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Call for newspapers to set the record straight on refugees and asylum seekers

31 October 2012

More needs to be done to challenge unfair, inaccurate and negative newspaper coverage of refugees and asylum seekers, the British Red Cross has said.

Today the charity launched its Dispatches UK initiative, which reveals new research about how refugees are depicted in the press. The research shows how news stories about refugees and asylum seekers continue to be overwhelmingly negative, despite a significant fall in asylum claims in the last decade, and rarely give a voice to refugees themselves.

The Red Cross has pledged to continue its work with journalists and industry bodies to encourage more accurate and representative coverage of asylum issues and at the same time ensure reporting of genuine public interest concerns.

It has called for protection from discriminatory reporting for refugees from the new body that will regulate newspaper journalism, and in January 2013 the organisation will host a Dispatches UK conference bringing together journalists, media standards groups and bodies representing refugees to share ideas and identify common ground.

Negative reporting

The Dispatches UK research was carried out in response to concerns raised by people who have arrived in Britain fleeing persecution. It looked at the tone and content of newspaper coverage about refugees and asylum seekers, and used surveys and focus groups to test the public’s views about media portrayal of them.

Early findings from the research show confusion among the public about what makes refugees and asylum seekers different from other migrants. The findings also reveal the phrases people most associate with newspaper coverage of them are ‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘scroungers’. One question revealed 72 per cent of the UK public think newspaper reporting about refugees and asylum seekers is negative.

Time for action

In the next few months, following the publication of the Leveson Inquiry into press standards, a new organisation will be created to regulate newspapers in the UK.

The Red Cross is calling on this new organisation to:

  • stop irrelevant references to immigration status appearing in negative stories about individuals
  •  give the Red Cross and others the chance to speak up in defence of refugees and asylum seekers
  •  actively monitor standards, instead of just waiting for complaints from those individually affected
  •  crack down on inaccurate terms like 'bogus' and 'illegal' for asylum seekers.

“A more balanced picture”

Adrian Thomas, Red Cross head of media and external relations, said: “The refugees and asylum seekers we meet in the course of our work come from all walks of life. Many are professionals and some are even journalists themselves. Asylum from persecution is their right under international law and as a country we can be proud of the protection we provide. 

"But often we see terms like ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘refugee’ used as if they were insults and that stigmatises individuals and damages healthy debate. That's why we want to work with reporters, editors and newspaper owners to give a more balanced picture of refugee issues. Stronger guidelines will make a real difference to the lives of refugees and asylum seekers.”

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