UN agency backs London mayor’s push for balanced coverage of refugee issues

16 August 2005

Aware that refugees and asylum-seekers are the subject of frequent, negative coverage in some British newspapers, the United Nations refugee agency has joined London municipal authorities and journalists to launch a local press award to help draw positive attention to the contributions made by refugees to London's thriving ethnic mosaic.

In an effort to turn around some of the hostile coverage and highlight good practices by sections of London's press, Mayor Ken Livingstone recently launched the first London Local Press Awards, with the support of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to spotlight good practice in reporting on refugee issues that helps foster a more positive context contributing to the safety of asylum-seekers and refugees, and good community relations.

The decision to launch the Awards with support from UNHCR, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the National Union of Journalists grew out of a study commissioned by the Mayor that examined media images of asylum-seekers and refugees, which noted that unbalanced and inaccurate coverage in the national press is likely to cause fear and tension within communities across London.

"This event is about ensuring that the stories of the refugees and asylum-seekers living amongst us, and the reality of their plight, get the recognition they deserve," said Bemma Donkoh, UNHCR's representative in the United Kingdom. "It is also about encouraging objective and constructive reporting and discussion on how our society deals with the issues surrounding the complex migration movements of our present age," she added.

In her speech at the awards ceremony, held on 21 July, Ms. Donkoh said that when the media give refugees and asylum-seekers a chance to tell their own stories, "you permit powerful images about the value of asylum to reach the wider public." She said UNHCR hopes other communities across the United Kingdom and governments elsewhere in Europe would emulate London's example and do more to ensure that refugees are integrated.


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