Front page of the Daily Mail

Boris and Gove: We’ll bring in tough Australian points style system to slash arrivals from EU.

So says the front page of today’s Daily Mail. It continues:

Brexit would pave the way for an immigration revolution to slash numbers arriving from the EU, leading Out campaigners pledge today.

Readers will have no difficulty working out how the Mail’s editors feel about this. They want this ‘tough’ system.

As it happens I have just been reading Naomi Klein’s account, in her This Changes Everything, of the Australian Government’s immigration detention centre at the Pacific island of Nauru. The migrants

are crammed into a rat-infested guarded camp made up of rows of crowded, stiflingly hot tents. The island imprisonment can last up to five years, with the migrants in a state of constant limbo about their status, something the Australian government hopes will serve as a deterrent to future refugees.

Klein describes some of the reports that have leaked out:

grainy video of prisoners chanting “We are not animals”; reports of mass hunger strikes and suicide attempts; horrifying photographs of refugees who had sewn their own mouths shut, using paper clips as needles; an image of a man who had badly mutilated his neck in a failed hanging attempt.

I don’t know how much more of this you want to read but maybe you’re about to have dinner so I’ll spare you the rest of the reports.

The Daily Mail omitted to include these details. In the abstract, the idea of being ‘tough’ on immigrants doesn’t sound that bad. And in the abstract it will remain; whichever way the British vote in the forthcoming referendum, you and I will not be incarcerated in Nauru. We will not even visit it. It is easy to support the idea of being tough on people we don’t know anything about but have been taught to fear.

The issue is not just about the Daily Mail. Paul Dacre, the editor, wants his paper read. Without doubt he has nurtured his own brand of xenophobia among his readers, but his paper sells because many people like it.

You and I, if we had nowhere to live, would travel until we found somewhere. When other people do the same, why should we be ‘tough’ on them? Why should we consign them to fates so awful that the governments responsible try to keep them secret? Are we becoming a less civilised, more barbaric nation for wanting this toughness?

Part of the problem, without doubt, is the irresponsibility of the mass media themselves. The ‘free press’ is supposed to be free so that it can reveal the faults of powerful people like the Government. Instead, it uses its freedom to maximise profits, and this often means appealing to the worst parts of human nature.

I suspect that the converse is just as important. As some public institutions, like the mass media, become more single-minded about their profiteering, where are the public institutions that make it their business to uphold public moral standards?

The churches used to perform this role. Now their influence has declined so far that they can have precious little clout against the xenophobic media.

Still, this is an issue on which Jews, Christians and Moslems can unite. Everybody in the world was made by the one god, who loves us all equally. Nobody should be left without a home. Instead of welcoming the thought of tough punishments for refugees, we should be getting together with other countries to find a home for every single one of them.