'Overall improvement' in asylum coverage

The introduction of new Press Complaints Commission guidance has led to “an overall improvement”

in press coverage of asylum issues, according to a new report.

Research carried out by the Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees (ICAR), and funded by the Home Office Immigration and Nationality Directorate, monitored 50 newspapers including nationals, Sundays and the higher circulation regionals. Eight faith and minority papers were also included in the analysis, which was conducted between January and March 2005.

While the treatment of asylum was not found to be hostile, political coverage was deemed to be “unbalanced” with an overemphasis on the idea of “asylum chaos”.

Reporting which met the highest standard was said to be eluding the widest audience. The Guardian, Manchester Evening News and the weekly Asian newspaper Eastern Eye were highlighted as examples of best practice journalism for their informative, balanced content and for promoting “positive images” of asylum seekers.

Over 2,000 articles were assessed for inaccurate terminology such as “illegal asylum seekers” (a term outlawed by the PCC in 2003) and the report states that some of the 18 editors interviewed were unclear about the distinction between asylum and immigration.

The report advises the PCC to modify and reissue its editorial guidance on asylum reporting annually and to warn journalists against interchangeable use of the terms asylum seeker, migrant, immigrant and refugee.

Editors are urged to stimulate informed debate by publishing articles that go beyond the “narrow and immediate political debate on asylum policy”. It is also suggested that newspapers focus more on the “human face” of asylum issues.

Co-author of the report Dr Roger Grimshaw said: “Too often Fleet St fails to inform the public.”

He added: “Portraying the reality of individual lives means going beyond the boundaries of Westminster.”

The full text of the report can be viewed at www.icar.org.uk

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