Mayday! Mayday! Refugees and the Media

23 February 2004 – Should journalists be taking, raising or reducing the temperature of public debate over issues such as asylum and immigration? Why have some national newspaper journalists called on the PCC to challenge their management’s editorial line twice in two years on these issues?

While media professionals fret about such matters, the Government insists that unremitting tabloid media hype about the imminent arrival of up to 74 million (Daily Express) ‘new’ Europeans, including 1.6million Roma (Express again) has not influenced their decision to introduce new measures to prevent an upsurge of ‘benefit tourists’ when ten more countries join the European Union on 1 May. Yet the Prime Minister promises a crackdown in a News of the World interview at the weekend, and then the latest drop in asylum figures is leaked a day early to the Labour-supporting Mirror. Meanwhile the BNP pickets the NUJ and Michael Howard wins headlines by berating the British National Party while apparently sharing their enthusiasm for scape-goating asylum seekers.

Ho hum.

It did not take long for the then Home Secretary to introduce visa restrictions for Slovakians after the media hyped the arrival of a mere 180 Slovakian Roma in October 1997 – making matters worse for persecuted Roma in Slovakia at a stroke. And similar hype helped to close the Red Cross Centre at Sangatte in December 2002.

The risk that inaccurate and sensational media coverage can panic politicians into making inhumane decisions stimulated the PressWise (now MediaWise) Refugees, Asylum-seekers and the Media (RAM) Project back in 1999.

It is a problem across rich Europe and Scandinavia – the inevitable magnet for those seeking freedom from oppression, war and poverty. The results of a pan-European survey of media coverage, by community organisations and official bodies, are to be announced in Brussels on Mon 15 Mar to mark the start of a Week of Action on media coverage of asylum organised by Online/More Colour in the Media with MediaWise, the IFJ/EUJ and the European Network Against Racism.

As a prelude, the RAM Project is launching a resource leaflet for journalists prepared with the UNHCR and the NUJ, at the Frontline Club (13 Norfolk Place, London, W2) on Wed 4 March at 6.30.
Speakers will include NUJ General Secretary and an exiled Zimbabwean journalist recently appointed RAM Communications Officer. The event will be an opportunity for UK journalists to meet colleagues from the Exiled Journalists Network who have been driven from home for just doing their job. It will include a screening of ‘On the Receiving End’ in which exiled journalists recount their amazement at UK media coverage of refugees and asylum seekers.

Mike Jempson
Director, MediaWise (The PressWise Trust)

Other events linked to the week of action are attached:

Tues 24 Feb: NUJ Head office, Headland House, 308 Gray’s Inn Road, 6.30pm
Freedom for Kurdish Journalists
Tim Gopsill, Nick Medic, Cemal Ucer, Judith Vidal-Hall and Jeremy Dear

Sat 28 Feb: Conway Hall (Main Hall), 25 Red Lion Square, London, 9am – 5pm
Mainstream Media Bias and the Propaganda Model – Debating contemporary media perspectives
Yvonne Ridley, David Miller, Richard Keeble, Fuad Nahdi, Hilary Wainwright, Mike Jempson

Sat 28 Feb: Hinde St Methodist Church, 19 Thayer Street, London, 12pm – 5pm
NCADC National Meeting for Anti-Deportation campaigners

Mon 1 Mar: 22 Betterton Street, London, 7.30pm
‘Anne Dreams of Sand’ one of a monthly series of cultural evenings run by Exiled Writers Ink!
Chaired by Ghias Al Jundi

Tues 2 Mar: Millers Tavern, Riverside, Cardiff, 8pm
Refugee Writers on Tour
Regular event every Tuesday until June

Thurs 4 Mar: Frontline Club, 6.30pm – 9pm
‘On the Receiving End’ – Exiled Journalists and the UK Media
Jeremy Dear, Forward Maisokwadzu, Terry Williams, Arop Madut-Arop

Fri 12 Mar: The Institute of Commonwealth Studies, 28 Russell Square, London, 9.30 – 6pm
Images of Asylum Seekers and Refugees
Conference focusing on the way media images and representations portray asylum seekers

Sat 13 Mar, Leeds Civic Hall (Banquet Hall), 1pm
Face to Race with Racism, Media Portrayal of Ethnic Minorities and the Upsurge of the Far Right
Jeremy Dear, Terry Williams

Mon 15 Mar: Brussels
Press launch for Week of Action on media coverage of asylum
Online/More Colour in the Media with MediaWise, IFJ/EUJ and European Network Against Racism

Mon 15 Mar: University of Warwick, Coventry, 8am
Annual Student Conference on Forced Migration
To enable post-graduates to meet and share research, ideas and experiences

Thurs 25 Mar: Empire Room at the Britannia Adelphi, 7pm
NUJ in Action on Refugees
Chris Frost, Michelle Stanistreet, Pete Lazenby, Forward Maisokwadzo

(Bulletin No 99)

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