Mail and Express deny asylum bias
Stephen Brook, press correspondent
Tuesday January 23, 2007
The Daily Mail and the Daily Express have both denied pressuring their journalists to write inflammatory stories about asylum seekers.
The Daily Express editor, Peter Hill, and the Daily Mail executive managing editor, Robin Esser, were giving evidence to the joint committee on human rights at the houses of parliament.
“I would never put any of my journalists under pressure to write something that they wouldn't want to write. I would never do that,” Mr Hill told the committee.
Mr Esser said: “No journalist on the Daily Mail is ever told to write a story in a particular way.”
Both men said their papers had run many stories on the asylum system, which they said were negative because the system was a disgrace and a shambles.
However, Mr Hill said that pressure of putting a newspaper together meant the Daily Express could do a better job about using advice and guidelines from independent bodies such as the Commission for Racial Equality.
“It's quite difficult, I agree, and I think we should make more effort to do that,” Mr Hill said.
Mr Esser told the joint committee that said that Daily Mail journalists were given a copy of the Press Complaints Commission code that they kept in their wallets.
“But the idea that they are running around looking for inflammatory things to say about asylum seekers is wrong.”
Alan Travis, the home affairs editor of the Guardian, attacked some papers for publishing “manifestly false” stories about asylum seekers.
He also accused newspapers of stirring up tensions with repeated front page stories about immigration.
“In this situation, newspapers must fuel that particular prejudice and fuel that political extremism,” he told the committee.
Mr Travis presented evidence from a Mori poll that showed that Daily Express readers had an exaggerated belief in the number of immigrants in Britain.
Daily Express readers believed that 21% of the population were immigrants, Daily Mail readers thought that 19% of the population were immigrants and Guardian readers thought that 11% of the population were immigrants.
In reality 7% of the population were immigrants, Mr Travis said.
Tim Toulmin, the director of the PCC, said the press watchdog had written to 14 newspaper editors after a recent survey of articles to advise them against using the phrase “illegal asylum seeker”, which was erroneous and inflammatory.
Many regional newspapers had been praised for their coverage of asylum seekers, he said.
“The numbers of complaints against national papers – considering how many articles are published – the number of complaints doesn't reveal any groundswell of concern from people about the national papers.”
Mr Toulmin also gave evidence about the Sun, which was not represented.
It wrote a story headlined “Swan Bake”, stating that asylum seekers were cooking and eating swans, which are the legally property of the Queen and cannot be harmed in any way.
In a clarification printed on page 41, further back in the paper than the original story, The Sun acknowledged that “conjecture” had been used “instead of fact”. However, it did not apologise for the article.
Mr Toulmin said the paper's stance was that its police source for the story would not go on the record to publicly defend it.