Opinion

The Sindo's Shameful Fearmongering

Sam Tranum portrait
Sam Tranum

Sam Tranum is deputy editor of Dublin Inquirer. He's been a newspaper reporter, a newspaper editor, an assistant professor of journalism, an author and a book editor, among other things. You can follow him @samtranum.

On 10 January, the Sunday Independent published a story headlined “Poll: Terrorists Hide Among Our Refugees”. The headline was absolute garbage, and the article wasn’t much better.

We should expect and demand more from our journalists. They should be informing us, keeping an eye on our public servants and entertaining us — not spreading fear of minorities. That’s dangerous: prejudice, hatred and even violence can grow from such fear.

The article in question carried Jody Corcoran’s byline, the headline was likely written by someone else, and the poll was probably commissioned by a third party, higher up in the newspaper’s corporate hierarchy.

I can’t be sure, though, because my emails to Corcoran on Thursday and Friday via the address linked to his byline on the article prompted no response. So I’ll proceed without the Sindo’s side of the story.

Let’s start with the headline.

The Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll asked 976 people at 64 sampling points nationwide, “Are you concerned at the possibility that terrorists could enter the country using the migrant programme?” And 59 percent said they were.

The Sindo translated that into the headline, “Poll: Terrorists Hide Among Our Refugees.” I read that as saying a poll tells us that there are terrorists hiding among our refugees.

Let’s leave aside the disconnect between the actual poll question and the headline. The main problem here is that a poll of a sample of the general population is not an appropriate method for determining who is a terrorist or whether they are hiding among refugees coming to Ireland.

If you want to know whether terrorists are hiding among refugees coming to Ireland, you should do some proper reporting, cultivating sources among security services, groups that work with refugees, and refugees themselves, and seeking to identify specific individuals bent on carrying out violent attacks. That’s proper journalism.

But the Sindo decided not to do that. It decided, instead, to run this headline, which gave us no useful information.

It just smeared all refugees trying to come to Ireland to flee persecution and possibly death, as being potential “terrorists”: threats to the security of the state, to our children’s lives. And it also casts suspicion on anyone who “looks” like they could be a refugee, particularly a Muslim refugee.

Now let’s talk about the article under the garbage headline.

It says that there were sexual assaults in Germany and there was a terrorist attack in Paris, and then it says that refugees are coming to your town: it lists 26 locations across Ireland that the “Government has identified . . . to house thousands of incoming refugees.”

This appears to be rather misleading.

Only “two centres . . . have been procured and are in use for incoming asylum seekers under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP). There are no immediate plans to procure other centres as, in the absence of incoming applicants, there is no requirement for such further centres . . . 176 refugees have arrived to date,” a spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Equality said in an email.

The Sindo article then goes on to use the poll results to “prove” that we are afraid of these people who are coming.

A sample from the article, in case you have not read it: “Rural people are . . . more likely to feel that Jihadi terrorists are already here (58pc vs 43pc) and that the country is under threat of a Paris-style attack (53pc vs 41pc).” But, “Paul Moran, Associate Director of Millward Brown, said: ‘In some ways, those in urban centres, arguably, should have more cause for concern.’”

As far as I can tell, the message of the article is this: These refugees are all terrorists who are going to come to our town, rape our women and blow up our children.

What purpose does this serve?

Knowing that our neighbours are scared of refugees and terrorists and Muslims doesn’t tell us anything useful. It does not help us to understand whether we are facing a genuine threat, or — if so — how great that threat is, or how we might combat it. (I believe there is a genuine threat, but that hand-wringing and fearmongering do nothing to reduce it.)

All this article did was spread fear, build prejudice against people who try to come to Ireland seeking shelter from persecution and violence, and put pressure on the government to turn away more of these desperate mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and tell them they can just go home and die — because we are too scared to help them.

 

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