JCWI have made submissions to the Leveson inquiry regarding asylum seekers and migrants in the media, which we hope the inquiry will address in order to change immigration reporting for the better.
Yesterday saw Paul Dacre give evidence to Leveson inquiry, and Daily Mail editor in chief was forced to repeatedly defend the output of his staff in relation to a host of false, misleading and at times bizarre stories.
The Mail is certainly not alone in portraying immigrants and asylum seekers in a negative light, and as we have previously described, immigrants and asylum seekers are the victims of some of the worst media distortions designed to depict them as associated with crime, disease, economic problems and terrorism.
Richard Peppiatt, a former reporter for the Daily Star, gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry in which he told of the pressure that staff were under to report on immigration matters in a way that fits within particular negative narratives, leading to “casual and systematic distortions”. This kind of reporting is closer to advocacy rather than investigative journalism, as it ignores any benefits of immigration and exaggerates the numbers of asylum seekers and immigrants using emotive language. In the most serious cases, this leads to articles which provide factually inaccurate information.
The Government also plays a large role in contributing to this hysteria, notably including Theresa May’s infamous speech last year in which she falsely claimed an immigrant had been allowed to remain in the UK because he owned a cat.
Such reporting and portrayal of immigrants impacts upon public debates, the shape of legislation, and most seriously contributes to harassment and abuse of migrants.
In our submssion to the Leveson inquiry we’ve made several proposals about how matters could be improved. These include amending the Editors’ Code of Practice to require the press to avoid ‘gross exaggeration’ and widening its prohibition of discrimination to include ethnic or religious groups as well as individuals. Echoing the Equality and Diversity Forum, we have also suggested an additional clause to require that the press must avoid gratuitous pejorative references to ethnic, faith or other communities if likely to generate unwarranted hostility and fear.
Furthermore, we have proposed that the inquiry draws upon the USA’s Code of Ethics and includes imperatives for journalists to clearly distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. To address the problem of Ministers providing ammunition for inflammatory articles we have also suggested that press officers and advisors should be bound by the same rules as journalists, and be encouraged to exercise restraint and employ measured language.
Finally, we’ve also made the case for more extensive enforcement powers for any regulatory body, together with the need for greater independence of those conducting regulatory functions.
Let’s hope it works.