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Welcome or Over Reaction? Refugees and Asylum Seekers in the Welsh Media


Researcher: Tammy Speers (Now Boyce)

Funder: Oxfam

Executive Summary

The Press Complaints Commission cautioned newspaper editors in 1999 that when writing about asylum seekers and refugees there is 'the danger that inaccurate and misleading reporting may generate an atmosphere of fear and hostility which is not borne out by the facts'.

This research examines how the Welsh local media have covered issues concerning refugees and asylum seekers from April 2000 to the end of that year. The sample analysed consists of relevant newspaper articles in the English-language press in Wales as well as some radio and television pieces that appeared between August and December.

Key Findings

  • The Welsh press covers the issue of asylum seekers without the hostility or hyperbole that can be seen in the UK-wide national media. However, the debate around asylum seekers and refugees is primarily framed as an 'official' issue. Most coverage examines how government representatives are 'managing' asylum seekers and refugees and how the police are preparing for their arrival, instead of reporting on conditions in countries asylum seekers are fleeing or the experiences they have had.
  • 195 articles appeared between April and December. With approximately 200 asylum seekers either dispersed or already living in Wales in the period covered (although more had been expected), this translates into 1 article per asylum seeker. The majority of the articles discuss asylum seekers in terms of 'costs' and 'numbers' and there is little, if any, attention paid to their experiences in their home countries and the contribution they can make to society in the UK. This is particularly true for newspapers based outside of Cardiff and Newport.
  • Asylum seekers and refugees are given little opportunity to voice their own views or tell their histories as seen in the scant use of refugees and asylum seekers as sources. Similarly they are absent from images in newspapers. Instead, the media use quotes and photographs of already powerful groups, primarily government officials.
  • An active Local Authority Public Relations Department improves coverage. It is evident that in areas where Local Council Public Relations departments have taken the initiative coverage of asylum seeker issues, on the whole, is more accurate and thoughtful.
  • Communication processes need to be improved to provide residents, journalists, local government officials and Welsh Assembly Members with correct information concerning the dispersal of asylum seekers to Wales.

Main Recommendations

Media

  • Tell readers why refugees and asylum seekers are coming to Britain, and to Wales.
  • Use a variety of sources. Don’t over-depend on official sources, seek out the voice of refugees, refugee community groups and non-governmental organisations that work with refugees.
  • Be sensitive to the fears of asylum seekers and refugees about the possible impact on their case of talking openly, and make it easy for them to tell their stories confidentially.
  • Use realistic images of refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Continue to set a local agenda but remember that refugees are a global issue, make connections outside of your area, see the wider picture of refugees around the world.

The Home Office

  • Discuss issues concerning asylum seekers and refugees in a more neutral manner. Remember the All-Party Agreement which states: “To ensure that in any dealings with the public no words or actions are used which may stir up racial or religious hatred, or lead to prejudice on grounds of race, nationality or religion.”

Welsh Assembly Members, Local Government Members, Police and Officials

  • Use supportive language to demonstrate that using responsible language is a powerful tool when discussing asylum seekers and refugees.
  • Use your local newspaper to answer citizens’ questions about the dispersal process about asylum seekers and refugees.

Community Groups and Non-governmental organisations

  • Work proactively with your local media, arrange to meet local journalists and explain your work. Send press releases about all events or issues you address.