PCC censures asylum coverage

The Refugee Council is claiming victory in its campaign to combat biased and inaccurate media reporting of asylum issues after the Press Complaints Commission laid out the parameters for language to describe refugees and asylum seekers.

The charity says that the commission's guidance note for editors underlines the dangers of misleading and distorted reporting which can create an atmosphere of fear and hostility. It is only the second time that it has issued a guidance note to clarify terminology in media reporting. The first came in the wake of inaccurate media reporting of mental health in 1998.

In the guidance note the commission sets out definitions for the term 'asylum seeker' and 'refugee' after The Refugee Council complained that the media's use of incorrect terminology such as "illegal asylum seeker" painted an inaccurate picture of the status of asylum seekers in the UK.

"We can't emphasise how significant the commission's intervention is," said Jean Chandler, spokeswoman at The Refugee Council. "It highlights just how significant the media's portrayal of asylum issues can be and we hope this will go a long way to improving coverage of refugees and asylum seekers in the press."

The Press Complaints Commission was spurred to publish the guidance note after The Refugee Council complained about a story in the Evening Standard in September 2002 which described a Serbian family arriving in the UK as "illegal asylum seekers".

The Press Complaints Commission's intervention forced the newspaper to publish a letter from the charity explaining that all asylum seekers are legally admitted to the UK while their claims are assessed, and that once given refugee status, they then enjoy the same rights as other British citizens.

Other charities working with refugees and asylum seekers also welcomed the move. Refugee Action spokeswoman Susie Renshaw said: "Misrepresentations of asylum in the media puts the lives of refugees at risk and endangers race relations in Britain."

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