The media portrayal of immigration and the power of language
“Romani’s form one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Europe. They are a diverse group of different communities that might self-indentify as Roma. They are deeply discriminated against throughout Europe and 90% live below the poverty line. The reason why so many travel is that countries often make little effort to integrate them into society.
As part of the Writers Against Racism movement, Show Racism the Red Card spoke to freelance writer and journalist Steve Rose who largely focuses on racism, Islamophobia and the far-right. Steve has written for The Huffington Post and anti-Muslim hate crime specialists Tell Mama as well as regularly blogging about the issues via his own platform - http://stevenplrose.wordpress.com/
In the first part of this interview, Steve discusses the current media portrayal of immigration and its impact on the UK, and focuses on the use of language and tone employed by sections of the country’s media.
What is driving the current media rhetoric around immigration?
“For newspapers, many will simply choose to read what reflects their hopes, fears, and aspirations best. By looking at the Ipos-MORI “most important issues” index, we note that immigration has gone from a marginal concern in 1999 to one of the biggest issues today. Whilst the data is somewhat problematic since it lumps immigration with race relations, it still remains a good yardstick to measure public concern.”
“Historically, tabloids like the Daily Mail and Express have not always been so openly hostile to the idea of immigration. However, there are spikes in opinion polls that make readers very concerned about this topic (e.g. A8/A2 nations gaining EU ascension) or European elections.
“However, in 2013, the press coverage of some was utterly reprehensible and proto-fascist. Why? Scaremongering is probably a good seller and on one level, they are either exaggerating or reflecting a genuine fear in their readership.
“The language of “waves” and “floods” is deliberately emotive and strips migrants of any individuality."
“Other headlines include: “You Pay To Teach Migrants Manners,” “98% demand new ban on EU migrants,” “Britain is full and fed up,” “Slash Benefits For EU Migrants” “We Must Stop Migrant Invasion” “Benefits Britain Here We Come” “Cheeky Beggars” “Draw a Red Line on Immigration or Else”
“The media’s predicted flood never happened because they forgot to mention that most Romanians and Bulgarians had access to labour markets across Europe since 2007.”
“It was farcical to watch politicians and journalists race to airports to find unemployed Romanians when a vast majority of those onboard already live and work in the UK.”
Many of the young people we work with are outraged at how the media can ‘get away with it’. What are the solutions to a more responsible media” e.g. Press complaints commission, stronger powers to prosecute editors etc.
“The PCC was proven to be unfit for purpose especially when the Desmond titles boycotted it. However, the Leveson debate has created quite a divide in the industry as some fear government interference in the Royal Charter whilst others accuse the industry-lead body Independent Press Standards Organisation of being as toothless as the PCC."
“Whatever system takes charge, it will need to convince a sceptical public that those ‘monstered’ by the press have the means of redress. The fundamental cornerstone of any reform is credibility for public and press. Whether either will deliver remains to be seen but something must be better than the old PCC.”
You have spoken out against the media portrayal of Roma communities across Europe – has demonisation crossed the line into racism?
“Romani’s form one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Europe. They are a diverse group of different communities that might self-indentify as Roma. They are deeply discriminated against throughout Europe and 90% live below the poverty line. The reason why so many travel is that countries often make little effort to integrate them into society."
“Why does it boil down to racism? Put it simply, the media are guilty of mythologizing this group into criminals. They are often portrayed as pickpockets and beggars. The community is blamed for the actions of individuals."
“The misuse of stats is one of way of demonising this group. But this isn’t just tabloid behaviour. An episode of BBC Panorama was guilty of this also. The idea of criminal behaviour is reinforced when they suggested (without evidence) that crime in Hendon fell once a Romani camp was shutdown."
“They then cite Met police figures that indicate a causal link between the Roma and crime. However, the figures cited were only for arrests and not convictions. No distinction was made for the audience and many will draw their own conclusions."
“Also, the Express ran stories about Romani teenagers trying to sell a baby to a chip-shop owner in Sheffield. It was investigated by police and they were satisfied that no criminal offence took place. However, this was buried in a later article, but the damage was already done."
“Not to mention the utterly irresponsible behaviour of Labour’s David Blunkett to claim that Romani migration could lead to riots. That quote was then turned into a Daily Star front page that read: "Roma migrant invasion will start UK riots." It goes beyond irresponsibility and into something deeply sinister."
“When not demonised as criminals, some find more inappropriate ways to tarnish them. For example, we had Philippa Roe, Conservative leader of Westminster City Council, claim that Romani were defecating on people’s doorsteps. We see other examples of people claiming that they urinate in plant pots.”
“This reporting demonstrates how anti-Roma racism has become so entrenched in our society. It is deeply troubling.”