NUJ seeks sensitive reports on immigrants

By Ryan Hooper on April 14, 2008 9:08 am

The National Union of Journalists has urged its members to “help nail asylum myths”, following concern over some reporters’ loose use of language on immigration issues.

NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear sent members a fact sheet with key definitions and terminology about asylum, immigration and refugees in the hope it will reduce misleading copy.

In a letter to members, Dear said: “The media plays a key role in how refugees and asylum seekers are perceived and, ultimately, how they are treated by the public at large.

“The NUJ is only too aware that inaccurate, sensationalist and inflammatory stories harm community relations and can lead to violent attacks against some of the most vulnerable people in society.”

The plea comes after attacks on immigrant workers in the UK. In January, a 39-year-old Polish worker living in Birmingham was beaten up and had paint poured over his face to create a suffocating ‘mask’.

Two weeks later, vandals daubed racist graffiti on a house belonging to a Polish couple in Shrewsbury, before setting it on fire.

In March, the Coventry Telegraph revealed that half of the 3,000 asylum seekers and refugees living in the city had no basic health care, and had “slipped the net”.

Dear’s call for accurate and sensitive reporting has been welcomed by Bemma Donkoh, the UK representative of the UN Refugee Council (London).

She said: “Balanced and well-informed media coverage of refugee issues gives readers impartial and considered access to sides of the story often lost or misrepresented.

“In recent years, strides have been made to address the danger that inaccurate, misleading or distorted reporting may generate an atmosphere of fear and hostility that is not borne out of facts.”

The NUJ guide [PDF file] defines baggage-laden terms such as “refugee” and explains the difference between “illegal immigrants” and “irregular immigrants”, and offers advice when interviewing such sources.

Ryan Hooper is a UK journalist. He can be reached at


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Your Thoughts (1 Comment)

April 29th, 2008 6:37 pm by Cath Squires

This article reminds me of similar “guidebook” approaches to diversity in journalism. I guess my question is, what is the accountability mechanism here? What oversight (if any) is there to see if journalists begin the surface work of using different lingo to describe asylum seekers? What about matters beyond labels and sourcing? Does the NUJ have plans to periodically check in on whether the guide is making a difference in how reporters describe immigrant populations? I wonder if anyone else out there has seen that type of follow-up in action.



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