Nationals put asylum seekers on the agenda

By Jean Morgan

Asylum seekers are now central to the agenda of both Government and newspapers. The strident calls of The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express have put it there.

Strident: The Sun, the Daily Express and the Daily Mail

The whole issue of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants is engendering both backlash and action.

Action has come from Tony Blair, who has announced a series of tough measures on illegal immigrants, and has vowed, if the measures do not work, to pull out of the European Commission on Human Rights.

The backlash comes from readers, politicans and organisations concerned that genuine asylum seekers will suffer from moves against illegal immigrants.

By early this week, the Press Complaints Commission had received 35 wide-ranging complaints, all about The Sun, which is conducting a campaign for its readers to petition Parliament for a harder line on illegal immigrants – 385,000 readers had signed by Wednesday.

On Monday, the Daily Mail was the target of a demonstration which included asylum seeker organisations, organised by one of the oldest refugee groups, the Jewish Socialist Group.

The group claim it was making an “historical link between Holocaust Memorial Day [on Monday] and the Daily Mail’s historic role in supporting fascism.”

The demonstrators – who say they numbered 150, while the Mail claimed there were only 50, outnumbered by the police presence – did not meet anybody from the company or hand in a petition.

One of them, London Euro MP Jean Lambert, said the group is planning further demonstrations at other newspapers.

She thinks it was the first time that there had been an organised response to a situation “where biased and inaccurate reporting is actually putting people’s lives in danger”. Those present felt it was the beginning of “a public fightback for journalists to be accurate in their reporting”.

Lambert, a member of the European Parliament Civil Liberties Committee, is planning to write to the Attorney General to ask him to investigate whether or not press reporting in general conforms with new race hate legislation.

He particularly wants to know whether the arrests after the ricin find in north London contravened the Contempt of Court Act 1981, prejudicing the rights of the suspects to a fair trial.

Jean Morgan

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