The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has urged the UK to take action following a recent article in the Sun responding to the huge loss of human life of those attempting to make the crossing to Europe. The Sun article in question compares migrants to cockroaches and refers to them as ‘feral humans.’ Zeid is now calling on authorities, media and regulatory bodies to curb incitement of hatred.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)reveals that the Society of Black Lawyers has reported the Sun to the police and Zeid urges the police to take the complaint seriously. The Independent cites the complaint, which emphasises the very plight that causes an individual to risk their life, describing the migrants as:’almost certainly all “trafficked” persons facing intimidation, violence and extortion at the point of departure [… representing] some of the most vulnerable people in international law at the present time. Many will have legitimate claims for asylum under the 1951 Geneva Convention.’ This is an issue of human life.
Of particular concern is that the article in the Sun is part of a larger conversation taking place in the British media where migrants are targeted and vilified. The issue with these stories is more than just disagreeable language, as the OHCHR points out, ‘many of these stories have been grossly distorted and some have been outright fabrications.’ The impact of this is a misinformed readership weeks before an election where immigration has been a particularly hot topic.
Concerns for the tone of the British media is not new, and alarm has been voiced for a number of years, but it appears that election fever allows these stories to be even more aggressive. The OHCHR offers a reminder that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute, rather one must consider that; “‘Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law,'” under Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
It is not that these topics should not be discussed, as Zeid continues, “while migration and refugee issues are completely valid topics for public debate, it is imperative that migration policy decisions that affect people’s lives and fundamental human rights should be made on the basis of fact – not fiction, exaggeration or blatant xenophobia.”
In an echo of these sentiments, just last week barrister Adam Wagner set up his Human Rights Information project at rightsinfo.org. Adam Wagner highlights that the idea behind the project is to tackle the problem that is poor journalism breeding a poor understanding of human rights. The project itself highlights myths relating to human rights, and reports an overwhelming response in its first week.
All of this is important because this is not just an issue of bad journalism. These stories inform the opinions of voters. These voters are the ones that the politicians are trying to win over. These politicians are the decision-makers. And the decisions being made are decisions of life and death.
Responsible media is vital for the understanding and promotion of human rights, and ultimately for the protection of human life.