By Margaret Woods
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Bad News for Refugees

This article is over 7 years, 11 months old
Greg Philo, Emma Briant and Pauline Donald, Pluto Press, £15.00
Issue 388

Bad News For Refugees presents research done into media coverage in Britain in the years 2006 and 2011. It looks at why the question of asylum has become such a major political issue.

Philo, Briant and Donald examine in close detail the content of media coverage with particular attention to statements made by politicians and opinions expressed by journalists.

The book sets out a useful guide to some of the most important international and British legislation on asylum, while the reasons for migration are set in context.

They argue that Western countries create many of the global problems, but deny asylum to the victims, and clearly show how most of the world’s refugees flee across the nearest border and are actually supported by the some of the poorest countries.

This fact is in stark contrast to the impression provided by the media in Britain that most refugees are in Europe, and that Britain takes in a hugely disproportionate share of them.

There is an interesting section in which journalists from tabloids and broadsheets are interviewed anonymously. There have been occasions when, as trade unionists, they have prevented publication of stories. Mostly however, those who object to writing stories which they believe to be inaccurate and racist are sacked or resign.

The section of the book which analyses the content of stories provides a depressing reminder of some of the most notorious coverage. It catalogues accusations of refugees eating the Queen’s swans and being criminals and terrorists.

It discusses language such as “illegal immigrant”, “bogus asylum seeker”, and “foreign criminals”, and the use of words such as “floods”, “swamping” and “scrounger” – all of which takes place in an evidence-free zone.

Politicians and editors provide no facts on the lack of a right to work, the real conditions in which refugees live or the reasons why they have come here. Their actual experiences are given little space and their own voices even less.

An attempt is made to gauge the impact of positive stories. Often such stories are found in the local press, which responds more to knowledge of a smaller area and reports “human interest” stories which readers appreciate.

Sadly interviews with focus groups, with people from previous generations of migrants, and even with refugees themselves show how successful this coverage is in sowing resentment, misunderstanding and division.

The authors point out the pernicious effects of unrelenting negative coverage. They show how it stigmatises people, legitimises political policies and reduces debate on the real problems affecting the poor in times of austerity. They argue for proactive public lobbying on the issue.

It is disappointing that they do not include more interviews and input from the thousands of people who voluntarily befriend, help and campaign for refugees. This would have provided some balance and hope in an otherwise dire situation.

Despite these criticisms, this short book is very informative and readable. It is timely and relevant following the orgy of racism in January with the press panic over an imminent invasion of “Bulgarians and Romanians”.

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