Bad news for refugeesThe Glasgow Media Group’s latest book, Bad News for Refugees, by Greg Philo, Emma Briant and Pauline Donald is a political, economic and environmental look at how migrants have been stigmatised in political rhetoric and media coverage. “This is an enormously important book that documents with meticulous scholarship the way in which immigrants have been stigmatised by the British media. It offers a compelling analysis of what is omitted from media accounts, which voices are left unheard, how simplifications and stereotypes are generated, and the consequences of this prejudiced reporting for immigrant communities who feel themselves to be under constant attack.”

Professor James Curran, Goldsmiths, University of London Greg Philo was recently featured in the Guardian, writing about the government’s attempt at tackling ‘illegal immigrants’ with its ‘go home or face arrest’ van. He poses us two questions about the matter: “Why are the vans crowd-pleasers in the first place? Why is there such hostility? One of several answers: the media. ‘Here, the media is at least partially to blame. Coverage of migration, asylum and refugees is often partial, inaccurate and hysterical – as in the tone of this headline from the Daily Express: “UK message to migrants: you are not wanted” (6 June 2011). Governments do not simply respond to such coverage, they also promote it.

In 2008, it was reported that the Home Office had paid £400,000 to fund the series UK Border Force for Sky television.’ He goes on to talk about some startling confessions from anonymous journalists: ‘The overwhelming thrust of media coverage, especially in the conservative press, has been negative and jumbles together migrants and asylum seekers who have the legal right to claim asylum. A journalist from the Daily Star described to us these news values: “There is nothing better than the Muslim asylum seeker, that’s sort of jackpot I suppose: all social ills can be traced to immigrants and asylum seekers flooding into this country.” Another from a broadsheet described how young, inexperienced reporters would be pressured “to put their conscience aside and go and monster an asylum seeker”.

The resulting coverage becomes part of the everyday language of our society, and when we asked our focus group members to think up typical headlines, they readily provided us with examples such as “Migrants, how can we cope?”, “Britain getting flooded”, “Britain being invaded”, “Free homes”, “Crime rate increases: asylum”.’ You can read the article at its original source here.

He also wrote this letter in the Guardian(13 August) explaining the social and economic dynamics which underpin the key movements of people, wealth and capital in our world: ‘Two stories illustrate central dynamics of our time – the climate of fear generated around migration and the rise in house prices ('Go home' campaign denounced by human rights groups, Buy-to-let fuels property boom, both 9 August). The house price rise, especially in London, is caused partly by the international movement of money as the wealthy seek to capitalise on speculative investment. At the same time those with access to money can borrow more and invest in buy-to-let properties, to profit from those who must rent. So this system works to move capital to where it will make more and to divide those who have it from those who don't. Wealth accumulates in fewer hands and and its movement produces rapid, uneven developments. Writ large, that is the story of our world, and the free flow of capital is followed inevitably by the flow of labour, as people move from areas of forced decline to wherever there is a prospect of work.

Employers benefit from cheaper labour but the migrants are blamed for displacing unskilled workers and competing for scarce resources in housing and health. To reverse these processes requires economic planning and wealth taxes to put accumulated private capital back towards social use; in the UK the £4.5 trillion owned by the top 10% could pay off the national debt four times or finance re-skilling, infrastructure, green technology and much else. It also requires politicians and media to stop blaming the migrants, refugees and other victims of the system, and to look instead at how to rebuild our world so it is more use to all who have to live in it.’

The conclusion which the Group reaches is: ‘In the end the combination of hostile media coverage and “tough” government policies is counterproductive. They produce fear, attacks upon individuals, depression, anxiety and suicide. Refugees are driven underground, and there is little room for serious discussion about the huge benefits that migration has actually brought to our country. In the redress of such issues, press regulation might help. But the problem is deeper in that there is a complex interaction between media accounts, government actions and public attitudes. We must go beyond simply criticising such coverage and argue for a humane and rational approach to the issues of migration, refuge and asylum. We must demand accuracy and balance in media reporting, but also humanity in public life and political policy and the right of the stigmatised and excluded to be heard’


Video: Bad News for Refugees book launch