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Don't do everything the Daily Mail\Sun tell you to

Ted Maul

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David Blunkett's warning that British society was "like a coiled spring" on the issue of asylum seekers comes as the invective of newspapers such as the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express reaches new heights.

The finding of the poison ricin in the home of asylum seekers, and the killing of special branch officer Stephen Oake during the investigation, has prompted some papers to directly link refugees with crime and terrorism. Teams of reporters have been asked to "stitch up" asylum seekers.


A source at Kent police said he had received half a dozen calls from newspapers asking for examples of crimes committed by asylum seekers. Leader writers and columnists have been ordered to write damning commentaries.


Rebekah Wade's first significant decision as the Sun's new editor has been to launch a "crusade" as the paper, perhaps unfortunately, termed it, against "Asylum Madness". The Mail has begun a series on "Asylum Britain", while the Express has proudly reproduced 20 of its front pages on the subject with the slogan "We told you so".


Organisations which work with asylum seekers such as the Refugee Council have looked on aghast.


Fazil Kawani, the communications director of the council, said: "These reports give the impression that all asylum seekers are terrorists or criminals. We would urge the media to recognise that the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers do not engage in any criminal activity."


The weekend press would indeed have made uncomfortable reading for a newly arrived asylum seeker.


Perhaps the most worrying would have been the News of the World which, with no irony, placed a column from David Blunkett warning about the myths surrounding refugees and terrorism opposite a report about the asylum seekers who live near the spot where DC Oake died.


Beneath the headline Ghetto of Death the newspaper - which under Ms Wade's editorship notoriously ran a campaign to name and shame alleged paedophiles and was blamed for the vigilante attacks that followed - printed an aerial photograph of the area pinpointing where Algerians, Kosovans, Albanians and Iraqis are to be found.


As News of the World readers pored over the details of where they could, if so inclined, find asylum seekers, Ms Wade was putting the finishing touches to her first campaign at the helm of the Sun.


On Monday her paper, Britain's biggest selling tabloid, printed a series of claims under the headline Asylum Meltdown and urged: "Read this and get angry."


The first "fact" set the tone: "Britain is now a Trojan horse for terrorism." The article pointed out that some of those arrested in the ricin investigation were "living free at the taxpayer's expense".


The paper asked its readers: "If these facts get you mad, fill in the petition to force Tony Blair to address the growing crisis." A coupon for readers to complete and send back was included, with a line asking the prime minister to protect Britain "before it is too late".


On Tuesday the Sun printed what was meant to be an amusing reinterpretation of the children's Mister Men characters and included a Mr Asylum Seeker and his friend Mr Albanian Gangster. The feature is now being investigated by the press complaints commission. By yesterday the tabloid was claiming "an army" of 50,000 readers who were backing its crusade.


Meanwhile the Daily Mail was tackling the issue with characteristic gusto. In an editorial on Tuesday it claimed Britain was a "haven" for "Albanian gangsters, Kosovan people smugglers and Algerian terrorists".


It went on to criticise the "ruling classes" for refusing to debate the issue and the "McCarthyite tactics of the left who have sought to stifle honest debate by demonising anyone who has dared to draw attention to the crisis".


On its news pages the Daily Mail focused on the revelation that hotels might be converted to house some of the asylum seekers. It printed a page of pictures of lovely country houses, including a £70m private house in Surrey which had a private cinema and five swimming pools, and suggested ingenuously that these would be suitable sites.


The copy ran: "New arrivals will soon be asking for a copy of Country Life as well as details of how to claim benefits."


The Express, which has been accused of racism for its stance on asylum, claimed on Wednesday: "The nightmare scenario of which we warned is here."


But it is not only the tabloids which have stoked the debate. The editor of the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore, argued after Mr Oake's death that Britain should withdraw from the European convention on human rights so that it could deport unwanted asylum seekers more easily.


The British National party website might give food for thought for some editors. On it is a picture of an Express front page on asylum under the headline "British press helping spread the BNP message".



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