Today's story provides a handy guide to the dark arts of the press
It is a truth universally acknowledged that migrants get a rough ride in the British press. But how do they do it?
1. Do not refer to migrants as people.
It is of the first importance that these people not be seen as human. Instead, use words like ‘figures’, ‘numbers’, ‘influx’ – or indeed, ‘migrant’, which simply means a person who moves from one place to another.
2. Use numbers instead of words where possible.
Words can be slippery. To avoid breaking step 1, use numbers like 18,000, as in today’s story. This helps creates the idea of migration as a pest control problem, or a force of nature, rather than a man-made crisis that involves human lives.
3. Use the language of crime.
Discuss migrants as you would criminals. Some examples from today’s story are ‘sneak’, ‘evade’, ‘targeting’ and ‘caught’. These are bad people doing a bad thing. They deserve to be punished. (Add a scary picture of dark-skinned people if you can.)
4. Do not quote people who care about migrants.
Pick your sources with care. Organisations which worry about the safety of migrants should not be quoted if possible (as they are not in today’s story). This might cause readers to see another side of the story, learn about its context and the causes of migration, hear ideas for solutions, and even empathise with the migrants themselves. Instead, seek quotes from police, tough-guy politicians, truck drivers, British tourists, and so on.
5. Do not speak to migrants.
This may be the most important step. Under no circumstances should you interview the people trying to reach Britain. Asking about their experiences and motivations, or just about their family or their favourite food, could risk readers seeing them as human, and should be avoided at all costs. This includes the cost of good stories or honest journalism.
There are other steps, and not all of these are kept all the time. Reports of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean has broken through the usual filters as a regrettable anomaly. Generally though, some adherence to the above will ensure you write about migrants correctly.
Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter
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