Journalists at the Daily Express say that editors are pressurising them ‘to write anti-Gypsy’ articles. Last week, the newspaper ran a campaign to prevent Roma (Gypsies) from new EU countries coming to Britain – which led to the government announcing new restrictions.
Last Tuesday, the Express claimed on its front page that 1.6 million Gypsies are ‘ready to flood in’ to Britain when ten new countries join the European Union on 1 May. The story was illustrated with a map of Europe showing five red arrows cutting through Europe from the East to the UK, to be met by a lone Union Jack. It was titled ‘The Great Invasion 2004’. An editorial comment stated that Gypsies were ‘heading to Britain to leech on us’.
Journalists at the paper have now called on the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) to help protect them from the demands of their own editors and management to write such articles. At a meeting of the National Union of Journalists chapel at Express Newspapers, attended by seventy staff last Friday, the PCC was called on ‘to protect journalists who are unwilling to write racist articles which are contrary to the National Union of Journalists’ code of conduct’.
Harder tests for migrants
The coverage in the Express, along with that in other tabloids, drew fierce criticism from campaigners for Roma rights in Europe. The European Roma Information Office (ERIO) described the coverage in the British tabloids as having ‘racist tendencies’ and ‘playing on still widespread and deeply rooted prejudices against the Roma’. ERIO has called for European policymakers to see the eastwards enlargement of the EU ‘as a chance to finally find ways of tackling the persisting discrimination and social exclusion of the Roma’ who it describes as ‘the most despised ethnic minority in Europe’.
Yesterday the Financial Times reported that Tony Blair has ordered harder tests for migrants from new EU countries claiming benefits in the UK. The government has announced that the ‘habitual residency test’, which is used to assess whether other EU citizens can claim benefits in the UK, is now to be tightened up, although the details of how this will be done have yet to be published.
This afternoon the prime minister gave a further hint that free movement of citizens from the EU accession states would be restricted. Describing the concerns raised as ‘justified’, he added: ‘It is important that we recognise that there is a potential risk from these accession countries of people coming in. It’s precisely for that reason now that we are looking at the concessions we gave and if it is right that closing off those concessions is going to mean we deal with this problem, then we will do so.’
The editor of the Daily Express, Peter Hill, is himself one of the sixteen members of the PCC, the organisation which is supposed to ensure that newspapers are accurate, fair and non-discriminating. Until recently Hill was editor of the Daily Star, where he led a campaign on asylum which included accusing asylum seekers of eating donkeys. Both the Star and Express titles are owned by pornographer Richard Desmond who, according to Hill, contributes to editing the front pages.
In October 2003, the PCC issued guidance under clause one of its code of practice which covers accuracy. Newspapers were called on to be more accurate in their choice of terminology when referring to asylum seekers. However, the PCC has rejected calls to investigate asylum stories under clause thirteen of its code – which deals with discrimination – on the grounds that this clause only protects individuals and not groups of people.
A similar dispute flared up at the Express in August 2001, shortly after Richard Desmond took ownership. At that time, journalists passed a motion ‘expressing disapproval at the sustained campaign against asylum seekers’ which they were being asked to initiate.