The Press Complaints Commission has urged journalists not to use inaccurate terms when writing about asylum seekers.
Satchwell: ‘useful’ PCC guidance
In a guidance note issued this week, the PCC said the term “illegal asylum seeker” should be avoided.
A PCC spokesman said: “An asylum seeker is someone currently seeking refugee status or humanitarian protection; there can be no such thing in law as an illegal asylum seeker. “A refugee is someone who has fled their country in fear of their life and may have been granted asylum under the 1951 Refugee Convention. “An asylum seeker can only become an illegal immigrant if he or she remains in the UK after having failed to respond to a removal notice.”
The note was issued in response to an increasing number of complaints to the PCC about coverage of refugees and asylum seekers.
In particular, there was a complaint from the Refugee Council about an Evening Standard story of September 2002 which referred to a refugee family as “illegal asylum seekers”.
The complaint, made under clause 1 of the Editors’ Code of Practice which concerns accuracy, was resolved after the Standard published a letter from the Refugee Council.
Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “Quite rightly it reminds editors to think twice about how they report and about how they handle reports. It’s crucially important to get these issues right because too often the media is blamed for stoking fires where it is simply a matter of taking extra care with language and terminology.
“Criticism of the media can create a smokescreen – the media coverage becomes the argument rather than the fundamental concerns of the public.”
The PCC guidance note has also reminded editors that pejorative or irrelevant reference to a person’s race, religion or nationality is prohibited under clause 13 of the code.
The note states: “The commission has underlined the danger that inaccurate, misleading or distorted reporting may generate an atmosphere of fear and hostility that is not borne out by the facts.”
Refugee Council deputy chief executive Margaret Lally said the PCC guidance was an important step forward in striking the right balance in the case of asylum seekers.
By Dominic Ponsford