Journalists should make sure that their coverage of refugees and asylum seekers is fair, after a poll found that 72 per cent of the public believe that newspaper reporting about these groups is negative.
The YouGov survey, commissioned by the British Red Cross, found that the words people most associate with media coverage of refugees and asylum seekers are 'illegal immigrants' (65%) and 'scroungers' (28%).
Lena Calvert, NUJ equality officer,
said: "The NUJ agrees with the British Red Cross that there must be fair media coverage of refugees and asylum seekers. The NUJ has always insisted that journalists should be careful not to promote negative stereotypes and our race guidelines here
say that offensive terms such as "bogus asylum seeker" or "scroungers" should not be used. We believe that journalists have a responsibility to report fairly and it is clear from the British Red Cross survey that a majority of the UK public support that view. "
Chris Frost, head of the NUJ's Ethics Council, said that the treatment of asylum seekers by several national papers is a weakness of the present system of press regulation. He said: "We are hoping that Lord Justice Leveson will recommend regulation that will keep our tradition of a free press, but will oblige the press to answer their critics such as the British Red Cross and provide suitable guidance to newspapers in the form of a code of practice that can be enforced when necessary."
Adrian Thomas, British Red Cross head of external relations said: "Replace 'refugee' with the words 'black' or 'Jewish' in some recent newspaper headlines and it becomes clear that this group is discriminated against. We applaud journalists who report fairly about asylum seekers and refugees, but are gravely concerned about some of the negative reporting that ignores existing guidance."
The NUJ is calling for tougher press regulation with a new body which will be able to hear third-party complaints. This will allow organisations such as the British Red Cross to raise complaints on behalf of asylum seekers and refugees. The body should also have the power to mount its own investigations into press standards.
The British Red Cross document Dispatches contains findings from the Glasgow Media Group's analysis of 100 stories that appeared in the British media tackling asylum issues or asylum alongside economic migration. The study examined 34 stories from May 2006 and 66 from June 2011. They appeared on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 news, as well as in The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Express, The Mirror, The Times, The Telegraph and The Guardian.
It said: "In the 2011 stories, even though annual asylum applications had been sustained at a level of 25,932 or below for seven years, the same themes were still strong and there was extra emphasis on the 'burden' to the tax-payer. Fifty-four stories (82 per cent) portrayed asylum seekers as undeserving migrants." (The full report can be read here
For more information on the report visit the British Red Cross here
or call 020 7877 7557
Why an ethical press needs trade unions, read here