The Daily Express would resist any attempt to change the Code of Conduct overseen by the Press Complaints Commission in a way which would impose political correctness on its freedom of expression, editor Peter Hill told MPs and peers.
His statement came yesterday as he gave evidence to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights on issues involving asylum-seekers.
“We must be free to cite the individual cases and if that has a bad effect then I’m afraid that cannot be avoided,” he said.
“I’m afraid there are a lot of these cases, so we can’t ignore them.”
PCC director Tim Toulmin said that many regional newspapers had been singled out for praise concerning their coverage of asylum-seekers.
He added: “The numbers of complaints against national papers – considering how many articles are published – the number of complaints doesn’t reveal any groundswell of concern from people about the national papers.”
Alan Travis, home affairs editor of The Guardian, told the committee that some papers were publishing “false” stories about asylum-seekers.
He also accused newspapers of stirring up tensions with repeated front page stories about immigration.
“In this situation, newspapers must fuel that particular prejudice and fuel that political extremism,” he said.
The Earl of Onslow, a member of the committee, expressed concern about newspaper coverage, saying: “I think what some of us are worried about is that it’s the particularisation of one of two cases which is bringing odium on a group of people who are not entitled to have that odium brought upon them.”
Earlier, both Mr Hill and Robin Esser, executive managing editor of the Daily Mail, had insisted that their newspapers were supportive of “genuine” refugees and tried not to stir up community tensions.
But they told the committee that there were real weaknesses in the immigration system and they had a duty to be “truthful” with the public.
The two men were responding to concerns from committee members that “inflammatory” headlines and articles could be undermining the human rights of asylum-seekers coming to the UK.
Mr Esser said: “As we’re facing probably the greatest demographic change in this nation since the Norman invasion, we certainly feel that the public needs to be informed, it needs to be fully informed of what the situation is…
“Our main criticism has not, I think, been directed towards asylum-seekers per se, but towards the system which we feel has been very unfair to genuine asylum-seekers.
“If the system was better organised, and we knew or the Government knew what the numbers were (of asylum-seekers) in a quicker more rapid way, I think that would go a long way towards preserving their human rights.”
Mr Hill said the immigration and border system in Britain was a “shambles” and went on: “You must ask yourself why there are so many headlines, and in particular why there are so many what you may term negative headlines.
“The reason for this is that the asylum and the border immigration system in this country is a shambles.
“Anyone can walk into this country now – there was a report only last week in which the Home Office admitted that the immigration system was so undermanned that people were simply being waved through.
“This is a nonsense of a situation, and I think it makes life very, very difficult for genuine asylum-seekers, (whom) the Daily Express has always supported.
“We’ve always accepted that people should be given sanctuary in this country if they’re in genuine danger of torture or worse.”
He added: “What we can’t support is the unrestricted entry to this country of hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom hate this country, people who want to destroy this country, people who want to become suicide bombers.”