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Complaint over travellers’ story resolved by letter

A complaint that a regional daily published a ‘discriminatory’ article about a group of travellers has been resolved after it published a letter from the complainant.

Dr Aidan Byrne from the University of Wolverhampton contacted the Press Complaints Commission about an article in the Express and Star on 18 September which reported that security concerns had been raised after a group of travellers had set up a camp in the city centre.

The piece said the group had ‘plagued Wolverhampton for six months’ but the complainant said this was inappropriate in a news report.

He said the newspaper had failed to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact as required by Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice and he was also concerned the article was not balanced.

The PCC also received a similar complaint from Matthew Brindley of the Irish Travellers Movement in Britain.

To resolve the complaint, a letter was published by Dr Byrne in which he outlined his issues with the newspaper’s reporting.

It said: “I strongly object to the use of the word ‘plagued’ as inappropriate in a factual story for its negative and medicalised connotations: plagues are diseases to be eradicated rather than people with rights and responsibilities.

“Furthermore, your undifferentiated reference to this ‘plague’ of Travellers implies that all Travellers are responsible for the behaviour of some individuals: I feel that this indiscriminate approach encourages your readers to view Travellers as uniformly criminal and unwelcome.

“Tensions between mobile and static communities are by no means novel, but your reportage fails, in my view to reproduce the complexity of relations between these communities.

“Some acknowledgement of our social failure to accommodate or respect Travellers (and most local authorities’ failure to fulfil their legal requirement to provide legal stopping sites) would do much to defuse the bitterness felt by both sides.

“I look forward to the Express and Star approaching the subject with a little more balance and accuracy in future.”