Theresa May didn’t say ‘send Med migrants back to Africa’ – the Daily Mail did

The Mail knows perfectly well it's evoking racist sentiment


The act of summarising what a person has said in a headline or a story is standard journalistic practice. How this is done depends on the writer and the publication.

When the Daily Mail decides to run the headline, ‘Send Med migrants back to Africa – May’, it knows perfectly well what it’s doing.

Send Med migrants back to Africa, May, Daily Mail 17 6 15

For one thing, home secretary Theresa May did not say this. Here’s the quote:

“We need to go after the criminal gangs plying a terrible, callous trade in human lives. We also need to break the link between people getting into the boats and reaching Europe.

That means returning people to north Africa or elsewhere, or their home countries, so they see there is no merit in this journey.”

This is bad enough. She might as well have said ‘send them anywhere but Blighty’.

But she did not say ‘send Med migrants back to Africa’.

Again, the paper chose to run this headline. They could have written ‘north Africa’, which would have been more accurate, if incomplete.

But the racist history of the term ‘send them back to Africa’ would have been lost.

Not only is this an appalling choice morally, (why would the paper want to evoke racist sentiment?), it’s very poor reporting.

Quite a lot of the people on these boats are from Syria, which, as you will have noticed, is in the Middle East. Should we ‘send them back to Africa’ too?

If they’ve travelled via northern Africa, where should they be ‘sent back’ to? The civil war in Libya, the dictatorship in Egypt, or the civil war and dictatorship double whammy in Syria itself?

But ‘send them back to the Middle East’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Neither does ‘send them back to Syria’, which also could potentially raise the thorny issue of how moral it is to ‘send them back’, why they’ve left, and other subjects that make it harder to dismiss them out of hand.

This sort of thing needs to stop. But it won’t until the public demands it.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

Read more: 

Memo to the press on Med crisis: UK rejected 72 per cent of asylum claims this year

Daily Mail says Syrian refugees turn Greek holiday town into ‘disgusting hellhole’

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