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Complainant Name:
Asylum Aid, Cardiff Gypsy Sites Group, Dr Evan Harris MP and others

Clauses Noted: 1, 12

Publication: The Sun

Complaint:

Asylum Aid, Cardiff Gypsy Sites Group, Dr Evan Harris MP and others complained that a series of articles relating to asylum seekers and begging in The Sun in March 2000 were published in breach of Clauses 1 (Accuracy) and 13 (Discrimination) of the Code of Practice

The complaints were not upheld.

Under the headlines ‘FLEECED – Scandal of Britain’s scroungers and dole cheats who rake in £80 billion a year’, ‘Hard day on the scrounge’ and ‘Britain has had enough’, the newspaper published articles and an editorial concerning a Treasury report on the cost of fraud to the taxpayer and a court case involving a number of Romanian women who had been warned after begging with their children. A piece the following day headlined ‘Beg in the old routine’ and an editorial reported that one woman had been caught begging with her child again, 24 hours after being warned.

Articles headlined ‘Sun girl begs in Romania and is given just 1p’, ‘Gypsy Palaces’ and ‘Fury of gypsy king’ reported on begging in Romania and how money earned from begging allegedly is spent. The newspaper also published an interview with ‘Romania’s gypsy king’.

With regard to the first set of articles, the complainants objected that the pieces were misleading as the Treasury report focussed on taxes lost through social security and tax fraud. The complainants objected that the reports of the court case involving the Romanian women included irrelevant references to their race. They objected in particular to phrases such as ‘scrounging Romanian gypsies’, to a reference to asylum seekers as ‘flotsam and jetsam’, and to statements such as ‘Our land is being swamped by a flood of fiddlers’ and ‘How much longer before we kick the whole lot out?’.

With regard to the second set of articles, the complainants objected to references to ‘the gypsies’ shameless greed’ and to two attributed quotes: ‘The gypsies bring us shame all over the world’ and ‘Like locusts they have gone through Europe, taking what they can.’ They said that the references to race were irrelevant and the claims in the articles were not substantiated.

The newspaper stood by the articles it had published and denied that it had discriminated against anyone on the grounds of race. It was clear that the stories were not about genuine asylum seekers, but about illegal immigrants who defraud the state and the taxpayer. To expose such crimes was not a discriminatory act but a matter of public interest as specifically identified in the Code. The newspaper had made clear in their further editorial coverage of the matter their conviction that genuine refugees from brutal regimes should be made welcome in this country.

With regard to the case involving the Romanian women, this case was heard in open court and the newspaper said they were entitled to report on what was said. The fact that the women were Gypsies was relevant to the story. It was the newspaper’s opinion that it was wrong for these women to use their children for begging.

The newspaper said they would never do anything that was intended to promote discrimination or stir up racial hatred. But they would continue to report on matters of public interest, to expose crime, and to express strong opinions, all in line with the Code of Practice. The articles they had published dealt with matters of national interest and the concerns they raised had been taken up by the Government.

Decision:
Not Upheld

Adjudication:

The Commission recognises that the subjects of illegal immigrants and of begging are highly controversial matters which have been hotly 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 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 Sun had clearly taken a robust stance on the subject of asylum seekers whose claims are not genuine. Although some readers may not agree with the line taken by the newspaper, The Sun was entitled to focus on this problem. The Commission noted that the coverage clearly related to cases of illegal immigrants, rather than genuine asylum seekers, and that this was one area dealt with in the Treasury report on fraud.

With regard to the cases involving the Romanian women who had appeared before court, the fact that they were Gypsies appeared to be relevant to the case as reference was made to their tradition of begging. The further reporting gave a wider background to the subject, including the views of both Gypsies and others in Romania. Again, although some of the views expressed may have been offensive to some readers, these were clearly presented as matters of opinion and did not focus on individuals.

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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