COUNCIL INQUIRY: Media role under spotlight at immigration inquiry

THE role of the media in Boston was discussed in the latest instalment of Boston Borough Council’s immigration inquiry.

Interviewers turned interviewees when editorial staff from the Boston Standard and Boston Target faced questions from the Task and Finish Group investigating the social impact of population change in Boston and members of the public at the latest meeting of the group last Tuesday.

Standard editor Stephen Stray and deputy editor Andrew Brookes joined Nick Purkiss and Graeme Holmes, managing editor and senior reporter at The Target, as they fielded questions about subjects including court reporting, the impact of social media, and the representation of foreign nationals in the press.

The Target’s Nick Purkiss, who said he thought the immigration ‘vibe’ was improving in the town, told the inquiry he thought migration issues impacted on a majority of stories which appeared in the paper.

He added: “It’s quite complex and it’s an element of a broader discussion on a number of issues. From our point of view, it’s not about looking at it in isolation. It’s looking at how that impacts on the really big issues.”

Mr Stray, from The Standard, said he felt there were still tensions in the community around immigration, but added the community was becoming more pro-active at addressing issues.

The freedom of the press was discussed thoroughly, with journalists questioned on whether they are asked to cover up stories.

Both editors defended their work, and assured the inquiry that they had complete editorial control over their papers, and legal considerations were the only constraints restricting what appeared in the paper.

Peter Hitchens’ Mail on Sunday article about Boston was mentioned several times during the course of the evening, with Bob McAuley asking how the newspapers reacted to the columnist’s negative portrayal of the town.

Mr Stray replied that the story, which appeared in the newspaper in September, had impacted on the town, but made the point that it was a columnist reporting his experiences of the town.

He added: “Clearly we can’t write off what was written. It clearly resonated with some people, but it was written from one person’s perspective who did not live in the town.”

Mr McAuley added that he thought the newspapers had not done enough to report on what he called the ‘influx’ of migrants in recent years. However, The Target’s Mr Holmes pointed towards an investigation carried by his paper when people from Portugal first began to come to Boston 10 years ago. He added: “We have to focus on issues as they come and cover it that way, rather than do a generalised piece. We would not do a huge comment piece about immigration.”

Mr Hitchens’ article was one of the reasons the idea of a protest march against mass immigration came about in the town. However, at the meeting, Coun Elliott Fountain stressed that the current inquiry was thought up before both the march and the Peter Hitchens piece.

The Task and Finish group’s next meeting will take place on May 30, when representatives from other councils in Lincolnshire will take part. MP Mark Simmonds will be quizzed on June 8.