With the Syrian refugee crisis dominating the news at the moment, Jo Manby has been looking back at her archive for reviews of books, available in our library, that look at the refugee experience. Read the others here and here.
This review is adapted from an original piece published in the Centre’s journal Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World.
Book review: Bad News for Refugees by Greg Philo, Emma Briant & Pauline Donald (Pluto Press: London; Palgrave MacMillan: New York, 2013)
A forensic examination of the media coverage of refugees and asylum seekers in the United Kingdom and the negative effects this has not only on the public’s perceptions of these groups, but on the everyday lives of immigrants, both new and established. Alternative perspectives are delineated, and the study is aimed at those concerned with the consequences of misleading media accounts on vulnerable communities in British society.
Following an overview of existing research, the context of British media coverage of the subject from two key periods, 2006 and 2011, is analysed, ending with interviews with a range of experts in the area of media accounts creation, and individuals with direct experience of the impact of media production on those seeking asylum. Finally, UK citizens from settled migrant communities are interviewed.
Divided into five parts, each with numerous subtitled sections, the first, A Brief History of Contemporary Migration and Asylum, examines political, economic and environmental contexts, migration on a global and on a UK level. This ranges from detail such as the Coca-Cola company’s production process which led to ‘the draining of local water supplies in India and Mexico, impacting on subsistence farming and local health, and forcing people to buy Coca-Cola as there was no water to drink’ (p.17), to the UNHCR data that shows ‘”conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan accounted for more than half of the world’s refugees”, forced from their countries by US and British-led conflicts’ (p.25).
Part 2, Methods, Explanations and Perspectives on Asylum, begins with methodology, which for this study was both qualitative and quantitative. Thematic analysis is used to establish which of the competing perspectives in the areas of debate are dominant and which are fragmentary or indeed absent. This part divulges predominant perspectives on asylum in the UK, for example “Abuse” of the Asylum System by “Illegal Immigrants” is followed by ‘Alternative Perspectives’, and tackles assumptions that ‘a “failed asylum seeker” must be an “illegal immigrant” who tried to “abuse” the system’ (p.33). Other views include “Soft Touch” Britain Takes Too Many; A Burden on Welfare and the Job Market; and The Benefits of Immigration.
Part 3, Media Content: Press and TV Samples, 2006, looks at case studies in this period, with an introduction to TV news content and an introduction to newspaper content. The TV sample was drawn from news items on BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4, the press sample from items in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Sun, the Mirror, The Times, the Guardian and the Telegraph. Eight key themes emerged, which this section then discusses in turn: these include ‘conflation of forced and economic migration’, ‘criminality, threat, deportation and human rights’, ‘the need for immigration control’ and ‘problems facing asylum seekers’ (p.57).
Case studies of Media Content, 2011, follows in Part 4. The qualitative TV sample here was taken from June 2011 when the government asylum case backlog was cleared; ‘a Home Affairs Select Committee Report criticised the way this was done, likening it to an “amnesty” for asylum seekers’ (p.87). In terms of the 146 press statements reported, only five were from asylum seekers or refugees themselves – ‘3.4 per cent of the total’ (p.94).
For Part 5, Impacts of Media Coverage on Migrant Communities in the United Kingdom, a series of focus groups of four or five members each were interviewed, each group made up of people from the Asian or Afro-Caribbean communities. Five questions were asked, with members answering in writing, material which formed the basis of discussion. Questions included: ‘Do you think that media coverage has affected how people in the UK think about refugees and asylum seekers? If so, how?’ (p.131). One asylum seeker from Sudan said that ‘”Children in school started telling our asylum seeker children, ‘I saw you on TV, you are not normal’, and they make our children not feel they belong here because they are different”’ (p.160).
Despite the fact that this book reveals many negative and unpleasant attitudes within British society, abetted by a sometimes highly prejudiced media, it also suggests that ‘we must go beyond simply criticizing such coverage and argue for a humane and rational approach to the issue of refuge and asylum… we can demand accuracy and balance in media reporting, but also humanity in public life and political policy’ (p.169).