Fair Play in the media?

“The media has a major role to play in our multi-cultural society. It also has certain duties in ensuring responsible reporting on issues of asylum, refugees and immigration.”  Paul Holleran Scottish Organiser National Union of Journalists

Flashback to 2005. The top action point, the one that gathered by far the most votes at our first Open Space event was about the role of the media in shaping public perceptions of minority communities. It is interesting to look back at the response (or lack of it) we received from newspaper editors and wonder how much has changed?

The media should be showing the positive images not always negative images thereby causing “scare-mongering

We sent letters to every newspaper in Scotland and to radio and television too.  We invited them to share their thoughts and describe their approach to reporting issues of immigration and multicultural stories. We got three replies – perhaps significantly none from an editor of a newspaper.  Replies came from

Jeff Zycinski, then head of BBC Radio Scotland

Paul Holleran, Scottish organiser for National Union of Journalists

Mark Meredith, at that time a senior lecturer in journalism at Napier University

In brief ….

Jeff Zycinski said: As for non-news programming on BBC Radio Scotland, I can assure you we have a pro-active policy of cultural representation both on air and in terms of our recruitment of programme makers.  It is my belief that this kind of cultural diversity makes for richer, better and more interesting programmes that become more relevant to the changing audience in Scotland.

Paul Holleran said the National Union of Journalists started to campaign for greater accuracy in covering multicultural issues following a series of articles about asylum seekers and refugees in the Daily Record in particular.

He pointed out that the NUJ  produce a guide for journalists to improve accuracy and raise awareness of cultural differences.  They also sponsor awards for journalists who have written outstanding articles on the subject.

Mark Meredith, said the subject of ethnic issues came up frequently on his course with students from Pakistan, Indian, Cameroon and Nigeria.

“We look at how editors choose subjects that will be relevant to their readers and often, alas, these are issues which respond to some of the wrong instincts such as racism and sectarianism.”

Then he concluded with an interesting point

“My feeling is that ethnic minorities should not set out to change the established media but be creative in finding other channels and other ways of presenting information about themselves to raise public awareness and diminish harmful stereotypes”

In 2007 Oxfam published an updated version of Fair Play, Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Scotland, a guide to journalists.  Although legislation is constantly changing the key points of the report are just as important.  Worth noting: the latest immigration figures show a continuing reduction of applications because of tighter border controls in the UK (and every other major industrialised country) rather than a reduction in human rights abuses.

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