New book: Bad News for Refugees

'Bad News for Refugees' is out on PlutoPress

A new book reveals just how big an impact negative press has to the lives of asylum seekers and refugees. The question is: What can we do to change this?

Blog by Jack Tannock, Media Volunteer

‘Bad News for Refugees’ is the title of a new book by Greg Philo, Emma Briant and Pauline Donald of the Glasgow Media Group.

The book looks at media reporting on refugees and related issues of Asylum and migration in general across the UK and focuses on how harmful and misleading negative coverage of these topics can be.

It is one of the most interesting and forthright books on the subject released to date.

Now, what does that have to do with our work at Scottish Refugee Council?

The impact of negative media

One of the main points of ‘Bad News for Refugees’ is that negative media coverage makes life worse for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the UK.

The use of misleading terms such as ‘illegal immigrants’ or ‘asylum cheats’ and divisive phrases such as ‘flood’, ‘influx’ or ‘hordes’ can reinforce negative stereotypes about refugees, and it contributes to a public perception that this country is ‘taking more than its fair share’ of the world’s refugees (when in reality we take only a tiny minority) or being overrun by foreigners. This in turn leads politicians to pass increasingly draconian laws in the belief that they are placating a public who is totally opposed to helping those who come to this country to escape the most desperate situations.

This has often been the case in our experience at the Scottish Refugee Council where we regularly encounter such problems and the book gives many shocking examples backed up both by statistics and by individual stories.  In addition, many stories emerge in the book from news rooms about pressure being put on journalists to write negative stories about asylum seekers, which wilfully ignore key facts in order to better fit a narrative of criminality.

What we do

The situation in Scotland has improved over the years and is, we believe, better now than it perhaps is elsewhere. We like to believe that our work has contributed to that in a variety of ways.

At Scottish Refugee Council we do not to see journalists and the press as the enemy.

While we do strongly oppose biased and untruthful reporting on refugees and asylum seekers we feel that it is always better to reinforce the positive rather than punish the negative.

We try as often as possible to give journalists favourable stories to write about asylum seekers and praise and highlight those who do.

One important aspect of our work to improve media attitudes is our annual Refugee Week Scotland Media Awards. At these ceremonies we reward and salute those within the media who make a positive and encouraging contribution to the discussion on refugee issues.

Room for improvement

However, in spite of the progress we have made there is, as you might imagine, still room for much improvement. There are still a lot of myths being peddled and damaging expressions being used by a number of mainstream media outlets (and often by politicians as well). Obviously this has to change. Scapegoating and scaremongering will only serve to further stigmatise and isolate a group of people who have already suffered much in their lives.

One of the most important improvements that the book calls for is for the voices of the refugees themselves to be heard. Far too many newspapers (even more sympathetic ones) will publish stories on refugees without speaking to the refugees themselves.

Another issue worth considering is the current press reforms and the new Royal Charter. It is too early to say and many important questions do remain unanswered, but we must hope that these developments do improve the situation.

Lastly, Scottish Refugee Council calls upon you to take action: Have you seen inaccurate or misleading reporting on refugees or asylum seekers? If so, please bring it to our attention or feel free make a complaint yourself.

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