Skip to main content

'Rising' hate crimes: Has Covid-19 made UK media less hostile towards migrants?

By Jo Smith*
The UK media is a powerful machine that has the capacity to sway public opinion. Journalists often pursue stories that will generate eye-catching headlines, under the guise of public interest reporting. However, the language used by some of the UK’s media outlets when it comes to the subject of immigration reveals a distinct bias against those UK residents who do not have British citizenship.
The media played a large part in the campaign surrounding the European Union (EU) referendum, publishing attention-grabbing headlines that perpetuated stereotypes and demonstrated varying degrees of xenophobia. 
The Leave Campaign focussed much of their attention on the issue of immigration in an attempt to try to reassure their core base of voters. Immigrants were consistently portrayed in negative terms, with hyperbolic headlines often misrepresenting the truth about the role of immigrants in UK society.
This overt vilification of immigrants combined with the government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ approach to create a situation in which members of the public felt increasingly comfortable expressing racist views. It became increasingly acceptable to support parties pledging to implement anti-immigration policies, and reports of racially motivated assaults, abuse, and hate crimes rose sharply.
As part of the ‘Hostile Environment’ approach, the Home Office actively encouraged front-line workers in healthcare and other public services to profile their service users and report those that they believed may be illegal immigrants. 
As part of the Hostile Environment approach, the Home Office actively encouraged front-line workers to report those that they believed may be illegal immigrants
In an era in which the Prime Minister described a group of vulnerable asylum seekers as a ‘swarm’, tabloid newspapers became increasingly fixated on the number of migrants entering the UK. According to research from the Migration Observatory, words like ‘million’ and ‘thousands’ have been found to appear beside ‘immigrants’ across all newspaper types, revealing a calculated attempt to generate the incorrect notion that the nation is being overrun by immigration.

Impact of Covid-19

For nearly a decade, migration policy and the debate surrounding the ideal way to manage the UK’s approach to immigration has dominated the headlines. The Hostile Environment was hailed as an effective way to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants in the UK, yet reality of the legislation was the hugely damaging Windrush scandal and numerous cases where British citizens were wrongfully denied access to support and services.
While this should have been fresh in the minds of policy-makers in parliament, the COVID-19 crisis has once again highlighted the plight of immigrants who are being denied access to vital lines of support during lockdown, leaving them and their families in poverty. With many asylum seekers finding themselves in extremely vulnerable positions, campaigners have been vocal about the impact of lockdown on the mental health of immigrants.
The coverage of these issues by many mainstream media outlets has evidenced a more balanced and sympathetic tone that differs from the vitriolic coverage of the past. For example, the knife attack committed by an asylum seeker in Glasgow prompted the Daily Mail to discuss the harrowing situations that asylum seekers find themselves in, and how they are left unsupported by a cruel and unjust system.
Other newspapers have focussed on the vital role that immigrants have played on the front line of the fight against COVID-19. With immigrants filling many positions in care work, cleaning and other vital roles, the UK’s reliance on continued immigration has never been so clearly demonstrated.
The UK is now in the grip of a quandary –- while we rely on continued influx from countries both in and outside of the EU to ensure we have a willing and affordable workforce, the Brexit vote and subsequent general election result suggest that the public will back anti-immigration policies with their feet. A more balanced approach on the part of the media might make the debate a little more nuanced and encourage policies that are informed and appropriate. 
---
*Correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service, a team of specialist immigration lawyers who help those in need of support and advice

Comments

TRENDING

India's GDP down by 50%, not 23%, job loss 200 million not 122 million: Top economist

By Our Representative  One of India’s topmost economists has estimated that India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decline was around 50%, and not 23%, as claimed by the Government of India’s top data body, National Statistical Organization (NSO). Prof Arun Kumar, who is Malcolm S Adiseshiah chair professor, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, said this was delivering a web policy speech, organised by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi.

Youngest of 16 activists jailed for sedition, Mahesh Raut 'fought' mining on tribal land

By Surabhi Agarwal, Sandeep Pandey* A compassionate human being, always popular among his friends and colleagues because of his friendly nature and human sensitivity, 33-year-old Mahesh Raut, champion of the democratic rights of the marginalised Adivasi people of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, has been in prison for over two years now.

India performs 'poorly' in Quality of Life Index, ranks 62nd out of 64 countries

Counterview Desk “Expat Insider”, which claims to be one of the world’s most extensive surveys about living and working abroad, in a survey of 20,259 participants from around the globe, has found that of the 64 destinations around the globe, has found that while Taiwan is the best destination for persons living outside their native country, closely by Vietnam and Portugal, India ranks 59th.

#StandWithStan: It's about Constitution, democracy and freedom of expression

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  It is more than three weeks now: On the night of October 8, 2020, the 83-year-old Jesuit Fr Stan Swamy was taken into custody by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) from his residence in Ranchi to an undisclosed destination. According to his colleagues, the NIA did not serve a warrant on Fr. Stan and that their behaviour was absolutely arrogant and rude.

Stan Swamy vs Arnab Goswami: Are activists fighting a losing battle? Whither justice?

By Fr Sunil Macwan SJ* It is time one raised pertinent questions over the courts denying bail to Fr Stan Swamy, who was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and granting it to Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of the Republic TV, arrested under the charge of abetting suicide of Avay Naik, who ended his life in 2018. It is travesty of justice that a human rights activist is not only denied bail but is also made to wait for weeks to hear a response to his legitimate request for a straw to drink water, while Arnab Goswami walks free.

Human development index: India performs worse than G-20 developing countries

By Rajiv Shah A new book, “Sustainable Development in India: A Comparison with the G-20”, authored by Dr Keshab Chandra Mandal, has regretted that though India’s GDP has doubled over the last one decade, its human development indicators are worse than not just developed countries of the Group of 20 countries but also developing countries who its members.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Namaz in Mathura temple: Haridwar, Ayodhya monks seek Faisal Khan's release

By Our Representative As many as 23 members of the Hindu Voices for Peace (HVP), including the founder president of the well-known Haridwar-based Matri Sadan Ashram, Swami Shivananda Saraswati, and a one of its top monks, Brahmachari Aatmabodhanand, have expressed their “dismay” over the arrest of Khudai Khidmatdar chief Faisal Khan and three others on charges of “promoting enmity between religions” and “defiling a place of worship” after they offered namaz in Mathura’s Nand Baba temple premises on October 29.

Government of India 'refuses' to admit: 52% of bird species show declining trend

Finn's Weaver  By Our Representative The Government of India has been pushing out “misleading” data on the country’s drastic wildlife decline, says a well-researched report, pointing towards how top ministers are hiding data on biodiversity losses, even as obfuscating its own data. It quotes “State of India’s Birds Report 2020” to note that of the 261 out of 867 bird species for which long-term trends could be determined, 52% have declined since the year 2000, with 22% declining strongly.

Dalit, Adivasi protest in Jharkhand against 'illegal' transfer of land for development

By Rishit Neogi Displacement and eviction are not new terms. It is surprising that they are still continuing and have become a tool in the hands of state backed corporates to forcibly occupy lands in the name of development.