First, the crime. Journalists and editors wishing to make sensationalist headlines, playing lose with the facts and not bothering to even think things through let alone get their premise confirmed. So two reports state there are 600,000 economically inactive EU migrants living in the UK. The EU, who commissioned the reports conclude there was relatively little to prove the significant impact of ‘benefit tourism’ which has been a premise for Government immigration policy.
The Sun’s chief Political Correspondent Kevin Schofield gleefully tried to claim that 600,000 benefit tourists were here and condemned the EU Commission for their lack of concern over this problem. The resulting article appeared on Page 6 of The Sun on 21 October, taking up four wide columns at the top of the page with a block capital headline reading: “EU are Kidding. Brussels: UK’s 600,000 benefit tourists ‘no problem’”.
Now, the facts.
The report showed that the number of “non-active” EU migrants in Britain was 611,779 last year. So, Mr Schofield alleges any economically inactive EU migrant over the age of 15 in the UK is claiming benefits. Children over 15 are ineligible for most benefits in the UK. This figure also includes students – there are about 132,000 EU students currently studying in the UK. It also includes spouses of people working – mostly living with their partners and existing as a household on one income. Pensioners are also included. So, it is obvious that the 600,000 figure is substantially distant from the true number.
Then we have the reaction of the EU Commission. In the light of the constant briefings pumped out by the anti-EU wing of the Conservative Party, UKIP and the right wing press in the UK, it is understandable for the EU to request that scare stories and myths are either substantiated with hard figures or dropped from the rhetoric in use. The consultants concluded that:
- EU migrants are more likely to be in employment than nationals living in the same country
- There is little evidence that the main motivation of EU citizens to migrate is benefit related
- “Non-active” EU migrants in each member state constitute a “very small share of the total population”.
The need for press accountability
Reminder: the victims of a gung-ho media are not purely the celebrities and unfortunates hacked by the News of the World. The stereotyping and scapegoating practiced by the press is perhaps more insidious and sinister. The recent death of a young Italian waiter in Maidstone, kicked to death by a gang accusing him of stealing their jobs, cannot be directly attributed to the relentless portrayal of migrants coming to undercut ‘native’ or previous migrants in the job market here, but it surely has an effect. To be sure, the only people who should bear the blame for low wages in labour markets with high numbers of immigrants are the people paying the wages, not the unfortunates receiving low pay.
The Press Complaints Commission previously did not allow ‘third party’ complaints. Anyone taking issue with media stereotyping would have to be one of the stereotyped – and often these are the people least likely to take issue with such reporting. It would be a foolish argument to say only those affected by one phenomena or another should be allowed to write about it – why, then is a similar restriction applied to the right to complain about such writing? The outfit that replaces the PCC needs, therefore, to have migrant representation included.
The disparity between offending article and redress not only distorts the rights of those wishing for corrections and accountability. The profile and weight given to a correction is often incredibly unbalanced. The correction – well, more accurately a confession; apart from pointing out the lies, the truth was never printed – amounted to a paragraph of two sentences, 37 words. Bottom corner of page two. It is a common call for apologies to take up the same space with equal prominence as the offending article; that call has obvious merit when you see current practice in the tabloid press.
Guy Taylor, Communications & Campaigns, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
This post previously appeared on the Media Reform Coalition Blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks