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Complainant Name:
Asylum Rights Campaign and others

Clauses Noted: 1, 12

Publication: Daily Mail

Complaint:

Asylum Rights Campaign and others complained that a series of articles in the Daily Mail in March 2000 relating to asylum seekers and begging were published in breach of Clauses 1 (Accuracy) and 13 (Discrimination) of the Code of Practice.

The complaints were not upheld.

The newspaper published a number of articles about asylum seekers who beg with their children. The first article reported the case of a Romanian woman asylum seeker who had been warned by a magistrate not to go begging with her child. The second article concerned a case in which a Romanian woman asylum seeker was found guilty of common assault and of using her child to beg. The third article reported that the police were to be given extra powers to deal with ‘gangs of East European beggars’.

The complainants objected to the fact that the articles identified the women as gypsies. They said that the references to the women’s race were irrelevant to the story and that the reporting was discriminatory and would incite racial hatred.

The newspaper replied that it believed there was an attempt by a ‘small but vociferous minority’ to stifle democratic debate on the issues of false application for asylum to Britain. The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Leader of the Opposition had taken the matter very seriously and the newspaper had received a huge postbag from readers concerned at what they had witnessed. To have ignored their anxieties by effectively censoring debate on such a subject would have been, in a democratic society with a free press, an abrogation of a newspaper’s responsibilities. Furthermore, stifling debate could itself lead to bigotry and racial intolerance.

The newspaper said its columns had noted Britain’s proud tradition of showing hospitality to genuine refugees fleeing persecution. It had not criticised genuine asylum seekers. However, the current system was clearly open to abuse and the newspaper was prepared to expose those who are staying in Britain illegally. The newspaper believed it was in the public interest to expose such wrongdoing and to do so robustly, as nothing could undermine race relations more than such exploitation. Reference to the would-be refugees’ country of origin and nationality was relevant to the stories as it gave a vital clue as to whether they were genuine refugees. Romania is a democratic country. Its Gypsy population has been the subject of positive discrimination and they enjoy equal status with the rest of the population while preserving their ethnic values. The newspaper said they were entitled to report the comments of a senior magistrate condemning Romanian beggars for abusing the Social Security system. They said they had never discriminated, in racial terms, in their attitude to welfare cheats. They said they abhor racism and referred to the strong line they had taken on a number of high profile race-related issues in the past.

Decision:
Not Upheld

Adjudication:

The Commission recognised that the subject of begging by asylum seekers is a controversial subject which has been debated at a national level over the previous months. There was no question that the newspaper was entitled to join in with this debate and to contribute its views and opinions. Clause 13 (Discrimination) of the Code is rightly worded in a tightly defined way to allow the British press to make pointed and critical comment about events and people in a variety of circumstances. However, the Commission’s task was to ensure that in so doing, the newspaper had not published significant factual inaccuracies or distortions and had not discriminated against individuals by including prejudicial, pejorative or irrelevant references to their race.

The Daily Mail had reported on cases in which asylum seekers had appeared in court after begging with their children. The cases had been heard in open court and the newspaper was entitled to focus on this problem. Some readers may not agree with the robust line taken by the newspaper. However, this in itself did not raise a breach of Clause 1 or Clause 13 of the Code. The fact that the women were Gypsies was clearly part of the debate as they had referred to begging as being part of their tradition.

The Commission recognises that in covering such topics there is a danger that inaccurate or misleading reporting may generate an atmosphere of fear and hostility. Although it did not find in this case that the complaints were justified, it took the opportunity to remind editors of their responsibilities under the Code to avoid discriminatory reporting.

The Commission has in the past underlined its deep concern that newspapers should not incite racial hatred – in particular, in its statement regarding coverage of the Euro ’96 Football Tournament (PCC Report 35), in its statement regarding opinion pieces on the Maltese (PCC Report 36), and in its adjudication of Harman & Harman v Folkestone Herald (PCC Report 47). Discrimination has no place in a modern society and the Commission would censure most heavily any newspaper found guilty of racist reporting.

Report:
50



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