Mary Fee: We can all play a part in ending discrimination against gypsies

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I WAS honoured to chair the launch of two reports by Amnesty International on Scottish gypsy travellers looking at local service provision and media coverage of gypsy travellers throughout Scotland.

Sadly, the reports show that despite positive steps there is still widespread discrimination. Unfortunately, this is exacerbated by coverage in the press and by politicians who are quick to condemn a minority group.

Half of the newspaper articles on gypsy travellers can be classified as overtly negative due to the prevalence of stereotypes throughout; 38 per cent of all articles linked gypsy travellers and criminality, 32 per cent referencing dirt and hygiene.

While one cannot say if this leads directly to the negative image of gypsy travellers, I am sure that it does contribute. About 92 per cent of young gypsy travellers will have experienced bullying at some point in their life, and while shows such as Big Fat Gypsy Weddings hide behind the perception of being informative about gypsy traveller values, they help only to reinforce these misconceptions.

Those aged 55 to 69 and 16 to 25 are more discriminatory against gypsy travellers than others. This shows that it is not just a generational problem and that the government must do more to help ensure that gypsy travellers are heavily included in any programme that tackles discrimination.

Further to that, it is paramount that politicians should deal with all and any issues surrounding gypsy travellers with the respect and sensitivity that they would bestow on any other minority group or indeed any other constituent.

Journalists have reached out for comment, but are often met with reluctance from the gypsy traveller community. It is hard to tell if this reluctance stems from negative reporting that has preceded any contact with the community, but in order to ensure that they are not compounding on the negative press they must make themselves open to dialogue with journalists.

It is up to all of us – politicians, journalists and gypsy travellers – to help bring this discrimination to an end.

• Mary Fee is MSP for West Scotland.