Do British Newspapers Play a Negative Role Covering Immigrants’ Stories?

Published: 3 October

Country: UK

By Lorena Martínez

list-of-London-newspapersArticles about immigration have appeared more often in the UK newspapers this year, particularly since curbing immigration became a centrepiece of the government’s policy. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated that “net migration needs to come down radically from hundreds of thousands a year, to just tens of thousands”.

Some examples of controversial media coverage of immigration are when the government sent two advertising vans to the streets of London with the message “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest” and the media coverage of thousands of Bulgarians and Romanians coming to Britain next year, when the country will lift its labour market restrictions.

In the first case, the majority of British newspapers published the opinion of politicians, excluding what immigrant communities have to say about the government´s campaign. In the second case, the newspapers, in particular tabloids, speculated about the number of Bulgarians and Romanians coming to the UK from thousands to millions and focussed on the risk for the British labour market.

The negative aspects of immigration have been overemphasised over the years, creating fear between immigrants and UK nationals. As the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (NAOC) states in a seminar called ´Covering Migration: Challenges Met and Unmet’, during economic crisis “migration is often perceived as a threat to stability, prosperity. (…) Immigrants are used as scapegoats and stigmatized”.

The organisation Migrant Voice highlights the negative media coverage. “We are quite worried about the media coverage on migration. We do not think it is balanced, accurate. There is so much misinformation, especially in tabloid media. In general, mainstream media does not have enough migrant voices in it”, explains Anne Stoltenberg, Project Development Manager at the organisation.

One of Migrant Voice’s projects is the publication of a newspaper with news and stories from and about migrants across the UK in order to guarantee that their voices are included in the press.

UNAOC affirmed that media can have a positive influence on enhancing pluralistic societies but also a negative one when supporting myths, stereotypes, and prejudices, which can lead to reinforcing a climate of tension.

“One of the recommendations for the media is to try and genuinely illuminate issues, rather than use statistics to sensationalise,” explains Hetan Shah, Executive Director of the Royal Statistical Society. The British organization launched a survey that showed how wrong public opinion can be on key social issues such as immigration. The public think that 31% of the population are immigrants, when the official figures are 13%.

Migrant Voices tries to avoid numbers and focusses on individual stories such as the one of Ognyian Stanchev, who was born in Razgrad, Bulgaria, and has lived in the UK since 2007, working as a support officer for young people.

Looking to the recent negative media coverage on immigration in the UK, Ognyian points out that many immigrants like him need to be given a chance to contribute to change the distorted image and the prejudices and stereotypes that people have against Bulgarians.