The rights and responsibilities
of the press
352. The Article 10 ECHR right to freedom of expression
carries certain duties and responsibilities, and may be subject
to restrictions, including those required for the protection of
the reputation or rights of others.
The PCC explained that all of its work "takes place against
the backdrop of the considerable rights to freedom of expression
that the press rightly enjoys - which can in turn lead to instances
of robust reporting on any number of public policy issues, with
which people may disagree". 
The Commission oversees a Code of Practice which acts both as
a set of rules for journalists for the interpretation of such
restrictions and a framework under which members of the public
can complain. The PCC explained that it did not write the Code
itself; there is a separate committee of editors that writes the
Code, and charges the PCC with enforcing it. 
353. The PCC stated that Clause 1(Accuracy) and Clause
12 (Discrimination) of the Code of Practice were relevant for
regulation of asylum issues. The wording of those Clauses is as
"Clause 1: The Press must take care not to publish
inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once
recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence,
and - where appropriate - an apology published.
Clause 12: The Press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative
reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual
orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, sexual orientation,
physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless
genuinely relevant to the story."
The PCC also provided a copy of its Guidance Note
on Refugees and Asylum Seekers which draws attention to the need
for care in the terminology used when describing refugees and
354. The PCC believes that the mechanisms in place
work effectively. It provided two examples of upheld complaints
concerning asylum seekers (issued in 1999 and 2000) which it says
"gave an important signal to the whole of the press"
and that "it has not been necessary to issue similar rulings
for some time":
"The important thing is that there is a mechanism
in place for handling complaints from anybody who is affected
by inaccurate or intrusive reporting. Such complaints in turn
help to raise standards generally. In the context of your inquiry,
therefore, I believe that the current system fairly and effectively
balances the rights of freedom of expression with other rights
such as the right to respect for privacy."
355. Newspaper editors told us that their staff were
aware of, and abided by the PCC guidance. Mr Peter Hill told us
that "all my staff are perfectly aware of the PCC and its
rules and guidance. They know perfectly well, and I constantly
reinforce this message, that we must be truthful in what we say."
 Mr Robin
Esser said that "we stick by the principles and the excellent
guidance note that the PCC produced on asylum seekers and terminology
and attitudes, and all our journalists carry in their wallet a
pocket-sized version of the code". 
356. The ICAR research suggested that the PCC's guidance
note had been helpful, but that there was room for improvement:
the Guidance Note has been helpful in
identifying and proscribing terms that are erroneous. However
such terms were only found infrequently before the Note was introduced,
and they have not been eradicated completely. In giving only one
specific example the Guidance Note has missed an opportunity to
prevent a range of alternative erroneous terms being used, suggesting
a residue of lazy journalism and poor understanding of the legal
framework governing asylum applications. Inaccuracy was more frequent
in the top six papers
which would suggest PCC Guidance
is having least impact on the widely circulating papers."
357. The CRE did not consider that the PCC's guidance
had been sufficient to prevent negative and prejudicial reporting,
particularly in the tabloid media, and that it had not helped
to reduce community tensions. 
The CRE wrote to the PCC in April 2006, proposing two amendments
to the Code of Practice; including "gross exaggeration"
in the scope of Clause 1 and amending Clause 12 to widen the prohibition
of discrimination to include racial, ethnic or religious groups.
The PCC Editor's Code of Practice Committee declined to make the
suggested amendments suggested by the CRE.
358. The Equality and Diversity Forum (a network
of national organisations including the CRE) also wrote to the
PCC in 2005 to ask that it consider "the potential to address
inflammatory reporting through the Code", stating that Clauses
1 and 12 had apparently "not proved sufficient to prevent
the kind of reporting we have seen for instance of Gypsies, Muslims
or refugees". The Forum wrote again in February 2006, suggesting
that the word "exaggerated" be added to Clause 1 (Accuracy)
and proposing an additional clause in the Code:
"The press must avoid gratuitous pejorative
reference to an ethnic or faith community or other section of
society, where that reference is likely to generate an atmosphere
of fear and hostility not justified by the facts."
359. The PCC Editor's Code of Practice Committee
rejected the suggestion of adding "exaggerated" to Clause
1, stating that it was already covered by the description "distortion".
It also rejected the suggested additional clause because it "would
effectively be allowing complaints from groups, rather than individuals":
"The Committee continues to believe that allowing
complaints from groups could seriously inhibit freedom of expression,
which in a diverse and plural media should be as broad as possible.
We believe that it is right that in a free society editors should
be left to exercise their judgment and there is ample evidence
that they do so."
360. Mr Tim Toulmin, Director, PCC told us the suggestion
that Clause 12 might be widened so as to protect groups as well
as individuals was "a very timely suggestion because representations
are currently being invited by (the) committee to make suggestions
about how the code might be improved", 
but added that the issue had been considered before and that the
committee had "not come up with a form of words that protects
their right to freedom of expression, including the rights to
make jokes about groups of people, for instance, whilst at the
same time addressing the issue with which you are concerned."
Mr Toulmin added that "the philosophical basis of (the Code)
is about protecting named individuals" and suggested
that objections about groups were generally better dealt with
under Clause 1 (Accuracy).
361. Oxfam believed that the PCC guidance "remains
too general and weak and is disappointing in its enforcement".
The UNHCR agreed, stating that "while the introduction of
PCC guidance was welcomed, the guidance needs strengthening and
should take account of new shifts in media representation".
It judged the guidance to have been of "mixed success"
and recommended that it be reissued with an accompanying media
campaign to boost awareness amongst the press, and that the language
in the guidance be made more robust and wide-ranging to take into
account recently emerging patterns in press coverage such as the
conflation of asylum, migration and terror issues.
362. When asked whether the current system of regulation
was adequate, the PCC's view was that "the specific complaints
we get are the basis on which we were set up, to deal with complaints
from individuals and their representatives" 
and that the PCC would be reluctant to extend Clause 12 to cover
groups as well as individuals:
"My chairman does sit on the PCC Committee of
Editors. His view would also be that he would be very reluctant
to see an extension of Clause 12 to cover groups as well. In matters
of freedom of expression, we have to be extremely cautious. There
are remedies available to deal with this problem. Perhaps the
PCC could be rather more vigorous as a regulator rather than as
a mediator in these cases."
363. We note that other jurisdictions have included
more robust protection for groups within a framework of self regulation
and freedom of expression and recommend that the PCC draws on
best practice from overseas. The right to free speech is sacrosanct
in the USA, but has not prevented the media from working within
a Code which provides protection for vulnerable groups. For example,
the Code of Ethics from the US Society of Professional Journalists
includes the imperatives to "Tell the story of diversity
and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is
unpopular to do so" and to "Distinguish between advocacy
and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labelled
and not misrepresent fact or context". 
364. We cherish the fundamental right to free speech
and the freedom of the press and support self regulation. As the
editors who gave evidence to us recognise, the right to free speech
and the freedom of the press are not absolute, but must be exercised
in accordance with the duties and responsibilities of the media.
The evidence we received from the PCC was not reassuring. Its
existing system is not sufficiently robust to protect asylum seekers
and other vulnerable minorities from the adverse effects of unfair
and inflammatory media stories.
365. If the system of self regulation is to work
properly, the PCC should give proper guidance on the professional
standards that need to be followed in communicating information
and ideas on matters of legitimate public importance and concern.
This is especially important when dealing with issues involving
highly vulnerable minorities, including ethnic minorities and
asylum seekers, whether failed or otherwise. In the USA respected
bodies of journalists have agreed upon practical guidelines in
this area. The PCC has not drawn on those guidelines or issued
guidelines of its own.
366. The PCC Code focuses on the individual complainant's
treatment but fails to give relevant guidance. To focus solely
on individual complaints ignores the vital responsibility of the
press to act in accordance with proper professional standards.
The notion of "responsible journalism" is well known
to UK law in the context of qualified privilege and could easily
be developed more generally within the Code. We therefore recommend
that the PCC should reconsider its position with a view to providing
practical guidance on how the profession of journalism should
comply with its duties and responsibilities in reporting matters
of legitimate public interest and concern. We emphasise that such
guidance must not unduly restrict freedom of speech or freedom
of the press any more than similar guidance does in the USA.
367. The media can reasonably claim that it is their
duty to report political comment. If this comment on the subject
of asylum seekers is in itself inflammatory or inaccurate, this
gives cover to some newspapers to stigmatise asylum seekers in
a way that is not conducive to good race relations or fair treatment
of this vulnerable group.
We recommend that Ministers recognise their responsibility
to use measured language so as not to give ammunition to those
who seek to build up resentment against asylum seekers, nor to
give the media the excuse to write inflammatory or misleading
368. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of
Europe's (PACE) Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population
has stated that "it is clear that despite in principle being
afforded protection under anti-discrimination and anti-racism
legislation, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees remain in a
situation of potential vulnerability and are often the victims
of abusive and unfair representations in the media". It commented
on the positive effects of "projects aimed at guaranteeing
greater representation of migrants and refugees in the media"
and stated that "these projects merit ongoing support and
369. Newspaper editors indicated their willingness
to publish such stories. Mr Hill said "
if you get any
of those stories I will look at them and I am quite willing to
we publish many positive things about people
who have come to this country and many great success stories."
 Mr Esser,
agreed, saying "we would welcome such stories and indeed
we have published some. It would be a very good idea if those
organisations who exist to help asylum seekers told us about them
instead of writing letters of complaint, often on spurious matters.
They could forget the arguments about terminology in the odd headline
and tell us some good, positive stories." 
370. The ICAR research suggested that the Home Office
could play a part in promoting more balanced reporting:
"The emerging internal media debate is a window
of opportunity for the Home Office to build partnerships and engage
the many stakeholders to promote a more balanced view of asylum.
This would also help balance the currently one-sided use of sources
that tend to reflect immigration control rather than integration.
However, there may be a problem in that the tone of political
debate has been criticised for being "wretched, squalid and
shameful". With poor standards and strong views being concentrated
in the most popular papers this means the highest standards of
reporting are not reaching the widest audience. However, given
that this group are often out of step with the rest of the press
there may be opportunities for the Home Office and partners to
exert pressure on them to act more responsibly."
371. We were pleased to learn about the positive
impact of projects which aim to encourage more considered reporting
of asylum seeker issues, and provide a voice for asylum seekers.
We are encouraged to hear that newspaper editors would be prepared
to publish more such stories, and suggest their willingness to
do so should be supported by those working with asylum seekers,
submitting positive stories for reporting by them. We support
the recent recommendation from the Information Centre about Asylum
and Refugees that the Home Office should encourage newspapers
to act more responsibly, and we recommend that the Home Office
lend its support to the networks and award schemes working in