The report 'The Treatment of Asylum Seekers' is available in PDF format on the Parliament website. It's a meaty report that I haven't read all the way through - but there is BBC coverage if you're interested, in the story 'Asylum hardships "are deliberate"'.
What I want to focus on, though, is the section of the report that deals with the press - especially the Express and the Mail. It says:
As the editors who gave evidence to us recognise, the right to free speech and the freedom of the press are not absolute, but must be exercised in accordance with the duties and responsibilities of the media. The evidence we received from the PCC was not reassuring. Its existing system is not sufficiently robust to protect asylum seekers and other vulnerable minorities from the adverse effects of unfair and inflammatory media stories. [Emphasis mine].The PCC's own defence is interesting, and shows exactly why the whole complaints process is ineffective, and essentially useless. The PCC says:
“The number of complaints (received by the PCC) does not reveal a huge groundswell of concern about them from people against the national press, given that they can complain about issues to do with accuracy, privacy, intrusion, discrimination about individuals and so on.”Which is the PCC claiming that it's not the quality of complaints it receives about anything, but the quantity. It doesn't matter if the papers produce blatantly false material that gets complained about as long as not too many people complain.
The PCC is also reported as saying:
The PCC believes that the mechanisms in place work effectively. It provided two examples of upheld complaints concerning asylum seekers (issued in 1999 and 2000) which it says “gave an important signal to the whole of the press” and that “it has not been necessary to issue similar rulings for some time”:
“The important thing is that there is a mechanism in place for handling complaints from anybody who is affected by inaccurate or intrusive reporting. Such complaintsin turn help to raise standards generally. In the context of your inquiry, therefore, I believe that the current system fairly and effectively balances the rights of freedom of expression with other rights such as the right to respect for privacy.”
The important thing here is to notice the subtle little insertion of 'complaints from anybody who is affected', as there have been complaints about misleading articles that were wrongly rejected - but they were not from people the PCC deem were 'affected'. Also, the fact that the PCC hasn't issued a ruling for some time is supposed to be evidence of the system working - but this report shows, quite clearly, that it has not been working. And it's probably not working precisely because it has not issued a similar ruling for some time.
Bringing the two together, the Joint Committee Report says:
We are concerned about the negative impact of hostile reporting and in particular the effects that it can have on individual asylum seekers and the potential it has to influence the decision making of officials and Government policy. We are also concerned about the possibility of a link between hostile reporting by the media and physical attacks on asylum seekers. [Emphasis not mine - the Joint Committee wanted to emphasise this paragraph themselves - para 349].It repeats this without the emphasis in its 'Reccommendations' section, before:
We recommend that the Press Complaints Commission should reconsider its position with a view to providing practical guidance on how the profession of journalism should comply with its duties and responsibilities in reporting matters of legitimate public interest and concern. We emphasise that such guidance must not unduly restrict freedom of speech or freedom of the press any more than similar guidance does in the USA. (Paragraph 366)So there we go. Newspapers are guilty of hostile reporting about asylum seekers in such a way that has the potential to influence Government policy. It's official. Of course, it's nothing we don't already know.
The Mail, perhaps in reaction, has sort-of-sympathetic coverage of a Joseph Rowntree Charitable Foundation report into failed asylum seekers living in poor conditions in the 28 March article 'Asylum seekers "living in poverty"'. Of course, it misleadingly calls them asylum seekers after their applications have been refused, and there's a barb in the last word from Joan Ryan (weird dystpoian world again - the Daily Mail have to rely on a Labour minister for a barb about a minority group), but it's sort of a start.
But it's too late. The horse has already bolted. The Mail and Express are bored with asylum seekers now - they're so 2003. The papers moved on to Muslims and the Polish. By the time they've been slapped for that, they'll have moved on to someone else. I reckon it should be the Walloons.*
*Not really. I don't think it should be anyone. I just like the word 'Walloon'.