By Michelle Gribbon
A study out last week calls on journalists to include more direct quotes from migrants when reporting on migration, claiming that:
“quotations are important… because they highlight whether an individual has exerted an influence on the way in which the story has been shaped by the journalist.” But its call for balanced reporting assumes that all reporting is actually accurate in the first place.
The report Victims and Villains: Migrant voices in the British media, published by the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University, analysed 648 migration-related stories in tabloid and broadsheet newspapers published from January to May 2015, when it was widely anticipated that migration would be a particularly salient issue to the outcome of the British General Election.
It found that 85% of the articles from the sample had no migrant voices or experiences referenced at all and this rose to 95% where migrants were represented as a threat. Nearly half (46%) of all stories, the researchers found, could be described as framing migration as a threat to British society and the economy, by positioning migrants as ‘villains’. These stories argued that migration and migrants were a problem to be stopped or reduced in order to protect life in Britain from any negative impact.
This is hardly surprising to some commentators today responding to a new You Gov poll which supports some of the report’s conclusions. The You Gov poll found that British people are more likely to say their media has a right-wing bias including on the reporting of immigraton. 34% of think the British press is too negative about immigration.
Last week’s study showed that 27% of the articles from The Independent referenced a ‘migrant perspective,’ rising to 33% in the case of the Daily Mirror. By contrast, 97% of the articles from The Sun failed to provide a migrant perspective.
Where politicians were quoted in articles, the emphasis was normally on the number of migrants coming to the UK, with little context or detail beyond the statistics. The “numbers game” was the focus of 13% of the articles that were analysed.
Whilst the report recommends a more balanced approach to reporting it does not specifically refer to the accuracy of coverage. Hacked Off has found a persistent pattern of distortion and mis-representation of statistics whilst monitoring migrant stories. After a year-long inquiry into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press, Lord Justice Leveson was very clear on what had to be done.
One of his suggestions was that a new independent and effective self-regulator should consider extending the Standards Code’s existing ban on discrimination and prejudice against individuals to discrimination and prejudice against groups. The newspaper industry’s toothless regulator IPSO has failed to do this, which is hardly a surprise since its independent code committee is made up almost entirely of editors and is chaired by Paul Dacre.
One particularly contentious article from the General Election period, shows why such an extension to the code is needed. A month before the election in May, Sun columnist Katie Hopkins wrote an opinion piece Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants referring to a “plague of feral humans” and likening migrants to “cockroaches”. This even prompted a complaint to the police from the Society of Black Lawyers and a public denunciation from the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein comparing the coverage to rhetoric used in the Rwandan genocide or Nazi era media. But IPSO’s Editors Code was found wanting. There was nothing in it to cover this and in fact, IPSO reportedly rejected more than 400 complaints about the article being discriminatory on the grounds that
“Clause 12 of the Editors Code is designed to protect identified individuals…and does not apply to groups or categories of people.”
If an individual had been called a cockroach that individual could have brought a claim; but referring to a group as ‘cockroaches’ means that the Sun was off the hook.
Leveson was as clear as he could be on this issue, given it was not his role to re-write the code – instead, it is for a fair regulator to consider extending the Standards Code clause on discrimination to groups. IPSO, and the Industry-only body the RFC which runs the Code Committee has not even considered the matter, let alone asked the public.
“Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code explicitly, and in my view rightly, recognises the right of a free press to be partisan; strong, even very strong, opinions can legitimately influence the choice of story, placement of story and angle from which a story is reported. But that must not lead to fabrication, or deliberate or careless misrepresentation of facts. Particularly in the context of reporting on issues of political interest, the press have a responsibility to ensure that the public are accurately informed so that they can engage in the democratic process. The evidence of inaccurate and misleading reporting on political issues is therefore of concern.”
Hacked Off has repeatedly called on the so-called “tough new regulator” IPSO to tackle systemic inaccuracy in reporting on migrants.
Whilst the report out this week highlights the ‘framing’ of the debate, highlighting the significant number of reports that deal with the ‘numbers game’, we have consistently highlighted how these numbers are often just completely wrong.
In our report ‘The Failure of IPSO” we highlighted the contrast between the Daily Mail’s super-size front page headline “4 in 5 New Nurses on NHS Wards are Foreign” with the subsequent small correction, tucked away at the bottom of page two, which was at pains to hide the gravity of the error that the real figure was only ‘1 in 5’.
Another bold front-page claim by that paper screamed “7 in 10 Calais Migrants get into UK” was later ‘corrected’, but the so-called correction effectively tried to repeat the original inaccuracy, obfuscating the original statement from the Kent Chief Constable that French colleagues could not ascertain where these migrants were going.
The Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations report provides a useful insight on how the public debate on migration has been framed. The report’s authors say that:
“Change will require all of those with an interest in developing a more balanced migration debate to critically reflect on their role in the shaping the ways in which migration is understood and how they engage with, and frame, the voices and experiences of migrants within that debate. This includes political leaders, journalists and those working on the ground to support migrants to tell their stories and to engage the media – and others – to hear what they have to say.”
Balanced reporting and better engagement with migrants is needed but change will not happen without an independent and effective system of press self-regulation.