The front page of The Daily Express on 27 August 2014 contained the headline “Fury Over Britain’s 2M Illegal Migrants”. Sensational headlines are not new but this particular story goes beyond mere sensation, and should deeply worry anyone who values basic journalism standards.
While tabloid newspapers love hyperbole – “fury” is a favourite word – we have every right to be infuriated by this blatant breach of clause one of the Editors Code of Practice. It begs the question, how can editors keep doing this?
The story is billed as an “exclusive”. But it is based on outdated “source” material, and the numbers have been denied by their supposed source.
The “experts” quoted in the paper are Migration Watch UK. Despite Migration Watch being an anti-immigration pressure group, even they have repudiated these figures on their website, stating that the 2m figure is not based on current research and is “no longer applicable”.
Indeed, according to Full Fact, the most recent figures on illegal immigrants are from 2007 and suggest somewhere between 417,000 and 863,000. They are not aware of more recently published figures.
Journalist Jon Danzig has had long-standing issues with the PCC over the Daily Mail reporting that many Romanians and Bulgarians were coming to the UK following the lifting on “work restrictions” in January this year. The paper announced that “29 million Romanians and Bulgarians” now had “the right to work in the UK”, suggesting that huge numbers were on their way.
Commenting on the front page of the Daily Express, Mr Danzig said:
“All such irresponsible journalism does is spread unnecessary alarm and xenophobia among its readers. I have already complained about similar, feckless reporting by the Daily Mail, who in the New Year falsely claimed that buses and planes from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK were full up and sold out. Again, all their inaccurate reporting achieved was to stir unnecessary fury and hatred of foreigners.”
The very first clause of the Editors’ Code of Conduct is about accuracy. It says: “The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.”
The Daily Express withdrew from the PCC, denying readers even the dubious option of complaining to that ineffectual body. It says it will join IPSO, the press’s new self-regulator which has most of the flaws of the PCC, is not Leveson-compliant and will be no less a sham regulator than the PCC. Perhaps this is one reason why the Express is willing to join it.
The fact that grossly inaccurate stories about immigration keep on being published shows that editors not only do not feel the need to comply with their own standards but don’t believe there will be any consequences – either for them in respect of the code breaches or those at the receiving end of any prejudice stirred up by their false reports.
This is why Hacked Off continues to call for newspapers to sign up to the system of Royal Charter-audited independent self-regulation recommended by Leveson. This serves to protect journalists, provide post-publication remedy, improve standards and make newspapers more accountable as well as holding them to account, as set out in a recent blog.We should be very concerned about this headline and the story below it. It is yet another example of how the standards of newspapers are being compromised, fuelling hate and xenophobia, all in the name of selling more copies.