Watchdog needed' to seek out asylum bias

Ken Livingstone: says bad reporting ‘gives rise to fear’

A report commssioned by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has recommended that newspapers’ coverage of asylum seekers should be be monitored to make sure they follow Press Complaints Commission guidelines.

The report, called Media Image, Community Impact, concludes there is clear evidence of negative, unbalanced and inaccurate reporting – in a large cross-section of the press – on issues about refugees and asylum seekers.

However, its researchers found the local press was more likely than national newspapers to provide a balanced picture on issues affecting local people.

In its conclusions, the report by the Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees in the UK (ICAR), claims negative, unbalanced and inaccurate reporting is likely to promote fear and tension within communities across London.

It also claims such reporting has the potential to increase community tension, and can lead to harassment.

The report says: “Newspapers differ widely in their presentation of news and information about asylum and refugee issues but some appear willing to print articles based on information reported to them which they consider newsworthy without thorough investigation of the reliability of that information or its sources.

“Local newspapers are more likely than national ones to interpret their role as providing a balanced picture on issues that affect local people. Media impact is most powerful when national and local newspaper images coincide.”

A key recommendation of the report is that the Greater London Authority (GLA) commissions independent monitoring of how the media complies with the PCC’s guidance when it comes to language and terminology in the reporting of asylum issues.

It recommmends the GLA discusses the report’s findings, on the influence of what it deems to be inaccurate and hostile descriptions of refugees and asylum seekers, with the proprietors of newspapers “which regularly print them”.

In addition, it calls on the GLA to explore ways in which independent, accurate, balanced and referenced information and source material about refugees and asylum seekers can be made available to the media.

Commenting on the report, Mr Livingstone said: “I am concerned that the report finds relentless repetition of inaccurate and hostile language in some sections of the press and frequent use of apparently factual but unsubstantiated statements about refugees and asylum seekers which are likely to give rise to fear and concern.

“However, I welcome the evidence that local press reports are generally more likely to be balanced and take account of all sectors of the community.”

Last October, the PCC issued a guidance note stating journalists should avoid using the term “illegal asylum seeker”. It followed an increasing number of complaints to the commission about coverage of refugees and asylum seekers. The PCC guidance note also reminded editors that pejorative or irrelevant reference to a person’s race, religion or nationality infringes the editors’ code of practice.

By Jon Slattery

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