Forward Maisokwadzo By Forward Maisokwadzo, Media & Communications officer, City of Sanctuary

The British media need to be applauded for their fair and accurate coverage of last week’s appalling hate crime attack on a young asylum seeker in Croydon. The Prime Minister Theresa described the attack as “despicable, abominable, and completely unacceptable” while local MP Gavin Barwell called the attackers “scum.” This is the sort of language minority communities and majority of loving and caring British people need to hear from our political leaders – that racism has no place in our country. Let us embrace the concept of sanctuary where everyone feels welcome and safe.

Reker Ahmed, 17 lies in hospital savaged by an onslaught of punches, kicks and stampings so brutal that he was left with a fractured skull and blood clot in his brain. Police say many people, approximately 20, were involved in the callous attack on the victim.

Asylum seekers and refugees are often at the receiving end of negative portrayal by the media, and in most cases the tabloid press are the offenders. Organisations such as the journalism ethics charity MediaWise, has campaigned for years for a fair and accurate reporting of refugee issues through its Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Media (RAM) Project. Among the results of its work are guidelines on reporting refugee issues jointly produced with the National Union of Journalists; support for members of the public seeking redress after being abused by the media, and exposing many of the ‘fake news’ stories about asylum seekers. Perhaps the best-known example was The Sun’s banner headline on Friday 4 July 2003: SWAN BAKE: Asylum seekers steal the Queen’s birds for barbecues.’

Sadly, so many negative stories have appeared since, fueling distrust and hatred of those who seek sanctuary in a country they believe to be safe and welcoming.

The power of the media is recognised the world over. Open societies need fearless media to hold the powerful to account. Their essential role is to inform, educate and entertain the public, and if journalists are allowed to practice their craft responsibly, it helps to build social harmony.

That is why the national media deserves applause for their coverage of the hate attack of Ahmed in Croydon. An analysis of the story’s weekend coverage in the Sun, the Mirror, the Guardian, Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Standard, BBC and Sky News shows a fair and accurate reporting of the ruthless attack. “ATTACKED BY ‘HATE GANG’ First picture of teen asylum seeker Reker Ahmed battered in Croydon hate attack as Theresa May slams ‘absolutely despicable’ assault”, reported the Sun on Monday 3 April 2017.

It was clear from all the articles that the media was providing sympathetic coverage without undermining its fairness and objectivity. This is the kind of journalism the RAM Project promoted, but for too long the call was ignored by sections of the tabloid press. That’s why it is additionally pleasing to see the tabloids rising about past failings and reporting fairly and accurately about a hateful incident that must give asylum seekers and refugees and the host community pause for thought. For justice, peace and the good of Britain and all who live here, I want to remind those who might consider emulating the cowardly attack on an innocent and vulnerable bystander, that our diversity is also our strength.

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