We understand that immigration is a live topic at the moment, it’s an issue which is having an effect in shaping Britain’s communities, UKIP is gaining a significant percentage of the vote on an anti-immigration ticket and the other political parties appear to be trying to compete by placing the blame for many societal ills on immigrant communities.
Taking this into consideration, we understand why this is a subject that you would be covering regularly on the pages of your newspapers. However, we are very concerned by the way in which many of you have chosen to stoke people’s fears about immigration. Rather than imparting facts and encouraging reasoned debate, this sensationalist, inaccurate and hateful reporting has the effect of compounding your readers’ concerns.
We understand that it’s a difficult time to be a newspaper editor with targets to meet and we understand that sales figures for newspapers have never fallen as rapidly as they currently are. We also understand that people are increasingly turning to the internet for free information and this means that you need those attention grabbing headlines more than ever before. We are aware that good news doesn’t sell. There is a reason why happy news stories only ever feature at the end of regional news broadcasts. In addition to this, many people who buy your publications want their information to be succinct, they don’t want to sift through pages of evidence and complex arguments.
The problem we have is that what you write in your newspapers is not just tomorrow’s fish & chip paper, it has a real impact on people’s everyday lives. Inaccurate and hateful reporting about immigrants encourages racism, xenophobia and prejudice, and it serves to create resentment and division within communities.
A significant proportion of the work we do involves helping schools, colleges and universities to tackle discrimination and create inclusive environments for their students. When asked what the term immigrant means, young people regularly reply that an immigrant is someone who “sneaks into the country” or is “one of those people who hide under lorries and causes trouble”. It’s hardly a coincidence that a recent study by the Migration Observatory has found that ‘illegal’ is the most common descriptor for immigrants in the press.
Research by IPSOS Mori has shown that concern about immigration is not evenly spread throughout England. Negativity towards immigration is higher in the North East and the South West, the areas which have experienced the fewest migrants, which implies that in many cases, fears about immigration are not coming from people’s lived experience, but from the stories that they are reading in publications such as yours.
Distorted views on immigration can have a very negative impact on community relations and result in racist attacks. There were over 47,000 reported racist incidents in England and Wales in 2011/2012 and as racist incidents are vastly underreported, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If we look at just a few examples in 2013: in February a Polish mother was forced to flee her house in Bradford with her two young children after repeated attacks and abuse, In April two Polish men were injured in a racist attack in Jedburgh, in October a British Chinese girl was badly beaten in Exeter and earlier this month a group of British Indian men were beaten in a racially motivated attack in Chigwell.
The British media is supposedly a great institution that cares about British people. If this is true then it is vital to consider the legacy and immediate impact of putting out misinformation and creating fear and resentment. World views are constructed through literature and people have faith in big institutions to report the truth. So yes, let’s talk about immigration, but let’s underpin our discussions with evidence. Let’s talk about how immigration brings great advantages to the UK; immigrants meet needs in the labour market, bring knowledge and skills and buy goods and services, as well as feeding into the great cultural mix that is 21st Century Britain.
We live in a globalised world, which means that we all have increased opportunities to travel and work all over the globe. Turning the immigration figures on their head, a Home Office report into emigration from the UK, published in November 2012 revealed that an estimated 4.7 million British born people live abroad. They too are migrants.
A recent EU study has found that claims of benefit tourism are hugely overblown, with jobless migrants making up less than 1% of the total EU population. A study published this month by University College London found that recent migrants have contributed significantly to the UK, paying 34% in taxes than they have consumed in benefits. In addition, research published in March 2013 showed that halting immigration would cost the UK £18bn in five years.
This information may not sell as many newspapers as a ‘crusade’ against migrants or a ‘migration meltdown’, but there are many other topics which will capture people’s attention that will not create misplaced fear and anger and lead to divisions and violence between communities.
I hope that you have found this letter helpful, if you would like any further help and support with regards to responsible and factual reporting on these issues, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Sarah Soyei and Kate Hollinshead