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Dispatches UK:

Early Findings

Photography Claudia Janke

Photography Claudia Janke

Dispatches UK: Early Findings

Research has shown that 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 study for the British Red Cross Dispatches UK project, carried out in response to concerns raised by people who have arrived in Britain fleeing persecution, has also found confusion among the public about what makes refugees and asylum seekers different from other migrants.

bend the truth and newspaper owners put selling copies above providing information to the public. It supports long-standing concerns that media coverage of refugees and asylum seekers, particularly in newspapers, is negative, stigmatising and inaccurate. In 2003 the Press Complaints Commission ruled on a point of accuracy that editors should take care not to use terms like bogus and illegal asylum seeker. However, the research has shown that this practice continues. As part of the project, the Red Cross worked with some of the refugees and asylum seekers it supports to understand their concerns about media representation. As a result of this, the Red Cross commissioned media analysis and focus group research from the Glasgow Media Group. This included a study of more than 100 news stories about refugees and asylum seekers, and a series of focus groups in which people discussed the issue. The Red Cross also commissioned a YouGov survey of more than 2,500 adults about refugees and asylum seekers in the media, and carried out its own monitoring of media stories over the last few months.

The words people most associate with newspaper coverage of asylum seekers and refugees were illegal immigrants and scroungers
The research also revealed the words people most associate with newspaper coverage of asylum seekers and refugees were illegal immigrants and scroungers. The research also suggests most people think journalists are put under pressure to

Call for action


The Red Cross launched the Dispatches UK project earlier this year, mindful of the fact the Press Complaints Commission is soon to be replaced by a new body to rule on issues around fairness in media coverage. The make-up and remit of the new body is likely to be guided by the findings of the Leveson Inquiry. The Red Cross is calling for the body that replaces the PCC to:

In the 2011 stories, even though annual asylum applications had been sustained at a level of 25,932 or below for seven years, the same themes were still strong and there was extra emphasis on the burden to the tax-payer. Fifty-four stories (82 per cent) portrayed asylum seekers as undeserving migrants. Many of the 100 stories analysed used the language of natural disasters, speaking of waves, cascades and flooding. People whose claims were rejected were referred to as bogus refugees or asylum seekers. Stories about criminal behaviour were highlighted in both TV and press samples. These stories often included asylum seekers with other migrant groups and used the word foreign as a pejorative term, to discuss foreign prisoners and foreign criminals. Seventeen of the 2006 articles (50 per cent) and 20 of the 2011 articles (30 per cent) mentioned criminality. The voices of refugees and asylum seekers themselves were rarely featured. In the 2011 stories politicians and government authorities were quoted 72 times 50 of these statements represented the government, and 21 of them used an undeserving migrant statement. In contrast, the voices of refugees and asylum seekers only appeared five times, and refugee organisations only six times.

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agree that irrelevant details about immigration status, should not be used in stories about crime or misbehaviour, as with facts about race and religion. allow third-party representations, giving the Red Cross and other organisations the chance to defend refugees and asylum seekers from misleading stories actively monitor standards, instead of just waiting for complaints from those individually affected ensure that inaccurate terms such as bogus or illegal are not applied in describing asylum status.

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Media analysis
Glasgow Media Group has released early findings from its analysis of 100 stories that appeared in the British media tackling asylum issues or asylum alongside economic migration. The study examined 34 stories from May 2006 and 66 from June 2011. They appeared on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 news, as well as in The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Express, The Mirror, The Times, The Telegraph and The Guardian.

Coverage often confused asylum issues with economic migration, exaggerated the scale of asylum applications and used unsourced figures
The 2006 coverage was characterised by images and commentary about threats posed by asylum and refugees, and stressed the need for tighter immigration controls. Discussion of any benefits of migration, or the problems faced by asylum seekers, was rare. The coverage often confused asylum issues with economic migration, exaggerated the scale of asylum applications and used unsourced figures. Twenty-seven stories (79 per cent) portrayed asylum seekers as undeserving migrants.

Photography Layton Thompson, (BRC)

Survey
In October 2012, YouGov surveyed 2,573 people about asylum issues and how they were covered in the media. Asked which words and phrases the media use most often when referring to asylum seekers and refugees, the two most popular replies were overwhelmingly negative illegal immigrant, mentioned by almost two thirds of those surveyed (65 per cent), and scroungers, suggested by 29 per cent. Economic migrant was picked out by 26 per cent of people. Words and phrases that put refugees and asylum seekers in a different light included persecuted, given by 14 per cent, and positive contribution, given by only 4 per cent. The implication that press reports routinely make a link between those seeking asylum and illegal or economic immigration has been demonstrated elsewhere in our research. The results also showed that:

People were also asked questions about the British asylum system. The results showed that:

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60 per cent thought asylum was a basic human right, but 30 per cent disagreed 43 per cent said the UK should no longer offer asylum although 46 per cent disagreed only 15 per cent said the UK asylum system is efficient and fair.

Focus groups
Glasgow Media Group also held four focus groups where black and Asian men and women discussed refugee and asylum issues, refugees and asylum seekers in the media, and how their lives had been directly affected by coverage of the issues. Some group members showed hostility to refugees and asylum seekers, suggesting that not all were honest about their asylum claims and that they put pressure on public services like transport and housing. One group member said these people were taking jobs, which made it harder for others in the country to find work. Group members believed refugees took priority on social housing waiting lists, although there was no evidence given for this: They get help in this country, you pay for their help but you cant get help, you are told youre not priority enough to get a house. Like the media research, the focus groups revealed common misunderstandings about refugees and asylum seekers. One man taking part in the focus group linked a huge influx of asylum seekers in his area to a rise in crime but later said the people he was talking about were from countries in the EU, which means they could not have been claiming asylum. Asked why he thought of these people as refugees, he said it was because they were trying to get onto the benefit ladder. Another group member said she thought of people as refugees because of how they behaved hanging around in big gangs and on street corners. Media coverage of refugees and asylum seekers was seen as universally negative. One participant highlighted the role the media plays in shaping peoples opinions: The media is making us more aware of these people and who is being allowed in the country. When the media is pointing out there is X amount of people from X amount of countries you start to notice it around you. Some group members were supportive of refugees and asylum seekers. One said their achievements

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72 per cent of people surveyed thought newspaper reporting about refugees and asylum seekers was negative (by comparison, just 19 per cent felt the same concerning press reports about nurses) a clear majority of broadsheet readers (including 53 per cent of Times readers and 70 per cent of Guardian readers) thought newspaper reporting about refugees and asylum seekers was inaccurate tabloid and middle market readers were more likely to say the coverage was accurate (including 74 per cent of Daily Star readers and 47 per cent of Express readers) similarly, broadsheet readers were likely to respond that press treatment of refugees and asylum seekers was unfair, with tabloid and middle market readers suggesting the opposite 83 per cent of people surveyed said journalists are often put under pressure by editors and proprietors to bend the truth the same number said commercial pressures meant newspapers would avoid covering stories the public doesnt want to hear 78 per cent said journalists need a code of ethics on how to report and represent different groups in a fair and accurate way, with strong penalties if it is broken 94 per cent thought journalists had a responsibility to report the truth at all times 88 per cent thought newspaper owners placed more importance on selling papers than providing information to the public.

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were ignored by the media, and another said that his own experiences of meeting asylum seekers and refugees and hearing the hardship they had suffered was not reflected in media coverage: The media doesnt throw in our faces that this is what this asylum seeker has done, or a group of them have done, which is a positive aspect. You dont see that side of it. Another gave an example of a familys Afghan nationality being used to slant a story about their housing benefits, even though it was not relevant, while another said the media plays on racial fears and tensions in society: The media play on bias and make it worse to stir it up because thats how they make headlines, thats making things racially worse. They know what they are doing and the government knows what they are doing, but the government is doing nothing to stop it. Where is the watchdog on this? Where is a media watchdog? Group members also said they were viewed with fear and suspicion because of the medias reporting of asylum issues, as other people could suspect them of being asylum seekers too. One member said he felt pressured to speak with a stronger British accent, and others reported being treated like a criminal or stopped by the police for no reason:

Never before did people like us get questioned, we wouldnt get stopped on the road but now your car gets stopped and we are asked what are you doing out at this time of the night? As before, group members sometimes assumed asylum seekers to be people lying or behaving badly. One said: How can you tell which one of us is an asylum seeker and which ones are genuinely here?

Summary
This research shows media coverage of refugees and asylum seekers is too often negative and misleading. Thats why the Red Cross is calling for the new press regulator to:

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stop irrelevant references to immigration status appearing in negative stories give the Red Cross and others the chance to speak up in defence of refugees and asylum seekers actively monitor standards crack down on inaccurate terms like bogus and illegal asylum seeker.

These simple measures would be a first step towards a better public understanding and a fairer deal for refugees and asylum seekers.

For more information visit redcross.org.uk or call 020 7877 7557


Photography Claudia Janke