Desmond defiant after 'race attack' resolution

 Express Newspapers owner Richard Desmond has refused to back down in the face of anger among some of his journalists at what they described as "a sustained campaign against asylum seekers in the Daily Express" and whipping up race hatred.

Last week the Express and Star NUJ chapel had a debate fuelled by the concern of some members at the run of front pages splashing what they claimed were anti-asylum seeker stories with headlines such as, "Asylum invasion: judges to rule" and, "Asylum: we’re being invaded".

Desmond called their views "an extraordinary attempt at censorship by a tiny minority of NUJ members".

A spokesman for Desmond said: "It was totally the editor’s decision to go on these stories. It was not on any agenda of Desmond’s.

"Some of the pieces are quite pro asylum seekers. There has been a lot of hysteria about it."

The meeting had passed a resolution stating it believed that "no journalist should be prevailed upon to do anything that breaches the NUJ Code of Conduct". The resolution added: "We find this surprising when the proprietor himself is Jewish and should understand the problems of racism which is arguably becoming endemic in British society.

"This chapel believes the media has an important role to play in a democratic society and should not distort or whip up confrontational racist hatred in pursuit of increased circulation."

It said it would send Desmond a copy of the NUJ Code of Conduct.

Desmond claimed there were 29 journalists at the meeting and only 16 had passed the resolution, with seven against and six abstentions.

John Foster, general secretary of the NUJ, who attended the meeting, told Press Gazette: "Basically the chapel was expressing its concern at the attack on asylum seekers, which seems to have been part and parcel of seeking increased circulation.

"Given the problems that asylum seekers have had, we felt this was not in the best interest of the Express itself or responsible journalism. It would appear to be a clear breach of the NUJ Code of Conduct, which is accepted both nationally and internationally as having the highest ethical standards in journalism.

"We ask that the company adheres to those basic principles. It is in their interest to encourage journalists to adhere to those principles. What we are talking about is a publisher simply chasing circulation figures with the lowest common denominator."

By Jean Morgan

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