Immigration dominates the front pages of our tabloid newspapers. But has the media created a storm of fear and prejudice or are they merely reflecting the prejudices of their readers.

Charities and non-government organisations have traditionally concentrated on the ‘coal face’ of immigration by supporting families and individuals as they fight UKBA and the Home Office for their rights to live and work in the UK. 

But there is increasing concern that legal and policy work is undermined at every turn because politicians remain convinced that appearing “soft” on immigration will lose votes at elections.

The Conservative led coalition is about to implement a cap on economic migrants from outside the UK despite opposition from industry and human rights organisations. The Lib Dems say privately that their proposal to regularise migrants already in the UK lost them 10 percent of the vote.

But the strange thing is, one in four people living in London is a migrant. Surely supporting such a large constituency should win votes and elections, not lose them.

The I Love Migrants campaign was launched to communicate the positives of migration during the weeks and months before the election. We collated research which suggests migrants give much more to society than they ‘take out’.

The ippr simultaneously published primary research which showed that in areas of high migration, where people meet and live beside migrants, the resentment and fear of migration was much lower. So who was telling people who don’t personally know migrants that they were bad people?

The media had a highly significant and almost wholly invidious role in the immigration debate. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was described by the Daily Mail as having less “British blood” than his election rivals.

This tide of anti-migration reporting has continued ever since with the Telegraph running the headline “Bogus marriage immigrants vanish”, the Daily Mail screeching “Immigrants escape deportation as police fear being called racist” and the Daily Star complaining: Immigration appeals won after officials fail to turn up”.

The new Coalition Government could find itself at the receiving end of this virile media attack: if the immigration cap fails to deliver immediate results the Daily Mail and the Daily Express could turn on the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

Illegal migrant

And yet the Government continues to support the media attack on migration in a very direct way. As Jan Brulc at the Migrant Rights Network has pointed out, the UK Border Agency deliberately spins press releases to satisfy the appetites of The Sun and The Daily Mail.

Headlines on Government-issued press releases include: “Bogus dentist lied through his teeth to worh in the UK”; Officers discover something fishy in Tring” and “Double takeaway of illegal workers from Mildenhall KFC”.

Indeed, when a migrant was so petrified of UKBA officials and the threat of deportation that he ran into the sea, the press office gleefully announced: “Illegal migrant attempt to skip town sunk by UK Border Agency.”

As Jan writes on the MRN blog: “It would seem that UK Border Agency has stepped up their attempts to portray migrants as unwanted cheats and criminals.” Surely civil servants should not be producing such politically biased reports of Government enforcement.

Indeed, The Daily Mail reported in 2008 that the previous Government, under Labour, has paid £400,000 to Sky to produce a programme showing the UK Border Agency at work – which would include footage of migrants being forcefully detained before deportation.

So, what can be done? The charity JCWI is now discussing the best way forward in dealing with the media and considering launching a campaign under the existing banner of “I Love Migrants”.

This campaign could begin with a policy and campaigns analysis, looking at existing legislation around race relations. Moreover, we will examine existing codes of conduct and working practices for journalists across the media.

The Press Complaints Commission code of conduct for editors has specific rules aimed at preventing racism but as yet contains no such advice preventing newspapers describing a “swamp” of migrants or describing them as undeliverable.

The National Union of Journalists in the UK does urge its own members to report responsibly about migration, but this advice needs to be more focused and precise when dealing with migration generally, rather than asylum seekers specifically.

At the same time, there is an urgent need for migration charities and NGOs to crystallise clear messages and work together to communicate these both to and through newspapers and broadcasters. We need rapid rebuttal.

But we need to go several stages further. We need to shame editors who perpetrate the worst racism against migrants. We need to initiate letter writing campaigns so readers complain when writers attack migrants. And we need politicians to condemn publicly the most outrageous lies about migrants.

But the I Love Migrants campaign is currently too small, and the JCWI itself too under resourced, to achieve these objectives. This is why they should be speaking with fellow migrant organisations and other interested parties to discuss devising a shared initiative to being regain fairness and accuracy from the newspapers and programmes we buy, read and watch.

The greatest irony is that the people who own and run newspapers in Britain are often foreign born or living abroad themselves. Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Sun and Sky news, is Australian while Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, lives much of his days in France.

Visit this site