Press watchdog warns publications against using phrase ‘fake refugee’, clears Courier-Mail

The Courier-Mail has been cleared by the Press Council for publishing an opinion piece which made references to “foreign-born criminals” and “fake refugees”, but the watchdog has warned other publications to avoid using the same phrase.

Written by columnist Des Houghton, the opinion piece was published on May 27 with the print headline ‘Fake refugee outrage: Rapists, a hitman, and ice dealers allowed to stay’. Online, the article was titled ‘Opinion: Administrative Appeals Tribunal has gone too far by allowing foreign-born criminals to stay‘.



The article made reference to decisions made by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s decision to overrule an attempt to revoke visas from “foreign-born criminals”, which Houghton described as a “troubling twist”.

Later in the article, comments were made around “fake asylum seekers” lying on their visa applications by saying they were at risk of being killed or persecuted.

After a complaint was made to the Press Council, the Courier-Mail refuted claims references to “foreign-born criminals” and “fake refugees” were inaccurate or misleading. The publication also said it had acted with reasonable fairness and balance and had not contributed to offence or distress.

It said the opinion piece simply commented on decisions by the AAT, noting the term “fake refugee” was not used in the legal sense of ‘refugee’, but in the context of the news around at the time to describe a group of people not granted refugee status.

The Press Council agreed the differing headlines of the print and online edition had the potential to mislead readers as they conflated two different ideas, however said the article drew together various issues which had received media coverage.

Further, it agreed the publication had taken steps to ensure the opinion was presented with fairness and balance and not based on inaccurate information.

But The Press Council did warn against using the phrase “fake refugee” in future.

“To avoid diminishing the integrity of the national debate concerning asylum seekers and refugees, care ought be taken to avoid applying the label “fake refugee” to individuals who have never sought or gained asylum, and to ensure that where such a term is used in the public sphere, it is accurately attributed to its source,” it said.


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