Newspapers can be dangerous in times like these. Just take the Daily Express

A xenophobic agenda means twisting almost any story - and it's getting worse
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The Independent Online

The temptation to blame the media whenever anything goes wrong is one to which the Government yields most weeks. So let us quickly nail that one in the case of the immigration fiasco. Beverley Hughes was the one who played fast and loose with the facts; David Blunkett defended her and pledged that she would not resign; Tony Blair defended her and accepted her resignation; civil servant whistleblowers in Sheffield and Bucharest provided crucial information in exchange for suspension; David Davies was the messenger.

The press, with varying degrees of scepticism (appropriate as it turned out), reported developments. After Bev, as Blunkett likes to call her, had resigned, both she and Blunkett emphasised the media pressure that she had been put under. It was an extraordinary refocusing of reality.

Bev is gone, and we can forget about her. But the Government and its immigration policy problems remain, as do other problems. It is the one in which the media, or some sections of the press, are involved on which I want to concentrate.

It has been one of those weeks in which many news strands have converged. We can blame neither the Government nor the media for that. The fates have conspired, although the Government has helped things along. Linkages between stories seemed to be tenuous and even dangerous.

The best way to make the point is to take one newspaper and one day - the Daily Express on Thursday. "The evil in our midst" was the page one headline about the arrests of the British Muslims (sic) for questioning in connection with possible terrorist offences. In common with other papers, the Express carried a long interview with the father of one of those arrested, and this was carried across pages four and five. It told of extremist Muslim factions and attempts to influence young Muslims in Britain.

Over the page was another spread on the atrocities in Iraq, the murder and display of American contractors. "Descent into barbarism" read the headline. Two pages on, we have "The great asylum con trick", coverage of the immigration row, and the Blair exchanges with Michael Howard in the Commons. At the bottom of the same page, under the headline " 'Peril' of the foreign truckers", we read that British lorry drivers were very concerned about the arrival in this country of drivers from the EU accession states. Unnamed British truckers believed this would "open the floodgates to dangerously unskilled workers". It would be "only a matter of time before an eastern European HGV driver causes a fatal crash in Britain".

Turning on again - same paper, same day - and we had the horrendous story of the "Migrant on the run who killed our innocent angel aged 12". This was the serial sex attacker from Poland who had got into Britain, where he had attacked and murdered Katerina Koneva. The report of the conviction and life sentence for Andrezej Kunowski also mentioned the fact that he had had a heart by-pass operation on the NHS.

One paper, one day. All the others carried these stories, with varying degrees of sensationalism and varying degrees of linkage. It is the latter that is of the most immediate concern, because it creates an overall tone which can stick in the public consciousness, particularly if there is an inclination there to make unjustifiable connections.

So we had in this one edition of one newspaper a flow of pages, all illustrated with faces, all of them with an underlying xenophobic message. Muslims and terror attacks; Poles and sex murders; east European drivers and fatal lorry crashes; immigration/asylum policy and dangerous people entering Britain. These are particularly sensitive times, with the fear of a terrorist attack on this country. It is no time to encourage feelings of prejudice. That can be done all too easily through the language used by some newspapers, through the emphasis given to certain stories, through connections made.

By Friday, The Daily Telegraph leader was asking: "Why should we believe ... that terrorists and criminals will be detected by a process lax enough to admit the Polish killer Andrezej Kunowski?" And the Daily Mail, in a leader under the headline, "Lies and the betrayal of Britain" said the jailing of Kunowski was "a grim illustration of what can happen when the immigration and asylum system breaks down".

Political debate has changed over the past week. Newspapers, as well as politicians, can influence how it develops. It is time to be careful.

Happy 10th birthday to Radio 5, and congratulations to Julian Worricker for two morning phone-ins - one on Muslims in Britain after the arrests; another on immigration after Bev's resignation. Both were models of how to treat sensitive subjects without ducking difficult questions while having to deal with the variety of attitudes any phone-in is bound to throw up. You can discuss contentious issues without inflaming prejudice. At least Radio 5 can.

What kind of a weekend is Arthur Edwards having? The Sun's royal photographer, so recently taking "approved" shots of Prince Charles and his son, Prince William, at Klosters, a ski resort, is now persona non grata at certain royal events, and all over some photographs he didn't take. The Sun placed less emphasis than others on the big issues of the week by devoting five pages to happy skiing snaps of Wills and his friend, Kate Middleton, described as "his first serious girlfriend".

All very innocent stuff. Not a touch, cuddle or kiss - these, presumably, being reserved for his second serious girlfriend. But William is said to be annoyed. And so is the palace. There are these deals, you see, that in exchange for an official photocall for Arthur Edwards and his colleagues, the press leaves the Klosters party alone.

The Sun broke the "deal" by printing paparazzi pix taken by one Jason Fraser. It justified its action in its leader. Describing the photographs as "delightful", it was of the opinion that "one of William's girlfriends could become Queen one day". It was but a small jump from that devastating piece of constitutional analysis to the declaration: "Her subjects will be entitled to know all about her."

Which, of course, justifies five pages of The Sun last week, and many in the future, and breaking the deal. It is hard to feel outrage. William and Kate are both 21, and Klosters seems a rather public place for such people.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield


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