Everyday prejudice: The Nottingham Post and migration

Posted on 03/07/2010


The Nottingham Post is, through the majority of its reporting, its embedded relationship with police and UKBA sources, and the platform it provides racist commenters, promoting an anti-migrant discourse. By Malcolm Pheby.

The Nottingham Post (formerly Nottingham Evening Post) is Nottingham’s only local paper. For many in the area it is the only place they get their local news and the primary source of information about what goes on in the city. The Post is owned by Northcliffe Media, the UK regional media arm of the Daily Mail & General Trust, one of Europe’s largest media companies. It is a corporate media business, run for profit, printing the stories that sell papers.

Unfortunately the stories that sell papers often tend to be those that are sensational and pander to existing prejudices, rather than those that take a broader, more complex view. In the current political climate of demonisation of migrants from poorer countries, stories that pin the blame for society’s ills on these people have become popular. They give the exploited, but more firmly settled, working class someone to blame for their own misfortunes. They give the bosses and managers a way of distracting workers’ attention away from the inequalities of society.

Extreme cases of this scapegoating can be seen in some of the national tabloids, like the Express and the Nottingham Post’s owner, the Daily Mail, which continually rail against mythical floods of immigrants who are posed to dispossess each British citizen of public services and jobs. But the only reason these stories are believed is because of the drip drip effect of thousands of other stories, written in less inflammatory language, but having the same effect – increasing suspicion of all things ‘foreign’.

The Nottingham Post does not normally play the same explicitly anti-immigrant role as its parent paper, but it does normalise suspicion of immigrants with a constant barrage of police and UK Borders Agency (UKBA) stories about immigrant crimes, often served up with sensationalist headlines.

Take yesterday’s paper, for example. A prominent article, ‘Three failed asylum seekers found in Nottingham nail bars'[1], details a recent raid by immigration officials on local businesses. The article makes much of the fact that those arrested were not just working illegaly but were also ‘failed asylum seekers’ – as though this should make the case even more salacious. The article reads like a press release from UKBA (and probably would have been had it not been handed to the Post, perhaps as a scoop). The only quote is from the UKBA assistant director who reaffirms the official government line that illegal working is unfair on honest law-abiding citizens as though that is all there is to the story. The migrants themselves are voiceless, presumably already incarcerated or in the process of being ‘removed’ from the country.

We never get to hear why they claimed asylum here, what they went through to enter the country or whether they were exploited by their bosses. We never get to hear about the culture of disbelief that surrounds those who claim asylum in this country (often stoked by media stories like this). We never get to hear about the consequences for these people when they are ‘removed’. We also never get to hear about the economic situations that force people to risk everything to  illegally enter the UK and work in these conditions. Instead the story is written as though it is British workers, with secure status and (limited) rights to wages and working conditions, who are being cheated.

This is by no means an isolated incident. The Post regularly reports stories on UKBA raids which are helpfully fed to them by the Border Agency’s own press releases[2]. Some recent examples include ‘Three illegal immigrants caught in city nail bar’ (6th June), ‘Illegal immigrants caught in fast food restaurant’ (20th May) and ‘Nine arrested in city human trafficking raids’ (14th April)[3]. Always the emphasis is on the illegality and fraudulence of those involved and always the story is given from UKBA’s perspective. In addition there are articles focussing on police and immigration units set up to investigate ‘foreign criminals'[4] reinforcing the idea that migrants are dangerous and to be feared. The head of one such police organisation is quoted as satying “There has to be a sense that these people have nowhere to hide.” Again, the only perspective is that of law enforcement officers.

On rare occasions this relationship between police and immigration sources and journalists goes even further. In the past, an Evening Post journalist was contacted by the Home Office and agreed to be ’embedded’ with them when raiding workplaces[5]. The resulting article included lurid details about the journalist having to don a stab-proof vest and a sensational headline about “Cracking down” on illegal workers.

Of course, there are a few good stories. The Post recently featured the struggle of Selina Adda, an asylum seeker from Ghana, to avoid deportation[6]. Ms Adda’s case was very unusual in that she managed to build a massive base of support in her community. Most asylum seekers who are refused by the Home Office are too isolated, disoriented by the asylum system and devastated at the imminent threat of being returned to danger to gather such a large amount of support. Whilst the story was, on this occasion, quite sympathetic to a migrant, a torrent of racist comments was unleashed. “Another one on the gravy train”, “The government don’t have the spine to send them back”, “the unemployed are OUR problem , ghanians aren’t”, “you can tell when the sob story starts, that it’s all garbage and they should kick them out”… all just in the first 8 of 53 comments, many expressing similar sentiments. “firstly she is not from the meadows , she is an african . she does not work” commented one reader. All of these comments were allowed to remain on the website. The Post was clearly off-message as far as its most vocal readers were concerned.

There are a few other positive stories, all seemingly written by one journalist, although these are usually given much fewer column inches than are afforded for the latest press release from UKBA. The stories are often followed by comments by rabidly anti-migrant individuals including references to far right organisations such as the commenter signing off as “KKKent, Born&bred here”[7]. The positive stories are vastly outnumbered by stories about crime and anti-migrant letters from readers and are swamped by right wing anti-migrant comments which are kept up by the website moderators.

In conclusion, the Nottingham Post is, through the majority of its reporting, its embedded relationship with police and UKBA sources, and the platform it provides racist commenters, promoting an anti-migrant discourse. Migrants are usually portrayed in the paper as perpetrators of crime, as illegal workers and as people who ‘cheat the system’. They are very rarely given a voice by the paper – any comment on them is usually given by a UKBA official, a police officer or a judge. Whilst the Post is clearly not as bad as some papers for actively demonising migrants, by its unbalanced and decontextualised reporting it contributes to the climate of suspicion and hatred towards migrants from poor countries that exists in this city.


[1] http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/news/failed-asylum-seekers-Nottingham-nail-bars/article-2372393-detail/article.html

[2] http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/news-and-updates/

[3] http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/news/illegal-immigrants-caught-city-nail-bar/article-2273078-detail/article.html, http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/news/Illegal-immigrants-caught-fast-food-restaurant/article-2180369-detail/article.html, http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/news/arrested-city-human-trafficking-raids/article-2017347-detail/article.html

[4] http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/news/Border-Agency-caught-140-foreign-criminals/article-1884782-detail/article.html, http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/news/Special-team-tackles-crimes-foreign-nationals/article-1886412-detail/article.html

[5] http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2006/10/353246.html

[6] http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/news/Meadows-mum-s-fight-stay-goes/article-1819205-detail/article.html

[7] http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/news/150-turn-immigrant-campaign/article-1493210-detail/article.html