvinist or xenophobic (and, therefore, acting against the public interest), editors justify what they publish by claiming that their sales demonstrate that they are representing the public interest. Thus, when reinforcing their audience’s opinions, no matter how inaccurate, they argue that they are serving the public interest by giving their readers what they want. This, of course confuses the meaning of ‘public interest’—a central problem in trying to confront sloppy journalism and unprofessional editorial practices.
[h4]Examples of Poor Journalism[/h4]
- Mail and Express deny asylum bias
- Mail ‘sets the record straight’ on another Littlejohn column
- Sun accused of Swan Bake ‘myth-making’
- PCC investigates Star donkey story
- Swan bake: carcasses and piles of feathers found next to cooking pots at migrants’ camp
- UK Poles attack Daily Mail ‘bias’
In this submission, MRCF hopes to point the Leveson Inquiry towards credible evidence of the negative media discourse on immigration, that we hope will be taken into consideration when recommendations are made about media ethics, professionalism, practices and standards, as well as in the consideration of safeguards that can be introduced to prevent further abuse, inaccuracies and bias.
To find out more, read MRCF’s full submission to the Leveson Inquiry. Download here.