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Craig Byers



This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?
This week’s The Media Show featured a remarkable pair of interviews about BBC bias – especially regarding BBC bias against Donald Trump.

The first interview featured Charles Moore of the Spectator, laying into the BBC’s ‘groupthink’ and the corporation’s lack of even-handedness when it comes to disputing/believing ‘facts’ (i.e. questioning figures from the Trump side whilst simply taking on trust figures from the anti-Trump side), plus making the contrast between how the BBC greeted the election of Barack Obama with how it’s greeted the election of Donald Trump.

The second interview featured James Harding, Director of BBC News. It was one of those BBC interviews when the senior BBC manager essentially says little other than that ‘the BBC is getting it about right’. Even when he sounded as if he was about to concede one of Charles Moore’s points, Mr Harding spun around and refused to concede it:

JAMES HARDING  Erm, I think, let me say two things. One is: I think Charles Moore makes a really good point and made a really good point in that article which is, if you’re going to have an argument about the honesty of the President of the United States in picking a fight with the media about the size of his audience at the inauguration, then you’d better be as vigorous and as keen to monitor the numbers of people who go on marches. And I think that point is not just related to Trump, it’s related to that bigger issue about public protests and how do you make sure that you, you do that accurately?

STEVE HEWLETT:         So do you think there was an element in the BBC’s reporting . . .

JH:          (interrupting) So . . .

SH:         . . . that could fairly be described as ‘uneven’ slightly?

JH:          No, I just think, I think what that is an extremely important thing is (sic) to keep on reminding people that if you’re going to pick a fight over fake news – and there is a fight on all sides over fake news, then you keep coming back to the efforts you make to be accurate.  That’s a really important point. Plus, he quite blatantly side-stepped some of Steve Hewlett’s sharper questions (or, to put it another way, failed to answer them), eg:

SH:         I guess is . . . I mean, this is a very cheeky question . . .

JH:          Hm-hmm (laughs)

SH:         And there’s no reason why you should have a proper answer to it, in fairness . . .

JH:          Can I just say, ‘No I don’t’ (laughs)

SH:      Do you . . . well, that might be the answer. Do you know anybody on the journalistic or editorial staff at the BBC, who is pro-Trump?

JH:          (two second pause) (inhales) So . . .

SH:         As an individual I mean.

JH:        So, so really important . . . there’s a really important thing here, which is that, people inside the BBC, they are all journalists, actually, one of the great misunderstandings about journalists is that there is such a thing as groupthink. Journalists, by nature, have really contrary opinions, they have different opinions, certainly when, when there’s a group of think— er, people who go in one direction, they, by nature, want to go the other direction, you know them as well as I do. Erm, one thing that is true of the BBC is of course, you leave all your personal opinions at the door.

Yeah right!

It was a strikingly weak performance, all in all.
Full Transcript:

Transcript of BBC Radio 4, The Media Show, 25th January 2016, James Harding on claims of BBC Bias against Trump, 4.30pm

STEVE HEWLETT: Hello, he’s certainly been in the news alright.

NEWSREADER:     The White House is accused of telling falsehoods in a battle with the media about President Trump’s inauguration.

SH:         But has the BBC’s coverage of him and his administration been duly impartial?  We’ll hear from the former editor and Telegraph columnist Charles Moore and James Harding Director of BBC News. (Discusses other stories coming up in programme).  So, is the BBC Biased? It’s not exactly a new issue, but it appears to have been given a new lease of life by Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States.  Charles Moore, Conservative commentator and Telegraph columnist wrote a piece attacking what he suggested was the corporation’s one-sided coverage of Trump. Whilst Trump’s attempts to challenge the otherwise low estimates of the numbers attending his inauguration were given a fully rigorous going over, estimates for attendance at the women’s march against Trump, put by organisers into the millions worldwide, were allowed to pass without question. Moore sees this as indicative of a much deeper malaise. In a moment we’ll hear from James Harding the BBC’s Director of News, but first I asked Charles Moore to explain his problem with the BBC’s reporting of President Trump.

CHARLES MOORE:              Everything in the Trump side of things is challenged, not necessarily wrongly so, but it is challenged and everything on the anti-Trump side is not challenged. One of the reasons that Donald Trump is now President of United States is because of the massive counter-reaction in middle America against what they call the Liberal media, and in a way they are right, you know, the New York Times, ABC, CNN, etc, present particular view of the world which is extremely hostile to a certain sort of ordinary American. And the BBC, who Donald Trump describes as ‘another beauty’ is the most important exterior non-American network that also behaves like that. And so what this reporter is, about the figures is, is not actually really a sort of disinterested inquiry into the figures, it’s a battle between the Liberal media and Donald Trump.

SH:         I mean, whereas the New York Times clearly defines itself, or declares itself to be anti-Trump, called him a liar, recommended a vote for Hillary, are you saying that the BBC in some ways sees itself as fighting the, in inverted comas, ‘the good fight’ against the evil Trump?

CM:        Yes of course, it will try to, at least to some extent to present facts properly but secondly because it’s paid for by the licence fee and has a charter which says that it has to be unbiased, so it can’t actually write its own article as it were, saying, you know, ‘We hate Donald Trump’, which the New York Times can, but it does. And I think it’s so obvious it hardly needs description.

SH:         But do you think there are a group of people somewhere in the BBC, sitting around a table deciding that this is the way things . . .

CM:        (speaking over) No, no, no.

SH:         . . . should be done?

CM:        No, no, it’s like all, almost all BBC bias, it’s groupthink. It’s the same people thinking the same thing and it –  by the way doesn’t only apply to Donald Trump, it applies to the assumption made about Brexit, it applies to climate change, a whole range of issues where there is an automatic assumption about what a decent person would feel. And, I don’t regard this as a conspiracy, but I regard it as quite a serious dereliction of duty about reflecting the variety of opinion in society.

SH:         But if you have someone like President Trump, for example, issuing forth with – I think of myself as a reasonably independently minded observer of these things, things that are really demonstrably untrue, or at the very least massively exaggerated, I mean it’s just this weekend we had the inauguration figures, we had his assertion that the media had concocted his feud with the FBI and CIA, when you look back at the tweets he issued around the time, that seems to be just plain nonsense. He then had to go on illegal immigrant voters, that last claim was made without, from what I can see, a single shred of evidence, and even senior Republicans are saying to him, ‘Please stop saying this, it’s going to get us all into a lot of trouble’. When you have someone doing that, is there any other way of dealing with him?

CM:        I think the way you phrased your question shows what you think of President Trump in the first place and therefore confirms my point. By the way, I’m not defending the particular claims that President Trump makes. I personally haven’t criticised in public his tendency to exaggerate, but I think if you, if you think how you might approach other politicians with whom the BBC is less likely to disagree, they let them off, they don’t submit them to the same sort of relentless attack and investigation. He’s been treated like a witness who . . . and prosecution is . . . trying to pull him apart. If you were a challenger to the establishment from the left, the BBC would be welcoming him. So when President Obama comes in challenging a whole enormous range of American attitudes, partly because he’s the first black candidate, he gets the benefit of the doubt, 8 years ago, it’s . . . nobody’s going through all President Obama’s claims about whatever they may have been, because what you’re getting from the BBC is how wonderful it is that somebody has arisen against the white establishment. And now you have a great big white man who’s arisen against the establishment and he’s treated like a monster. This is simply because, or largely because, it reflects the BBC’s world view.

SH:         Do you think that there’s anything the BBC could do to remedy this?

CM:        First of all, I think it could knowledge it, and that would be a start to remedying it. Second, I think it should have an exterior investigation, not of . . .  bias in the sense of cheating, but about mindset, about the way almost everyone in the BBC thinks the same thing, and is therefore – and this is really my biggest objection to it all – so behind the game about what’s happening in world news. It didn’t understand that we were going to vote for Brexit, it doesn’t understand and therefore its viewers and listeners, it’s much harder for them to understand, what the revolt that has produced Trump is all about, because it’s just regarded as wicked, and that sort of bias against understanding, which is a phrase that John Birt used many years ago, is a really serious problem with the BBC which its own authorities and possibly exterior authorities should be invited to investigate.

SH:         So, James Harding, thanks very much for joining us. ‘A bias against understanding’ arising from groupthink, rather than kind of . . . any sort of clear, positive effort to mislead? Do you think there’s anything in that?

JAMES HARDING (sighs audibly) Well, firstly I should say, Steve, I think that having read you and listened to you for a fair few years now, I’m pretty sure that the way you asked the question about Donald Trump would be the way you would asked a question about a politician of any stripe. I mean, part of the job of the journalist is to lean into (fragment of word, or word unclear) people in positions of power. Erm, I think, let me say two things. One is: I think Charles Moore makes a really good point and made a really good point in that article which is, if you’re going to have an argument about the honesty of the President of the United States in picking a fight with the media about the size of his audience at the inauguration, then you’d better be as vigorous and as keen to monitor the numbers of people who go on marches. And I think that point is not just related to Trump, it’s related to that bigger issue about public protests and how do you make sure that you, you do that accurately?

SH:         So do you think there was an element in the BBC’s reporting . . .

JH:          (interrupting) So . . .

SH:         . . . that could fairly be described as ‘uneven’ slightly?

JH:          No, I just think, I think what that is an extremely important thing is (sic) to keep on reminding people that if you’re going to pick a fight over fake news – and there is a fight on all sides over fake news, then you keep coming back to the efforts you make to be accurate.  That’s a really important point.

SH:         (speaking over, fragments of words, unclear)_

JH:          But can I just make . . .

SH:         (speaking over) But when I looked at the website and so on . . .

JH:          Hmm.

SH:         I haven’t seen all the broadcast coverage, but erm, it, it was quite clear, that whereas Trump . . . Trump’s numbers were being taken to task, now, in fairness to the journalists who did that, that might well be because there was direct, concrete evidence that what he was saying simply wasn’t true, or was massively exaggerated. When it came to the ‘millions of people’ quote . . .

JH:          Hmm.

SH:         . . . around the world, I mean, that may simply not be checkable in any meaningful way, but nevertheless, you know, march organisers are renowned for inflating their numbers . . .

JH:          Yes.

SH:         . . . and there was no sign of any scepticism, being . . .

JH:          Yeah.

SH:         . . . shown. Journalistic scepticism I mean, towards that number.

JH:          (inhales) Look, there’s . . . there is a real risk here that we all lose our minds and we disappear into a debate about something that doesn’t . . . matter as deeply as the real changes that are happening in the world . . .

SH:         (words unclear, speaking under)

JH:          (speaking over) But let me just, let me just finish. There is clearly a difference between the President of the United States challenging a piece of reporting that compares the audiences in 2009 with the audiences in 2017. That is a, that is about whether or not President of the United States is using the podium in the White House to try and challenge what looks to be demonstrably true. There’s a second point which is: is the BBC when it makes estimates and any other news organisation to that matter, makes estimates of crowds, is it rigorous enough about those estimates and does it take into account inflation. I’ll just stand back to this for a minute. There is a really important risk here that the media turns into a circular firing squad and starts having such a huge discussion about itself that it misses what are the really essential changes that are happening. And just to take it back to how the BBC is thinking about this is: there are going to be, by the nature of the way in which the new President of United States operates, huge media flare-ups. He’s picked fights with certain networks, he’s had arguments about actors, about shows and these are fantastically interesting. At the same time of course there are really important changes to the way in which United States is operating in the world of trade, in the world of aid and development. One of the things we keep saying in our morning conferences, ‘Let’s keep an eye on those executive orders, make sure we’re really rigorous in understanding . . .

SH:         (speaking over) Okay, (fragment of word, unclear)

JH:          . . .  what the President is doing. And  I think that is really important this, because the media spat actually could distract us from some of the things . . .

SH:         (speaking over) Okay.

JH:          . . .  that are quite important . . .

SH:         We’ll come back to how you’re dealing with him . . .

JH:          Yeah.

SH:         . . . and the things you may have to set up to do things differently given the sort of challenges that he and his regime clearly represent. Erm, but just to go back to one more specific thing, he says in the article, we didn’t hear it in the conversation there, that he says whenever Fox News comes up in the BBC’s coverage, it’s described as pro-Trump – there’s no real argument about that, it is,  unquestionably, pro-Trump and (slight laughter in voice) I’m not even sure Fox News would deny . . . would seek to, would seek to avoid the charge.

JH:          Actually, if you look back through the course of 2015-16, Fox as a Republican-leaning network actually had a quite ambivalent relationship with Donna Trump, it’s changed, obviously . . .

SH:         (speaking over) Well, as of last weekend you were describing him, describing them as pro-Trump. However, when the New York Times or CNN or NBC or ABC turns up, all of whom are in their own ways anti-Trump, they’re never described as such.

JH:          (inhales) I, I think, look, I think . . .

SH:         (speaking over)(fragment of word, or word unclear) You’re not giving the same signal.

JH:          (fragments of words, unclear) And again, this is my point about the media turning into a circular firing squad.  Different networks there would take different views, and, you know, if you look at the way the US media works, it’s different to the way it works here in the UK.  You know, in British newspaper, newspaper editor has control of the run of the news pages, and also the opinion pages, and the leader column.  In the US it’s different.  You run the news pages and there’s a separate group that runs opinions and leaders.  So clearly, if you look at the New York Times, they’ve taken a, they took a very strong pro-Hillary, anti-Donald Trump position.  Reporters there would say, ‘our job is also, in the news pages, to try and report the stories fairly and accurately.’  So, it is a complicated picture, I go back to my point I’m afraid, Steve, which is I think there is a big media argument happening, I don’t want to distract, it to distract us from actually the really key issue . . .

SH:         (speaking over) But, but, but (fragments of words, unclear)

JH:          . . . which is the presidency of Donald Trump.

SH:         But you could resolve these, these, these . . . these are footling in a way . . .

JH:          Hm-hmm.

SH:         I take your point, it’s not . . . you know . . . their nuclear policy appears to be changing, (laughter in voice) rather more significant.  Their policy towards China might be changing, you know, these things are really significant I actually get the point. But simply being even-handed about the way you describe other news organisations, being even-handed about the way that you deal with different claims to numerical accuracy, that’s not a . . . it’s only an issue if someone doesn’t fix this.

JH:          And I guess what I’m saying is some people will make judgements about, particularly, networks, particularly on the TV networks, on the US papers, I think it’s easier to make that point, I think it’s, I think they’re clearer in their editorial position on the President.

SH:         So, do you think the BBC should start describing CNN in matters Trump as being anti-Trump?

JH:          I think (fragment of word, unclear) I think the BBC should, should focus on, on Donald Trump. I think that . . . I think that where you can see particular papers or particular news outlets taking a very clear editorial position, and it’s there in black and white or there in the soundbites, we should make that clear. Where there . . . where, where it’s more mixed, I think that the business of branding and seeking to brand every different outlet is probably a fools’ errand and actually is a distraction from the real story.

SH:         So there are times when you wouldn’t label Fox News as pro-Trump?

JH:          (two second pause) Yes. I think that’s right. And actually, if you look back at our coverage, that’s true.

SH:         Okay.  Just take his point more generally, or one of them anyway, about ‘groupthink’ – this is not the first time this has come up in the BBC, indeed, one of their own reports, run by, it was run by Stuart Prebble, ex-of ITV, and it looks at immigration and Europe . . .

JH:          Hmm.

SH:         . . . and it concluded that the BBC did suffer, in periods, through sort-of groupthink . . .

JH:          Hmm.

SH:         . . . because of the sort of people that the BBC was full of.  It didn’t suggest any active attempt at bias or whatever, but, you know, these are people who grew up in a world where being anti-immigration meant you were rather uncomfortably close to the National Front and neo-fascism. So racism and fascism became very connected with anti-immigration, and so, you know, people just didn’t go there.  So (fragment of word, or word unclear) sort of taken together, the BBC was exhibiting a sort of groupthink.  It . . . is there anything, do you think, in Charles’s argument that over Trump something similar could be happening?

JH:          I, I don’t think . . . I think if you look back at 2016, and people look back and say how do we understand the nature of Trump’s election victory over Hillary Clinton? Or the Leave victory over Remain? Actually, I think that in both of those cases, what the BBC sought to do – and we were right, to be honest with you, we were quite chastened by the experience of 2015 where, you know, as you remember, I think we discussed it, the experience of the polls, we weren’t reporting the polls, but the polls were reflecting the way in which we were conducting interviews, thinking about the likely outcome of the result. In 2016 I think we went into both . . . er . . . the June 23 referendum and the November election really clear in our mind that there was no trusting the polls, and one of two outcomes was possible in every case. And what we tried to do very differently last year was to make sure that we were not covering the, the race, we were covering the choice.  What we set out very clearly to do last year was to make sure, actually, let’s report the choice. I think that we did that, and we did it extremely carefully . . .

SH:         (speaking over) (fragments of words, or words unclear) The question, the question here . . .

JH:          I don’t think we, we, we (word or words unclear due to speaking over)

SH:         . . . I guess is . . . I mean, this is a very cheeky question . . .

JH:          Hm-hmm (laughs)

SH:         And there’s no reason why you should have a proper answer to it, in fairness . . .

JH:          Can I just say, ‘No I don’t’ (laughs)

SH:         Do you . . . well, that might be the answer. Do you know anybody on the journalistic or editorial staff at the BBC, who is pro-Trump?

JH:          (two second pause) (inhales) So . . .

SH:         As an individual I mean.

JH:          So, so really important . . . there’s a really important thing here, which is that, people inside the BBC, they are all journalists, actually, one of the great misunderstandings about journalists is that there is such a thing as groupthink.  Journalists, by nature, have really contrary opinions, they have different opinions, certainly when, when there’s a group of think— er, people who go in one direction, they, by nature, want to go the other direction, you know them as well as I do. Erm, one thing that is true of the BBC is of course, you leave all your personal opinions at the door.

SH:         So says James Harding.  And we also heard there from Charles Moore.

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Complaints from both sides (again)

Complaints from both sides (again)

This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?
The BBC must be happy today.

Yesterday came Boris at the Conservative Party conference saying (accurately) that the BBC is sometimes “shamelessly anti-Brexit” before adding (doubtless to the BBC’s delight), “I think the Beeb is the single greatest and most effective ambassador for our culture and our values”.

Today in strode (Sir) Craig Oliver in The Times saying that David Cameron had pressured the BBC in the other direction for “mistaking balance for being impartial”, demanding that “BBC editors should have been stamping their own independent authority and analysis on the output” (thus echoing the BBC’s very own John Simpson).

Inevitably, in response, in rides the BBC – bugles blaring, banners raised high – crying out its favourite mantra: “We’re getting complaints from both sides; ergo, we must be getting it about right!”…

and Politics Home quotes a BBC source as saying that very thing:

There’s nothing new in people having strong views about our coverage, but the public will notice a distinct irony in the BBC being accused of failing to do enough to stop Brexit on the one hand while being criticised for being anti-Brexit on the other. As we’ve said before, our job is to challenge politicians from all sides and interrogate the arguments. That’s what we’ve been doing and what we’ll continue to do.
Of course, the two complaints are different in kind. The first is saying that the BBC is biased; the second is saying that the BBC is impartial, but too impartial and ought to be taking sides – i.e. its side. Neither is saying the BBC is pro-Brexit (of course, as that would be ridiculous).

Where the BBC’s ‘complaints from both sides’ argument falls down (as so often) is that anyone claiming that the BBC has been either balanced or impartial over Brexit since the referendum result is arguing from a very sticky wicket. (To put it poetically, in the manner of Sir Andrew Motion, “The evidence is strong/That they are wrong”.) The BBC has had a heavy anti-Brexit bias since June 23 (as demonstrated by Radio 4’s Brexit Collection, for example).

And, despite the bias being not as severe before the referendum result, the bias even then still ran overwhelmingly against one side (the same side) – as (hopefully) both Is the BBC biased? and News-watch demonstrated (in considerable detail, and despite honourable exceptions).

Boris was right. The BBC is sometimes shamelessly anti-Brexit.

The campaign from the likes of John Simpson, Mark Thompson, Chris Patten, Paul Johnson of the IFS, Roy Greenslade, Timothy Garton Ash, (Sir) Craig Oliver and David Cameron, etc, however, for the BBC to become even more biased in their direction goes on and is evidently gathering pace. And they are probably knocking at an open door.

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BBC Concedes Political Bias – But Only Against Corbynistas

BBC Concedes Political Bias – But Only Against Corbynistas

This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?

Something highly unusual and rather disconcerting happened on Radio 4’s Feedback this week. Questions about BBC bias were put and a senior BBC editor repeatedly admitted that the BBC had got things wrong.

I cannot recall ever hearing such an interview before on Feedback – except over climate change, where various BBC editors have publicly confessed to the sin of not being hard enough on unbelievers like Nigel Lawson and Quentin Letts.

Still, this interview was even more striking than those because the BBC editor in question – BBC Political News Editor Katy Searle – admitted error on the BBC’s part not once, not twice but three times in the course of a single interview.

That must be unprecedented.

The issue at hand was: ‘Is the BBC biased against Jeremy Corbyn?’

Roger Bolton took the question very seriously indeed.

The first Corbynista complaint was that Traingate was a “non-story” and that the BBC should not have spent much time on it. Katy Searle rejected that particular complaint, saying that Traingate certainly was a significant story. (That is the one bit where she behaved like a typical BBC editor on Feedback).

The second Corbynista complaint was that an edition of The Week in Westminster had featured two Labour figures – Chris Mullen and Caroline Flint – discussing Jeremy Corbyn, both of whom said that Jeremy could not win an election. ‘Why wasn’t there a Corbyn supporter present?’ was the question asked. Katy accepted that complaint and said, yes, on that occasion, more could have been done to find a Corbyn supporter.

The third Corbynista complaint was that the BBC has run “factually incorrect” stories about thuggish behaviour by Corbyn supporters, citing the BBC’s reports about protests surrounding Stella Creasey that got where the protests happened wrong. Katy accepted that one too, saying, yes, a mistake was made there. “We” got it wrong, she said, adding: “In live broadcasting mistakes are made and I only think it’s right we put our hands up to that”.

The fourth Corbynista complaint was that the BBC has not been reporting what Jeremy Corbyn has been saying at packed meeting up and down the country. Katy rejected the idea that the BBC has not reported those meetings. However, she agreed that the BBC should talk more about the issues and said, “I would accept actually that we have done perhaps a little bit too much on the party leadership.”

Katy Searle was remarkably contrite and appealed, more than once, to Radio 4 listeners to believe that the BBC takes complaints about bias “very, very seriously”:

“Any accusation or perception of bias is taken very seriously and I, on a day to day basis, look at what we are doing on output and make sure we correct that”.

Isn’t that something?

Given all the years people like us have complained about BBC bias on issues of concern to us and got pretty much nowhere in terms of official concessions about, say, BBC pro-EU bias, or BBC pro-immigration bias, or BBC anti-Israel bias, etc, etc,…

…and given how often we have been told that single editions of ongoing programmes cannot be taken as proof of bias but must be judged, bias-wise, over time and many episodes, and how often our side is excluded from discussion after discussion (or utterly overwhelmed numerically on programme after programme) without the slightest chance of an admission of bias from the BBC…

and given how long and arduous the process of complaining about BBC bias usually is….

…isn’t it then utterly remarkable how easily Katy Searle conceded those points to Roger Bolton and his Corbynista listeners, and just how apologetic she sounded?

We have had pretty much all such complaints dismissively waived away on programmes like Feedback and Newswatch for donkey’s years only now to find that the merest whiff of grapeshot from a few Momentum types has the BBC bowing and scraping.

As I say, a truly remarkable interview.

Curiously, as Politics Home reports, the day before this edition of Feedback saw an intervention from far-left film director Ken Loach urging Jeremy Corbyn supporters to flood the BBC with complaints about bias.

Speaking to a Corbynista gathering, Mr Loach twice read out the number of the BBC Complaints line and coached his audience on the dos and don’ts of complaining to the BBC. (He did not mention Feedback though.)

“The BBC is an arm of the State. The BBC is not some objective chronicler of our time – it is an arm of the State,” he told them: “They have this pretence of objectivity where in fact it is propaganda on behalf of the broad interests of the State.”

blockquote text

Given the preferential treatment he is usually accorded by the BBC (see Today here and The World Tonight here) “the State” seems happy about the BBC giving Ken Loach a platform. And yet he is not remotely grateful, is he?

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BBC Archers trial portrays Brexit supporters as prejudiced bigots

BBC Archers trial portrays Brexit supporters as prejudiced bigots

This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?

Though I’ve listened to Radio 4 every since I was in my teens I’ve never paid any attention to The Archers.

For me The Archers has never been anything more than a happy opportunity to go and brew a nice cup of tea until the next programme comes on.

I know, however, that plenty of people are hooked on The Archers – including (as has become apparent in recent weeks) lots of surprising people who I’d never have expected to be Archers fans.

And I’d have to have been away on holiday to Proxima Centauri not to be aware that a remarkable number of people were glued to their radios last Sunday for the much-hyped one-hour trial special broadcast and that many of them apparently sobbed with joy when Helen was cleared of attempting to murder nasty, abusive Rob by the jury of famous actors.

I would have continued ignoring it but I saw the following tweet from the Salisbury Review/Spectator‘s Jane Kelly:
That got my interest. Was Jane right? Could it really be that the BBC would use the ‘biggest’ Archers episode ever to promote an anti-Brexit worldview? Would Radio 4 be that shameless?
Well, I’ve now listened to the famous episode – my first ever episode of The Archers (the longest episode of The Archers in the history of the programme).
I can’t say I’ve been converted though. All those star-name jurors still couldn’t convince me that the script was anything other than wooden and the emotional ending made me laugh. The word ‘melodrama’ popped into my head near the very end.

And, yes, Jane was right.

Another Twitter user quipped: Bloody hell it’s like Brecht wrote the worst episode of Columbo during a drunken Brexit dinner party.


That Brecht reference struck me as a telling one – especially as it occurred to me too. Brecht had strong propagandist designs on his audience. The committee who wrote this Archers script seemed to have propagandist designs too.

(The comparison isn’t spot-on though. Unlike Brecht – who liked his audiences to stay emotionally detached – the Archers‘ scriptwriters were clearly trying to pull on their audience’s emotional levers at every stage).

There were certainly quite a lot of ‘agitprop’ bits.
I will simply post my notes on what I heard below, unedited – except from an embarrassingly misplaced apostrophe. (The quotes are exact). See if you can spot any agendas being pushed:

18.04 An unpleasant pro-Rob juror rants in Brexitspeak.

22.29 “I’ve been meaning to say, Parveen, that’s a beautiful headscarf you’re wearing. Very elegant”, says the nice, wise character played by Eileen Atkins. (You couldn’t make it up!!!)

23.25 Nice, dopey-sounding girl with no strong opinions: “It was all the stuff around Brexit…..What if we get the verdict wrong? It’s going to effect so many lives…. It feels like way too important a decision to be left up to us”. (!!!!!!)

25.04 “She’s just a sort of bigoted woman”. (A good juror about guilty-supporting Lisa).

26.14 Nice chap (Tristan) says to nice girl (Holly): “I’m more than upset. I’m ashamed. This is meant to be a cross-section of British society but (guilty-supporting) Dennis and Lisa haven’t got a clue”.

28.44 (Jackie, Eileen Atkins’s character): “Yes, an old post-grad student of mine has been up at Bradford for years in the Faculty of Social Sciences. Anyway, we were chatting over the summer. He’s terribly worried where his funding is going to come from now. So much of his research is in partnership with other universities across Europe. For once I’m glad I’m retired!”

Obviously Muslim Parveen is leaning towards not guilty, therefore good. Love how the nice ones want Helen freed and the not nice ones want her convicted. It’s so Brechtian!

33.37 (Jackie) “The whole reason we have a jury system is because some decisions are too important to be passed by a simple majority.”

38.48 (Nasty juror, Dennis, Nigel Havers, delivers a Brexiter-style ‘rant’): “You are kidding me! So-called experts without the slightest clue what it’s like to live in the real world thinking they know best about how the rest of us should be governed! Well, at least in this room ordinary folks get to make the decisions”.

(Nice  juror, Tristan) “Give me a break! It drives me insane. People going on about the real world. Who doesn’t live in the real world? Just because you don’t like the fact some people might be more educated than you and actually know what they’re talking about!”

40.17 (Nasty ‘bigoted’ juror Lisa to Parveen): “What do you know? Aren’t you supposed to obey your husband?”

Squabble at around 43.30, with Brexit slogans being yelled by the baddies. Holly calls a halt and Jackie takes over. Nigel Havers puts the bad side. Eileen Atkins puts the good side.

Our sub-Brechtian Archers writers made the ‘good jurors’ into Remain/Helen supporters and the ‘bad jurors’ into Leave/Rob supporters, with the in-betweeners going on a journey towards the (Remain/Helen) light. It was very schematic.
Plus, the specific messages the Archers scriptwriters sent out about the Brexit vote were pretty clear, weren’t they? That is, that the result was a result of ill-informed people having a say and that it should have been left in the hands of people who know what they’re actually talking about (parliament?) Plus that our EU membership was too important a decision to be passed by a simple majority in a referendum. (Parliament to overrule the result?) Plus that racism and bigotry played a part in the campaign.
Add the Archers scriptwriters obvious intent to also make a point about Muslims and ‘Islamophobia’ and the agenda-pushing all becomes a bit heavy-handed.
Of course, serious Archers fans may have been so wrapped up in the outcome of the trial that they missed these political messages but, from what I’ve seen on Twitter, I very much doubt it.
To end, here’s a representative sample of Twitter reaction to all the Brexit references:

Wow! One of #thearchers jurors slates ‘the experts’. #Brexit allegory goes into overdrive. Will 48% of them find Helen not guilty?

Just so we are all on the same page – does everyone have the words brexit, referendum & political metaphor in their #TheArchers notepad? 
Correct decision pulled from morass of biased idiocy: it’s not-Brexit #thearchers #freehelen
it’s all going a bit #brexit   #thearchers
‘Experts’ – it’s Brexit bingo! #TheArchers
Thank you #TheArchers for mentioning the problem of university funding and EU links post-Brexit in their biggest ever episode.
Given they have turned #TheArchers into a Brexit allegory, Helen is surely screwed.
‘Bigoted woman’ Brexit’ is this a kind of political bingo game? #thearchers
Helen’s trial as a metaphor for Brexit. Discuss. #thearchers
Remember: not all Brexit supporters are pro-Rob #thearchers
#thearchers hating this jury, getting flashbacks to #Brexit. Do I know my own country? Aaargh democracy…

“Well thank you Dennis. I’m sure a lot of us #BrExit fans feel it’s got very unfair for rapists” #TheArchers
This is worse than I ever imagined. Helen = Brexit. Come on! Nigel #thearchers
#thearchers this jury is a great example of how we got the Brexit vote we got 
*winces at this jury* cf Brexit #thearchers
Cheeky #Brexit reference in #TheArchers. Let’s hope Helen #Remains at Blossom Hill and Rob #Leaves Ambridge for good.
On no! The jury’s made up of people who couldn’t decide on the #EURef … & probably voted #Brexit #thearchers
#thearchers Are we having the #Brexit debate NOW!?
Brexit reference! #thearchers

Photo by bloomsberries

Craig Byers: Mardell anti-Brexit bias continues

Craig Byers: Mardell anti-Brexit bias continues

This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?
Mark Mardell’s latest website article in the wake of the Brexit vote focuses on “society’s sharp divides”.
It’s classic MM, in that it doubtless believes itself to be impartial and to be acting as the ‘BBC voice of reason’ throughout whilst being riddled with bias from start to finish.
Allow me to explain (with apologies, at some length)…
It begins by saying that the referendum has been a bad thing, socially-speaking. It’s done harm in itself and made even worse the problems that were there before:

The referendum has carved our country into two camps, sharpened existing divisions, and created some new ones. 

And “a silence, a vacuum, an absence” has followed immediately, politically-speaking. And “chaos”, “the great divide”, “betrayal” are facing us in coming months.
His first link takes us to passionate pro-European Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post. He then links the Tea Party to Trump, and then both of them to the “I want my country back” tendency here in the UK.
The words “I want my country back” are “a code”, he tells us. They could mean this or it could mean that, but in the US “for some, it is a yearning for a time there was a white man in the White House, and official signs weren’t in Spanish” – i.e it’s simply racism.
And immediately after whistling at any passing dogs with that ‘racism’ hint he writes:

We heard the same slogan in the referendum too. 

Work out the British meaning yourself.

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Ah but…the irony is that it’s now “another lot who feels they have lost their country” (linking to the New Statesman). “To describe these people as “bad losers” is to miss the point”, write Mark (linking, in a contradictory spirit, to Richard Littlejohn, boo!, in the Daily Mail, double boo!)

It’s then on the “heartless” grief and agony of the losing Remain side – an agony “sharpened by the apparent increase in assaults on people assumed to be foreign or immigrants”, which “many who voted Remain…may suspect” is a result of Brexit.
All the ways to stop Brexit are then mentioned. And Mark says that Leave supporters would have reacted just as furiously and tried just as hard to overturn the referendum result if they’d lost.
Or so he admits he “assumes”. (I’m not so sure that Leave supporters would have behaved like that. Some would, but I suspect not anywhere near so many).
“Everyone” might soon be really “betrayed” and “left behind” Mark continues, just as cheerfully.
Mr. BBC Impartiality then looks at the issues through Labour’s problems before sketching out the two ‘outlooks’ in doubtless unconsciously loaded language, eg:
Leavers tend to believe in a strong unitary state, based at Westminster, ruling over the whole of the UK.
They dislike devolution and the EU in equal measure, and believe not so much in the old British Empire, but in what some have called the English Empire.
Those in the “Remain” camp tend to be more relaxed about more diffused sovereignty and identity, and with power either devolved down to the nations that make up our country, or up to supra-national organisations such as the EU.
And then ol’ Cheery Chops ends by returning to the ‘badness’ of the referendum ‘and that which it hath wrought’:
Referendums tend to be a device to keep divided parties together.
This one has not only torn the parties asunder but divided the people.
It is hard to see how the political process over the next few months and years will serve to heal it.
Woe, woe and quadruple woe!
Incidentally, his previous BBC website piece Brexit: The story on an island apart, written a day after the result, is cut from similar cloth – though doing a James Naughtie and clothing the bias in ‘historical’ and ‘literary’ perspective.
Its framing device is to cite John of Gaunt’s famous paean to England from Richard II (his ‘this sceptred isle’ speech). It begins positive, but ends negative:

We see ourselves as separate, and so we shall soon be cut out of councils and commission that are still shaping a continent. Some in Brussels may reflect smugly on how John of Gaunt’s speech in Richard II concludes: “That England that was wont to conquer others/Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.”

In between, while trying (briefly) to be ‘fair’ about Eurosceptics, he argues that – for everyone but the UK – the EU has been “a bulwark against history, against horror”. “For all its bureaucracy”, the EU “is a deeply romantic project”, Mark says.
Then he lists all the reasons why we Brits are considered wrong-headed. They cried when they heard that we wanted to leave them. (We wouldn’t do that, Mark said). They speak English. We‘ve won over the EU’s economic agenda. They‘ve treated us with kid gloves. Etc….
….and Mark Mardell, as so often, steps out from merely ‘reporting’ into ‘editorialising’. After citing Neil Kinnock joking that “the EU changed forever when the Swedes arrived and started saying “good morning” in the lift”, Mark writes:.
One might think that is trivial. But maybe it highlights something we rarely realise in our desire for hard power – the extent of our soft power.
(The “perhaps” in that paragraph is unlikely to fool anyone, I suspect!)
And on MM goes, listing yet more of our ‘successes’ regarding the EU’s direction. And, having made that point (at length) he then writes:
Now we want to be outside the whole shebang. Don’t be surprised if the instinct of some is to make sure that we feel some discomfort on our way out.
(Aren’t we ungrateful! And haven’t we got it coming!)
The piece goes on, but you’ve doubtless heard enough about it already. Please read both pieces for yourselves though and form your own judgements.

Photo by The Nick Page

Craig Byers: Mishal Husain distorts immigration debate

Craig Byers: Mishal Husain distorts immigration debate

I’ve been a little bit surprised at how little has been written (so far) about Mishal Husain’s BBC Two documentary Britain & Europe: The Immigration Question

I’ve seen barely a comment about it anywhere.

For me, however, it was one of the most striking ‘landmark’ programmes of the BBC’s entire EU referendum coverage.

Why has there been so little comment? Was it because few people watched it? Or that they did watch it but found nothing to complain about?

I have to say that I found it thoroughly biased.

Yes, Mishal Husain & Co. covered their backs by featuring plenty of people from each side and making impartial noises throughout, but the programme’s structure was fundamentally biased.

That biased structure followed a classic template (however disguised it may have been):

Start by focusing on the side you don’t agree with. 

Give them time (say the first quarter of an hour) and allow them a good hearing so that you appear to be being fair. 
Then spend the rest of the programme (three quarters of an hour) taking their points one by one and systemically trying to undermine or debunk them. 
Add more and more attractive voices from the side you do agree with as you go on (say lots of successful, well-integrated, UK-loving EU migrants). 
Add other voices from the side you do agree with who people who don’t share your point of view will relate to even more (say fearful British expats).
Keep adding that every case you’ve shown which suggests mass EU migration has had unfortunate consequences isn’t typical of the UK as a whole. 
Also keep carefully, cautiously, adding your own points pushing the narrative of the side you support. 
Keep including voices from the side you don’t agree with though in order to keep appearing fair, and – if possible – use them, wherever you can, to back your case (say using Matthew Goodwin and Iain Duncan Smith to rubbish concerns about benefits tourism expressed by members of the public elsewhere).
And mix! 

The first quarter of an hour was dominated by pro-Leave/immigration-sceptic voices (plus an empathetic if not sympathetic academic) –  Sonia from Clacton, Douglas Carswell MP, Professor Matthew Goodwin, Alp Mehmet of Migration Watch and Rod Liddle. Plus Alan Johnson from Labour In for Britain (for the Remain side)  – the ‘dissenting voice’ – was shown being challenged by Mishal Husain.

Despite Mishal noting ‘in passing’ that Clacton has unusually low numbers of EU migrants, this was ‘a dream start’ for pro-Leave viewers.

Then came the remaining three quarters of an hour of the programme.

Though other pro-Leave voices were included, along with those we’d already met – Iain Duncan Smith, Angie from Boston – and some hard-to-position public servants (head teachers, GPs) were also given space to point out the problems (and blessings) of sudden mass EU immigration….

…this (much longer) section of the programme focused far more on the pro-Remain/pro-mass immigration voices.

We heard from a successful Lithuanian migrant couple, Jonathan Portes of the NIESR, Alan Johnson (again), Professor Heaven Crawley, various EU migrant workers, Madeleine Sumption of the Migration Observatory, various likeable Edinburgh university students from the rest of the EU who love us, Stephen Gethins from SNP In Europe; Basia Klimas-Sawyer, a successful long-time migrant from Poland who loves England; Grazyna Lisowska-Troc, a successful Polish migrant to UK, and her charming daughter…and not one but two expat couples who love EU freedom of movement and like what the EU has done for them and who fear a pro-Brexit vote.

Mishal took on the concerns of pro-Leave/immigration-worried voters one by one – concerns about low-paid migrants undercutting British workers; pressure on schools; pressure on the NHS; concerns about benefit tourism – and undermined them.

Every place she’d gone to in order to report those concerns wasn’t typical, she kept saying. In the rest of the country the downsides of mass EU immigration aren’t anywhere near so stark, she kept saying.

Then came the sections on: pro-immigration Scotland (something Mishal asserted as a fact despite polling evidence from the BBC itself showing that Scotland is almost as keen as England to tighten up on immigration); the fears of British expats living in the EU thanks to EU freedom of movement (even though one man said he might have voted ‘Leave’ if he still lived in the EU); and, finally, the thoughts of those economically-helpful, flourishing, robustly middle-class EU migrants who have taken up living in Britain and taken up British citizenship, and who love living here, love the UK and love us.

And then there was Mishal’s commentary. Here’s a sample:

(Following on from Alan Johnson): Recent figures from the taxman support the assertion that migration has been good for the economy. 

(Teeing up Jonathan Portes): In London more than a third of the population was born outside the UK. It’s the most economically successful part of the country, crucial to the national economy. Some say the two things are linked. 

(Teeing up Professor Heaven Crawley:) One industry where (migrants) play an important role is in caring for our ageing population.   

(Debunking concerns about pressure on schools): A quarter of this schools pupils come from Eastern Europe and like other parts of the UK with high numbers of migrants there is real competition for places. But nationally a different picture emerges. We know that most children in Britain do in fact get into the school they want.  

(Debunking concerns about pressure on the NHS): With such a high concentration of migrants Peterborough is far from typical.  

(Debunking concerns about pressure on the NHS): Most migrants are young so they use health services much less than average.  

(Debunking concerns about pressure on the public services in general, and teeing up Madeleine Sumption): But there is something missing in the argument you often hear about migration putting pressure on public services as a whole. Most of the arrivals from the EU are working and paying taxes. Surely that extra money should help pay for extra demand on hospitals and schools.  

(To IDS, who agrees with her about benefit tourism not really being an issue): In fact EU migrants are less likely than UK nationals to claim unemployment benefit, housing benefits, tax credits, all of those. 

(About Scottish attitudes to immigration, and teeing up the SNP’s pro-immigration Stephen Gethins): So why the warm welcome? As its population ages is simply set to need more people, particularly more people of working age. The Scottish government and the Treasury believe that may only be fully achievable through an influx of migrants.

(Of EU free movement and expats): It’s something that’s changed John and Irene’s lives. Like more than a million other Britons they live elsewhere in the European Union. 

(On the ‘negative perceptions’ of earlier immigrants): You can even see negative perceptions in communities established by previous phrases of immigration.

(Teeing up Jonathan Portes): There’s no doubt that free movement of labour has been great for many Eastern Europeans. And some would argue there’s been little negative impact on our communities.


Speaking for myself (and at the risk of bring the Thought Police down on me), I have to say that EU immigration isn’t really what matters to me in this EU referendum vote.

Sovereignty, regaining control over our own affairs, security, etc, are issues that matter to me much more than the fact that hundreds of thousands of Poles have suddenly come to live and work alongside us.

It’s not that this influx of EU migrants doesn’t matter at all, of course. The scale and suddenness of the post-2004 EU influx was shamefully mismanaged by our last inept Labour government (and not managed much better by its coalition and Conservative successors). And there have been too many, too quickly (thanks to EU free movement rules). And that influx has unquestionably had a negative impact on the lives of many of our own low-paid and unemployed countrymen…

but I don’t doubt for one second that many if not most of those EU migrants have been economically and culturally beneficial to us, generally-speaking. And I’m not unhappy to have them here with us either – and, if we vote to leave the EU, I hope that many will stay with us and others will come to live with us.

And very importantly for me, most of those people have not wanted to harm us either (usually quite the reverse).

They don’t want to change us or blow us up or decapitate us in the name of their religion.

Immigrants who do want to change us or blow us up or decapitate us in the name of their religion bother me much, much more. We should concentrate on stopping them coming into our country at all costs, and on getting rid of every one of them who does manage to get it and wants to do us harm. That’s what taking back control of our borders would mean to me.

That’s my bias on this issue.

This article first appeared onIs the BBC Biased


Transcript of BBC2, 14th June 2016, Britain & Europe: The Immigration Question, 9pm

MISHAL HUSSAIN:           It’s the decision of a lifetime. Whether to stay in or to leave the European Union, the vast economic and political bloc that’s opened the doors of the UK to people from across the continent. Immigration is one of the most emotive and controversial issues in British politics. UNNAMED MALE:   Listen, my daughter could not get a school place!

UNNAMED MALE 2:        (word or words unclear) was a refugee (word or words unclear)

MH:       And now it’s centre stage in the referendum campaign.

BORIS JOHNSON:            You have absolutely no way of stopping it.

NIGEL FARAGE: Isis say they will use this migrant crisis to flood Europe with jihadi fighters. I suggest we take them seriously.

ALAN JOHNSON:             You use immigration to frighten people – it’s always been a powerful political weapon.

MH:       On one side, people claim that free movement within the EU is bad for Britain.

ROD LIDDLE:      For the top 4-5%, they get a gilded life of much cheaper nannies. But if you go outside London, wages are being lowered time and time again by cheap labour coming in from the continent.

ANGIE COOK Business Owner, Boston?:  I don’t know if I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this or not, I don’t care. I only employ English drivers.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:    This is not an anti-migration. This is an anti-uncontrolled migration.

MH:       While those who want to remain claim the economic benefits of free movement outweigh any problems.

ALAN JOHNSON:             The level of immigration in terms of free movement is something that I support.

DAVID CAMERON:          You will fundamentally damage our economy. That cannot be the right way of controlling immigration.

MH:       How we weigh up these arguments will shape the outcome of the referendum next week, and the future of the country for years to come. (opening titles) The English seaside. Evocative of a bygone, perhaps a simpler era, when Britain had a different sense of its identity. This is Clacton in Essex, filmed in 1961 when it was a thriving resort. Today, Clacton looks like this. Like many coastal towns, it has suffered. Its biggest attraction, a Butlin’s holiday camp, closed years ago.

SONIA CHOWLES:           Swan Taxis, good morning. Yeah, where from?

MH:       Sonia Chowles works in a local taxi office.

SONIA CHOWLES:           I have lived in Clacton on and off since I was about seven years old, um, so 23 years. I did leave Clacton for about a year but I came back, and I haven’t left since and… I have no intentions of leaving either.

MH:       But life here is not easy for Sonia and her young family. Her husband is disabled and she’s desperate for a council house that better suits their needs.

SONIA CHOWLES:           The housing waiting list is 15 years long, which is a huge amount of wait for someone who needs a home, so I don’t think it’s a case of no more immigrants, I think it’s a case of no more anybodies. I just don’t think the town can take any more, be them English, Welsh, Scottish, be them from the EU, be them from America. We just can’t physically take any more people into this town. There’s already too many.

MH:       Clacton has a relatively low population of people born outside the UK, but immigration is a big issue here, as it is in many parts of the country. At the last election, almost 4 million people across Britain voted for Ukip, a party dedicated to getting Britain out of the European Union.

DOUGLAS CARSWELL:    It’s Clacton, the largest town. I think it is the centre of the universe.

MH:       How do people feel about the EU round here?

DOUGLAS CARSWELL:    I think people are pretty sceptical about it.

MH:       Despite all those votes, only Clacton elected a Ukip MP, former Conservative Douglas Carswell.

DOUGLAS CARSWELL:    It’s the Europe of the political elite that I think people feel frustrated by and hostile towards.

MH:       Clacton’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average.  And where work is available, wages tend to be low. As far as the frustrations of people who live here are concerned, isn’t that much more about their economic situation? The fact is that this is an area of high deprivation. If they’re going to be angry, they should be angry at Westminster?

DOUGLAS CARSWELL:    If what you said was correct, then you would expect that in very prosperous Frinton, there would be less Euro-scepticism than in relatively socioeconomically deprived Jaywick. That’s simply not the case. Many, particularly on the Left, like to think that if people are disaffected and discontent, it must be caused by economics. I think economics is important. But I don’t think that’s really the issue. There are other issues to do with a feeling of control. They want to believe that they can elect a government that can take back control. And no one wants to close the borders, but people do want to control the borders. And I think that’s a quite legitimate aspiration.

MH:       How are you going to vote in the referendum?

SONIA CHOWLES:           I’m going to vote Out. I’m voting Out, so is my other half, and pretty much everyone else I’ve spoken to. I think immigration’s got a big part to play in the services that are overwhelmed at the moment.

MH:       And if we voted to Leave, if the UK left the EU, how do you think that your life would change?

SONIA CHOWLES:           I don’t think my life would. To be completely honest, I would hope it would by the time my children are grown up and have their own homes and their own children. I think that’s what we need to do it for, not for the generation now, but for the next generation that are growing up and growing into a country that at the moment is not going to be able to support them when they’re older. Whereas we need a country that will support the next generation, and I don’t think at the moment that we can do that.

PROF. MATTHEW GOODWIN University of Kent: Clacton’s journey, over the last 20 years, I think is a journey that many people in Britain have also been on, and can relate to. And I think it’s a journey that many political representatives, and also media, erm, elites, struggle to relate to. It’s a part of Britain that doesn’t celebrate what people in London celebrate. It’s a part of Britain that doesn’t cherish the progressive cosmopolitan values that people in London cherish. It’s a part of Britain that feels as though a way of life that it once knew and held tight is slipping away over the horizon. And it wants to let people know that’s how it feels.

BORIS JOHNSON:            Is it not time we took back control of our immigration policy?

MH:       But concern about immigration from the EU goes far beyond Clacton.

NIGEL FARAGE: We want our borders back. We want our country back!

MH:       Polls regularly suggest that it is a big concern for British voters.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:    (speaking to voter on doorstep) We can’t control our border with the EU from migration and that runs pretty much out of control now.

BORIS JOHNSON:            We won’t be drowned out, will we? (crowd shouts ‘no’)

MH:       As we approach the referendum, EU migration is, for some, the biggest issue of all. And Leave campaigners have been keen to put it at the top of the agenda.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:    I can’t think of any other country in the world that would not… That would think it somehow extreme to want to have border control and therefore to be in charge of how many people come into your country. That seems to me a quite reasonable position to take.

ARCHIVE NEWS FOOTAGE:         (Choir sings ‘Ode to Joy’) Celebrating a new beginning, a new Europe’.

MH:       In 2004, many former Communist countries joined the European Union. A moment of unity and history for a continent that had seen decades of ideological division. At the time, net migration from the EU stood at 15,000 a year. But a new era was about to begin.

ALP MEHMET Migration Watch UK:         In 2004, we had the enlargement of the EU. Unlike some of our EU partners, we said yeah, anyone who wants to come from the eight countries from Eastern Europe can come straight away. Well, that was a mistake, and it’s been acknowledged that that was a mistake.

ARCHIVE NEWS FOOTAGE:         A new queue for the newcomers, able to have their passports checked in the EU channel for the first time.

ALP MAHMET:   The government commissioned some studies as to what sort of additional numbers might we expect, and lo and behold, they were told that it would be no more than 13,000 a year. It was a hell of a lot more than that.

MH:       Within three years, the figure was almost ten times that – as annual net migration from the EU went above 120,000.

ROD LIDDLE:      The public weren’t told. There was a deliberate decision by the Labour government, which I voted for, I’m a member of the party, it was a deliberate decision to keep the public in the dark about immigration, which is utterly shameful. And they did that because they knew that the public would balk at the numbers who were coming in.

MH:       Do you think that the British public was misled about how many people from eastern Europe would come in after 2004, because that is the charge that’s been placed against the Labour government of the time?

ALAN JOHNSON:             Not deliberately misled. They got the facts wrong. The figures were wrong and for that, I think various ministers have apologised over the years. We had 600,000 vacancies in the economy. There was a transition period of seven years, but the three most successful economies in Europe, ourselves, the Irish Republic and Sweden, actually needed people. We needed workers.

MH:       But if you had had the right numbers at that point, would you have looked at them and thought, “This is going to be a lot for the country to handle. We should think carefully about how we go about this”?

ALAN JOHNSON:             Perhaps, because the numbers were far higher than we expected. And we needed people over here. In a sense, the market was working because there were jobs for people to come to. But I guess that would have coloured our judgement if we’d have got, if the statistics . . .  these statistics are never right, by the way.

DAVID CAMERON:          No ifs, no buts, this is a promise we made to the British people and it is a promise we are keeping.

MH:       Against a long-term rise in migration to Britain, David Cameron made a bold pledge in his election manifesto of 2010.

DAVID CAMERON:          Net migration to this country will be in the order of tens of thousands each year.

MH:       That target has never been met. In fact, net migration, the number of people arriving minus those leaving the country, has risen. Last month, the Office for National Statistics revealed that in 2015, it was 333,000. EU net migration was 184,000. Is the level of immigration, at the moment, acceptable to you?

ALAN JOHNSON:             The level of immigration in terms of free movement is something that I support. The level of immigration that’s coming from outside the . . .

MH: (speaking over) 184,000 people?

ALAN JOHNSON:             . . . European Union, that’s 184,000 people. This is not a great crisis, incidentally. There is not a crisis out there. There is a situation where we need to ensure we have people working in jobs, paying taxes, to make sure we can cope with an aging population.

MH:       There are now an estimated 3 million EU citizens living in Britain. The population of the UK is projected to rise by more than 4 million in the next ten years, half of that directly because of immigration, both from the EU and the rest of the world. The principle that the European Union’s 500 million citizens have freedom of movement means that immigration is part of our referendum debate. For some, it may well be the defining issue when they decide whether to vote Leave or Remain. So how can we assess its true impact on the UK?

IEZA ZU:              One step closer to me, please.

MH:       Ieva Zu is originally from Lithuania, and now now runs an online business in London, promoting eastern European fashion designers.

IEZA ZU:              London is a perfect place to be because it’s a hub of fashion as well. At least, well, I think so!

MH:       Ieva’s partner Paulus enjoys a successful career in finance, and they’ve started a family here. A pin-up couple for those who think migration is good for our economy. Is Britain going to be your home?

PAULUS:             Well, as far as we can see in the near future, that seems to be the case. Alex was born here one year ago, and right now, our world really revolves around him.

MH:       Do you feel that Britain is benefiting from your presence in the same way that you’ve benefited from being here?

PAULUS:             Well, I would hope so, that we are, you know, adding value to the society and not just taking it out as a resident, you know?

IEZA ZU:              Yeah, not as a person who just lives here.

PAULUS:             Coming from Lithuania, that was occupied by Soviet Union and, you know, that makes you really appreciate the freedom that you have, you know?

MH:       In London, more than a third of the population was born outside the UK. It’s the most economically successful part of the country, crucial to the national economy. Some say the two things are linked.

JONATHAN PORTES National Institute of Economic and Social Research:   I do not think it is controversial to suggest that the substantial success of London, not just within the UK economy but perhaps within the global economy over the past 20 years is owed in large part to the relatively high levels of migration we’ve had at all skill levels. On the whole, the European Union migrants pay significantly more in taxes than they take out in benefits or public services. So either we, the rest of us, are paying lower taxes or we’re getting better public services than we otherwise would have.

IEZA ZU:              Great, one more time please.

ALAN JOHNSON:             I would say free movement has been positive for this country. This concept that within those borders, within that single market, you can move freely, not just goods, not just capital, but labour as well, is essential to actually making that operate and yes, it’s been good for this country. Witness the fact, you know, the Leave side often say but Britain’s the fifth biggest economy in the world. Well, it wasn’t when we went into the EU. 43 years’ membership of the European Union has helped us be the fifth biggest economy in the world.

MH:       Recent figures from the taxman support the assertion that migration has been good for the economy. In the year 2013 to 2014, European migrants like Ieva contributed £2.5 billion more to British coffers than they took out. But many would argue that any economic benefits of migration have not been spread around.

ROD LIDDLE:      For the top 4-5%, they get a gilded life of much cheaper nannies.  Of . . . their basement extensions in Notting Hill are done both more speedily and more cheaply by Polish immigrant labour. But if you go outside London, you will see that the big, big problem there, or one of the big problems, is low wages, you know, and those wages have been lowered time and time again by cheap labour coming in from the Continent.

ANGIE COOK:    Hello, Angie speaking.

MH:       Angie Cook runs a transport business in Boston, Lincolnshire. She used to supply drivers for the haulage industry, but says her company folded because of competition from a rival agency.

ANGIE COOK:    9am in the morning? Yeah, no worries at all. They were bringing drivers over here by the busload. If I’d have reduced the wages for the drivers, they would have left. If I reduced the prices to the customer, I couldn’t, I wasn’t making a profit. So where do you go? And this was because someone had been across to the EU and recruited all these drivers and put them in cheap, low-cost housing that our drivers and our workers cannot compete with.

MH:       Angie has started a new business. And she’ll be voting for Brexit ? because she’s had enough of the EU and its supply of cheap workers.

ANGIE COOK:    Now, I don’t know if I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this or not, I don’t care. I only employ English drivers.

MH:       Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of European migrants are in low-paid work. In sectors like agriculture and tourism, they’re a vital resource for many businesses.

FARM WORKER, FOREMAN(?):   It’s very difficult to get any of the local people to do the job. It needs . . . it’s a very high demanding job as well.

FARM WORKER:              I started with field operative. Now in winter time, I’m line operative in the factory, and I have the chance to be promoted.

MH:       It’s often said that Europe’s migrants will do work that British people won’t, at least not for a low wage. One industry where they play an important role is in caring for our ageing population.

CARE WORKER: You’re going downstairs with me for a cup of tea. In the garden.

MH:       One in five of adult care workers in England are born outside the UK, rising to three in five in London. The number recruited from EU countries has increased and there are now an estimated 80,000 EU citizens working in the sector in England alone.

PROF. HEAVEN CRAWLEY Coventry University:    One of the consequences of us increasing the proportion of young people who go into higher education, for example, is that there are less people available, young people available to do some of those low-skilled jobs. People don’t want to come out of having a degree and then end up working in the care sector, for example. So those demands in the care sector become ones that people from within Europe, who are moving, who are arguably low-skilled, come to fill.

MH:       Our economy needs the low-skilled, or the unskilled workers.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:    (speaking over) Well, I fundamentally diasagree with you.

MH:       (speaking over) Really? Fruit picking, warehouses, internet shopping.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:    (speaking over) No, no, this has been an absolute nonsense in the UK economy for some time. You get a lot of nonsense from businesses suddenly saying to you, “Oh, we’ve tried to hire British workers, they just won’t work”. When you investigate it, you find they didn’t bother at all. They were going outside because they knew they could get a lower wage for these people and thus that would improve their profits. Now, I am fundamentally against that.

MH:       A Bank of England report found that broadly, migration has had a small negative impact on average British wages. And crucially, it concluded that workers at the low-paid end of the spectrum have been more affected.

MH:       As a Labour politician, a depression of wages must be something that bothers you?

ALAN JOHNSON:             As a Labour politician and a trade unionist, I have never throughout my career blamed exploitation on the people who are being exploited. The trade union movement in this country, I’m proud to say, have not found scapegoats amongst immigrants. They’ve tried to tackle the exploitation. Now the Bank of England found a very small, very small, difference there, and that’s all acc . . .

MH:       (interrupting) That might not feel small to people who are actually at the receiving end of it.

ALAN JOHNSON:             Well, that’s… That’s about where you set the minimum wage. That’s about issues like the Agency Workers Directive. It’s a protection that British workers have. Most people coming in who will undercut the wage of those who are working here come in through agencies. The Agency Workers Directive was a very important way of stopping that, through the European Union.

MH:       But this debate is about more than pay. What will the other effects be if our population really does increase by 10 million in the next 25 years, as projected? The obvious place to start is with the sheer numbers. Can Britain really support the millions of newcomers? Many are asking, where will they all live?

ALP MEHMET:   To meet the needs of the population increase that is largely the result of that scale of immigration, we would have to build something like 250,000 houses a year. We are building nothing like that. It’s a nonsense to suggest that we are going to suddenly build that number of houses that are required, be it in London or elsewhere throughout the country. We are simply not going to do it. So all that is going to mean is more and more of a shortage of housing, largely because of the increase in our population which, as I say, is largely driven by migration.

JONATHAN PORTES Most of that population growth will, as it has done over the last 15 years, probably occur in London and the rest of south-east England, where of course, we know that we don’t build enough houses. Now the reason that we don’t build enough houses is of course relatively little to do with immigration. That reflects the dysfunctional nature of UK housing policy, going back for at least the past 20 or 30 years or so, the failure of successive governments simply to ensure that we build enough houses. But there’s no doubt this is a major challenge going forward.

MH:       So if we may have trouble housing a growing population, what about the impact of migrants from the European Union on public services like health and education? To find out, I headed to the city with one of the highest proportions of EU migrants anywhere in the country, Peterborough in Cambridgeshire. This part of Peterborough has seen large numbers of people come in from Europe in recent years. Portuguese, Poles, Lithuanians – all have made this city their home. Welcome to what is appropriately named New England. Many of the migrants come here to work in agriculture. Many farmers believe they are essential to the local economy. But what is the impact on local services? This is Fulbridge Academy, a primary school ranked outstanding by the schools regulator, Ofsted.

IAIN ERSKINE:    I’ve been at Fulbridge Academy for a very long time, over 20 years here as head. So I’ve seen enormous changes. (to two children) Where have you been?

CHILD:  I’ve just been . . .

IAIN ERSKINE:    The main change really has been the numbers game. It has been a huge increase in the number of children in the area. It’s a densely-populated area anyway. But with all the different nationalities come in, that’s put enormous strain on school places.

TEACHER:           If you look at the paragraph you have in front of you . . .

MH:       A quarter of this school’s pupils come from eastern Europe. And like other parts of the UK with high numbers of migrants, there is real competition for places. But nationally, a different picture emerges. We know that most children in Britain do in fact get in to the school they want. 84% of families in this country get their first choice of secondary school, so it doesn’t suggest that there’s a massive problem with school places?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:    No, but a recent report from the Education Department made it very clear that they’re having to build significantly more numbers of schools to deal with the plan and the forecast on migration and the existing migration. It’s just . . .  it’s what they’ve said. And even beyond that, there is a strong perception and recognition that it does play a role from the British public. So there is one way to deal with it. You can dismiss it. You can say that 84% means not a problem to settle, not an issue, they’re talking nonsense. In which case, this will just grow and grow as a concern because it’s not being dealt with by British politicians.

MH:       But apart from potential competition for places, what is the effect of an influx of migrants on standards?

IAIN ERSKINE:    We’ve certainly found that children from other nationalities, particularly eastern European communities, are very keen on education, very positive about their children doing well. And many of the children become, by Year 6, when they leave us, if we’ve had them for four, five years, they can be some of our highest achieving children.

TEACHER:           I’d like you to play A and E.

MADELEINE SUMPTION The Migration Observatory:        There isn’t a huge amount of evidence on how that’s affecting what we care about, at the end of the day, which is the outcomes for pupils in UK schools. But the couple of studies that have been done were not able to identify any negative impact. They suggested that students are doing just as well regardless of whether there are new migrants coming into those schools.

MH:       Another vital service always close to voters’ hearts is the NHS. We all know the huge pressures the system is under. What will happen if the population increases as projected? In Peterborough, doctors are feeling the strain treating the migrant workers and their families.

DR EMMA TIFFIN General Practitioner:   We do have a large number relative to other parts of the country in houses of multiple occupancy, so several families in one house, you know, sometimes a family in one room. And as I say, the actual quality of the housing is often, you know, poor, so there are houses round here that are very damp. That in itself causes the high risk of things like respiratory infections. We do find that whole families and households present with infections particularly. Including the children?

DR EMMA TIFFIN:           Absolutely, so again if you look at the A&E figures for our local hospital, they’re high, you know, particularly for respiratory infections and in the younger group.

MH:       Do you therefore see migration as an added pressure on the service you can offer as a local GP?

DR EMMA TIFFIN:           Yes, absolutely, definitely, and I think the number of challenges for me since working in Peterborough, is unbelievable, actually. I think language, the whole difference in health beliefs and behaviour, and actually the higher sort of prevalence of illnesses related to poverty and difficult housing conditions would be three of the biggest issues.

MH:       With such a high concentration of migrants, Peterborough is far from typical. Nationally, the picture is mixed. Most migrants are young, so they use health services much less than average. For the same reason, they have more children, so maternity units can face extra pressure. But there is something missing in the argument. You often hear about migration putting pressure on public services as a whole. Most of the arrivals from the EU are working and paying taxes. Surely that extra money should help pay for extra demand on hospitals and schools?

MADELEINE SUMPTION:              We shouldn’t see a big impact on services overall. Of course, there may be some localised pressures for particular areas, if there are unexpected increases in demand. There is also another factor that’s actually very difficult to quantify, which is the contributions of EU migrants as workers in the health service. So, for example, last year about 12% of newly-recruited nurses working in the UK were born in EU countries. So they are making up a significant share of that workforce.

MH:       Something is going wrong in the way that we are spending. that we are spending what we get in income tax for example from these EU migrants. The Revenue and Customs said recently that EU migrants pay about £3 billion a year in taxes – is it getting lost somewhere? Why is it that we have the effect on services that we are talking about?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:    (speaking over) No, well, of course it’s a very narrow way of looking at it. It’s not about saying it’s okay because someone pays taxes so that’s fine, you know, because it’s not the sole issue. The issue I come back to is about human beings. We tend to put these things into just the money, but it’s human beings, and the nature and the scale of that immigration puts pressure on people in the way that they assimilate with people who often, they’re not speaking English as a first language, often they are bringing their kids over. That makes the British people uncomfortable in many places because it is on a scale that they would otherwise not have expected. You expect a lot from people who live in communities and have to accommodate this, have to live with it, have to sort out their schooling, and many people competing for jobs with them. I think, therefore, controlling the scale of that migration is important so that they have time to be able to get to terms with that without feeling as though this is a problem for them.

MH:       When we talk about migration into Britain, the debate is rarely just about the numbers or about the pressures of a growing population. It’s often been linked to something else – something emotive, something that reverberates across the UK – who gets what from the benefits system.

DAVID CAMERON:          Morning, all! Good morning, good morning.

MH:       In the build-up to the referendum, David Cameron spent months touring around Europe renegotiating our membership of the EU, getting, he claimed, a better deal for Britain that would persuade us to stay.

DAVID CAMERON:          I’ll be battling for Britain. If we can get a good deal, I will take that deal, but I will not take a deal that doesn’t meet what we need.

MH:       Top of the British list was putting a stop to so-called benefits tourism.

DAVID CAMERON:          This deal has delivered on the promise I made at the beginning of this renegotiation process. There will be tough new restrictions on access to our welfare system for EU migrants. No more something for nothing.

MH:       The Prime Minister’s deal involved partial restrictions on child benefit, as well as a four-year so-called brake on migrants’ ability to claim in-work benefits. Many were sceptical about the chances of this reducing the numbers.

PROF. MATTHEW GOODWIN University of Kent: We had this somewhat bizarre argument during the renegotiation with Brussels that again, the country can control net migration by restricting the amount of welfare for EU migrant workers, as if Bulgarians, Romanians and Poles are going through the welfare policies of European states and are adjusting their plans accordingly.

MH:       Now the Vote Leave campaigners, even those who were part of Cameron’s government, seem to want to distance themselves from the whole issue.

MH:       Is there such a thing in your view as benefit tourism from the EU?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:    I think if I’m honest about it, I think there may be. It’s very difficult to nail down the figures. I mean, I did see somebody say that most people in eastern Europe didn’t actually know what the benefits were here. So I’m a little ambivalent about this one.

MH:       Because you sounded pretty convinced about it last year when you said that you wanted the… You know, that benefit tourism was the nut that you wanted to crack.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:    Yes, I think for those who do come over – I’ve never said they’re a vast number. If the question is, do I think that it is a huge driver for people coming over here, the answer is categorically not.  I do not think that.

MH:       So it turned out not to be such a large nut (fragments of words, or words unclear due to speaking over)

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:    (speaking over) Well, it’s a nut in the sense of having people over here collecting benefits in a certain degree, particularly things like family benefits, which struck me as absurd. But as I said at the time, this is an issue, it’s not the issue.

MH:       In fact, EU migrants are less likely than UK nationals to claim unemployment benefit, housing benefit, tax credits, all of those.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:    (speaking over) I don’t (word unclear, ‘resile’?) from that at all, that’s, that’s probably true.

MH:       Attitudes to immigration vary across the country. Including north of the border. I’ve come to one part of the UK where, for some migrants at least, the welcome mat has been well and truly laid out. The party in government here is a rarity in British politics – one that has campaigned for more immigration. Scotland’s free university education is a huge pull for young people from across the EU, like these Edinburgh University students from Poland and Slovakia. And immigration is perceived less negatively in Scotland than other parts of the UK. Do you feel welcome here?

FEMALE STUDENT:         Yeah, I feel, I feel great. Especially here, I feel really welcome. I’ve met lots of great friends, both Scottish and international. So yeah, I feel really, erm . . .  Really welcome and comfortable here, I do.

MH:       So why the warm welcome? As its population ages, Scotland is simply said to need more people, particularly more people of working age. The Scottish Government and the Treasury believe that that may only be fully achievable through an influx of migrants. The Scottish National Party has been enthusiastic about the benefits of immigration and free movement of people in the European Union.

STEPHEN GETHINS MP SNP in Europe:     Scotland’s a country that’s benefitted from immigration over the years. I think about Polish communities who’ve made their home here, Irish communities, English people who have come up, and people from across Europe. One thing I think is lacking from the debate is just a general acceptance that immigration is a good thing, and our country is richer, socially and economically, because of immigration. And let’s not forget that if you were to take every EU migrant out of the workforce, the Chancellor would be left with an enormous black hole in the Treasury, given the amount that they make up in terms of their net contribution to our finances.

MH:       And Eastern European immigration or immigration from other parts of the EU would be a big part of what you want?

STEPHEN GETHINS Of course, that’s freedom of movement, isn’t it? And it’s something in this European debate I think we lose sometimes. You know, freedom of movement works both ways. The people from the UK benefit as much as people from elsewhere in Europe. The freedom of movement is a two-way process.

MH:       The freedom to live and work in any member state is a fundamental right of EU citizens.

IRENE:  (referring to car engine noise) What is it?

JOHN:   What, the rattle? Not sure yet.

MH:       It’s something that has changed John and Irene’s lives. Like more than a million other Britons, they live elsewhere in the European Union.

JOHN:   How are we doing, boys?

IRENE:  You need a woman’s touch!

WORKER:           Go on, then.

MH:       The couple run a go-karting business on the Spanish island of Lanzarote.

JOHN:   I’m an ex-Barnsley miner, and my dad was a miner and my grandad before him. The first holiday I ever came on abroad was to Lanzarote when I were a coal miner, and I fell in love with the place then, and that became my dream, to come and live in Lanzarote.

IRENE:  We’ve got a great set of boys and we don’t have a big turnover of staff, because it’s a boy’s dream, isn’t it, this job, so it’s the nearest thing to a nine-to-five, but yeah, great. And I’m the only girl. But they all do as they’re told!

MH:       John and Irene are worried about the referendum. Their business relies on free trade imports from the UK. If Britain leaves the EU, they’re concerned about the possibility of paying tariffs.

IRENE:  We’re definitely going to vote. We discussed it at length. We can vote in general elections but we never do because we feel, because we’re not living in the UK any more, that really we don’t feel we should do that, but this EU referendum is obviously a lot different because it will affect us. I mean, we’re immigrants in effect, in this country, and obviously with regard to the business, we have a lot of suppliers that come from the UK, and obviously any trade agreement that ceases would affect our business, so we’re looking at it very closely. The EU is a big, big thing, isn’t it, darling, for us at the minute?

JOHN:   Sure. It’s a big unknown. It’s a big worry.

IRENE:  It’s a very a big unknown.

MH:       It’s not just those of working age who’ve taken advantage of free movement.

ROBINA:             It’s the best thing we ever did, yeah, by coming here. Quite honestly, I think Tony wouldn’t have been so healthy.

MH:       At the other end of the island, Tony and Robina are among the 400,000 British pensioners living elsewhere in the EU. As EU pensioners, they are entitled to the same healthcare they would get at home. They can use all the local services, and their healthcare bill is effectively picked up by the British taxpayer.

TONY:   Wonderful. The healthcare here is very, very good.

ROBINA:             If you have something more serious, say, a heart condition. you’d go to Las Palmas, and Tony went to Las Palmas. He had a small problem, went to Las Palmas. They paid for us to fly there. They put me in a hotel – all free, everything – and they looked after Tony extremely well. You couldn’t have faulted it. It was excellent service.

MH:       Tony and Robina also have children living and working across the European Union. For their family, Europe’s free movement of people is a big plus. But they do understand why some back home would want to vote to leave.

TONY:   Because I live here, and I’ve seen this island benefit totally from the EU, and it’s great, but if I lived in England, it might be a different story. You know, I, I . . . I think I would probably go the other way, but living here, I can’t fault it. Because they get, they get so much, you know. We get so much, you know, not they, we – we get so much from it.

MH: (footage of migrants breaking down fence) It’s a long way from Lanzarote to the chaos that’s been seen on some of Europe’s borders.

REPORTER: Today on a European border, children were tear-gassed.

MH:       But Europe has been rocked by the huge numbers of refugees and migrants entering from Turkey and North Africa. Germany alone last year registered over a million new arrivals. It’s been controversial across the continent.

ROD LIDDLE:      Every time that this fantasy land of integration that Germany believes it can foster with migrants from the Middle East and North Africa falls down into a chaos of sexual assaults, robberies and violence. Every time that is reported, every time the security chiefs tell us that for every 200 migrants coming here, one will be a supporter of Isis, every time that happens, then the vote to leave the EU goes up a little bit.

MH:       Several EU countries have agreed to take large numbers of refugees.

PROF. HEAVEN CRAWLEY To be clear, the UK has said that it won’t be part of that system. And that there’s no reason why that would change. So, the UK, Denmark and Ireland are not part of that allocation. What the UK has said that it will do instead is to offer up 20,000 places to people who have not yet come to Europe. So, from camps in Jordan and Lebanon in particular, and that they will come in quite gradually, over a five year period. So, although Britain is part of the European Union currently, what we can see from that is that actually the UK has been able to exert, rightly or wrongly, quite a lot of control.

MH:       It’s places like this – the borders of our island nation – that have become increasingly linked to the question of EU immigration. The Leavers say it’s simple, outside the EU we would have control – the ability to exclude people from the country. The Remainers say we already have control. Both argue that their vision makes us more secure. Following the terrible attacks in Paris and Brussels, many fear that Britain too is vulnerable.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:    Once you are a citizen of the European Union it is incredibly difficult for us to exclude somebody in that case, because we have to be able to demonstrate per adventure to the court that we are seeing something of a direct threat. So we don’t have that control, and that may seem to you to be marginal, but that marginal may be the difference in being able to say to somebody that we just don’t want them here.

ALAN JOHNSON:             No one waltzes into this country without showing their passport, so it’s not an open door policy. We refuse around about a thousand, two thousand a year of people because we think they’re either a danger. . .

MH:       (interrupting) It’s a tiny fraction of the overall numbers of EU citizens.

ALAN JOHNSON:             Yeah, but it’s very . . . It’s indicative of the fact that you cannot just come to this country. But we shouldn’t have an anything goes policy and we don’t have an anything goes policy.

MH:       However we vote in the referendum, it’s clear that migration from Europe has already brought great change. This is Days of Poland – the biggest eastern European This is Days Of Poland – festival in Britain. This year it attracted thousands of visitors. A festival on this scale would have been hard to imagine just a decade ago, but since then the Polish population has grown tenfold. There are now around 800,000 Poles living in the UK. While many are recent arrivals, some have been here for decades and are completely integrated into British society.

BASIA KLIMAS-SAWYER:              I came to England when I was three months old.

MH:       And yet these Polish traditions, Polish culture, obviously very important to you?

BASIA KLIMAS-SAWYER: Very important to me. I’m proud to be British. I love living in England and I love so much about it. I wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else, and I love being Polish.

MH:       There’s no doubt that free movement of labour has been great for many Eastern Europeans. And some would argue there has been little negative impact on our communities.

JONATHAN PORTESIf you look at the data, if you look at the results of the community cohesion survey, the vast majority of English people still think that the place where they live is a place where people get on pretty well, a place where there are high levels of social cohesion, however you want to define it.

MH:       Back in Peterborough, 11-year-old Agata Troc is a chorister at a prestigious Church of England school. She came to live here as a baby when her Polish parents decided to settle in Britain.

GRAZYNA:          We like also international food.

MH:       Today, the whole family are British citizens. Agata and her parents Grazyna and Tomasz feel they are well integrated, not least with the language.

GRAZNYA:          I’ve been living 30 years in Poland. For me, it’s definitely a second language. For her, it’s her first language. It’s a big difference between us. She’s got schooling, she’s been raised here.

MH:       And when people ask you where are you from, what do you say?

AGATA: I just say I’m from Poland and I… For about three years some people don’t know I was born in Poland. Sometimes they ask where I was born and I say in Poland, and they’re just like, oh, really? But they don’t believe me.

MH:       Because you sound just like . . . just like them.

AGATA: Yeah.

MH:       What would you say to someone who is going to vote for the UK to leave the European Union?

GRAZYNA:          Crazy. It’s just.. For me, people don’t realise how much benefits we’ve got staying in the EU. There are so many small countries, we… In unity there is our strength.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:    I want to be welcoming to all people from all nationalities, but there is an issue if you let people come in at their own numbers, the growing numbers that there are, at a scale which is unprecedented. My argument is that it’s, therefore puts pressure on people.

ROD LIDDLE:      The public knows a lot better than the BBC does about immigration and has a far better grip on the subject. And they can see that Polish people, there’s no cultural problem, there is not the remotest cultural problem, at all, there is an economic problem, and they wish it would stop, because it harms their income.

MH:       You can even see negative perceptions in communities established by previous phases of immigration. This is Brixton in south London.

VOX POP MALE:              Don’t get me wrong, Mishal, I do support migration to an extent, but my concern is that there has to be some control as to how much we can realistically accept without causing any particular damage to the system. We welcome them but we have to have a cap or else we are going to have such an influx that we can’t manage.

VOX POP FEMALE:          I saw some statistics the other day and the majority of these people are coming here to work ? it does affect our housing,  but then why aren’t we building houses? We didn’t have enough houses for our own people.

MH:       What are the important issues for you?

VOX POP FEMALE 2:       It’s jobs and, of course, also the issue about immigration, and a whole lot of people coming in here then basically not working and feeding off the benefit system, so that’s a big issue.

VOX POP FEMALE 3:       Yes, it is.

MH:       Is it an issue that would make you vote to leave?

VOX POP FEMALE 2:       For me, yes, maybe.

VOX POP FEMALE 3:       Yes, of course, it will be.

VOX POP MALE 4:           There are a lot of people here now, so if we be by ourselves, I think it will be much better. Too many immigrants.

MH:       There is no doubt that immigration is a complicated and an emotive issue. Survey after survey has shown that most people in Britain favour a reduction in the numbers coming in. Leaving the EU could lower those numbers, although it’s important to remember that around half of all net migration has nothing to do with the EU. Those who want us to stay in say we would be mad to take the economic risk of leaving just to reduce immigration. It’s an argument playing out among the politicians.

NIGEL FARAGE: Good, good.

DAVID CAMERON:          You will fundamentally damage our economy. That cannot be the right way of controlling immigration.

BORIS JOHNSON:            You have absolutely no way of stopping it.

MH:       And on the streets.

ROD LIDDLE:      I think two things will decide the referendum.

GEORGE OSBORNE:        Leaving the EU is a one-way ticket to a poorer Britain.

ROD LIDDLE:      One is if people think they’re going to be skint as a consequence of us leaving the European Union.

BORIS JOHNSON:            Knickers to the pessimists, how about that?

ROD LIDDLE:      The other is if there may be a way to address our immigration problem by leaving the EU.

DAVID CAMERON:          There are good ways of controlling migration and bad ways. A good way is what I did in my renegotiation.

NIGEL FARAGE: Isis say they will use this migrant crisis to flood the continent with jihadis. I suggest we take them seriously.

MH:       In recent weeks, the rhetoric on immigration has been stepped up.

BORIS JOHNSON:            It’s vital that on June 23rd, we do exactly what it says over there and take back control of our immigration system.

ALAN JOHNSON:             I was brought up in the slums of Notting Hill, when Oswald Mosely was on the street corner saying, your jobs areas corner saying, your jobs are being taken by immigrants. I lived in Slough for many years, with a big Asian population, where people said, these people are taking your jobs. Now all of those communities have changed. They’ve all changed, and there are a very small number of people who want all of that back to some sepia-tinted world of the early 50s that doesn’t exist.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:    Border control isn’t about saying no to migration, it’s about saying no to just open ended migration that suits people to pay low wages. My kind of idea about migration is to say, what does Britain actually need? Do we need skills? Do we need software engineers coming from India? Absolutely. If they’re there, and they’re bright, we don’t have enough here. We want to get more trained. Do we need more people to teach people software? Yes. I want to balance this out. This is not an anti-migration. This is an anti-uncontrolled migration.

ALAN JOHNSON:             We are not going to stop people moving around the globe by leaving the EU. This suggestion that I’ve heard all my life from various people that, you know, you use immigration to frighten people. It’s always been a very potent political weapon throughout my life.

MH:       It’s a real concern for voters.

ALAN JOHNSON:             It’s a concern for voters. It’s also a potent political weapon for some politicians.

MH:       For now, the politicians hold the floor.  But soon it will be your turn to cast your vote. Immigration is just one issue in Britain’s often complex relationship with Europe. But how you feel about it may decide whether you think Britain should stay in or leave the European Union.

Craig Byers:  Here is the news. BBC bias revealed hour by hour

Craig Byers: Here is the news. BBC bias revealed hour by hour

Thursday was ‘the big day’ at the BBC, and yesterday morning’s Today was all over Mr Whittingdale’s Charter Review report.

Did the BBC treat the story impartially?

Well, on Today there was Lib Dem peer Lord Lester QC sticking up for the BBC. And Labour’s Tessa Jowell sticking up for the BBC. And former BBC, Sky and ITV employee Professor Lis Howell half-criticising and half-sticking up for the BBC. And BBC presenter Nick Robinson not exactly firing, in ‘devil’s advocate’-style, on all impartial cylinders either.

They did have the SNP’s John Nicholson, for ‘balance’ though, demanding a Scottish News at Six – and getting a rough ride from Mishal Husain in the process. ‘Who wants that?’ was Mishal’s basic point. (A fair point, probably).

Impartial? Hardly.

And then came  The World at One on BBC Radio 4. And that was even worse.

After a short review of events in Parliament came a discussion between the BBC’s Martha Kearney and Steve Hewlett of the Guardian/BBC Radio 4’s Media Show, which suggested the Charter review wasn’t as bad as the BBC and its supporters feared, but that there are still issues of concern for them.

Then came a much shorter interview with Peter Bone MP, a BBC critic. It was the ‘balancing item’ -even though it lasted barely more more than a minute (the shortest interview by far).

Astonishingly, Martha forcefully stopped him in his tracks as as soon as he raised what he described as his “main concern”: BBC pro-EU bias. Martha clearly wasn’t going there for anything in the world. Realising that, Mr Bone just laughed.

Then came Jesse Norman MP saying that the government’s plan is great and the BBC is great.

Then came Labour-supporting former BBC Trust boss Sir Michael Lyons (not that Martha even hinted at such a thing) attacking the Government for going too far but saying that there is a problem with BBC bias: bias against Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. A somewhat-startled-sounding Martha Kearney not only didn’t cut him off when he raised it (in contrast to how she treated Peter Bone when he tried to air his concerns about pro-EU BBC bias) but actually went on to press his pro-Labour ‘BBC bias’ point with Lord Hall.

And Lord Hall was the big WATO interview.

He didn’t agree with Sir Michael about the BBC’s anti-Corbyn bias (you won’t be surprised to hear), saying that the BBC is impartial (you also won’t be surprised to hear) and that the BBC brings “light to controversy”.

Lord Hall sounded pleased with what the Government has announced. The BBC’s Martha (gently) pressed him largely from a pro-BBC, Wolf Hall director Peter Kosminsky-type standpoint rather than an anti-BBC Andrew Bridgen MP-type standpoint.

And that was that: Lots of pro-BBC types having their say, plus (very briefly) Peter Bone.

Impartial? Hardly.

Meanwhile over on BBC One’s News at One bulletin we got more of the same, plus three items on the EU referendum: Mark Carney of the Bank of England’s dire warnings of the economic dangers of voting to leave the EU came first. A little later came the Vote Leave/ITV spat over whether Nigel Farage should be involved in a TV debate with David Cameron. And finally, immediately before the sports news (i.e. as the last ‘serious’ news item), came the news that the ONS has finally conceded that immigration from the EU has been massively under-represented in the government’s official figures (not that the short BBC news item put it like that) – a point that many people have been saying might well give a huge boost to the Leave campaign.

So why did BBC One choose to ‘bury’ that story as a very short new item near the end of its lunch time news bulletin?

Wasn’t that Peter Bone’s point being proved?

Impartial? Hardly.

And then came BBC’s News at Six.

BBC One’s News at Six began with another pro-Leave point: Bank of England governor Mark Carney’s dire warnings about a vote to leave the EU:

A warning from the Bank of England: Leaving the EU could trigger a recession.

The bulletin’s reporting was ‘impartial’ in the BBC sense, in that:

  • (a) the bulletin kept using words like “stark” and “strong” to describe the governor’s comments.
  • (b) the BBC’s economics editor Kamal Ahmed, after laying out Mr Carney’s anti-Brexit case in detail, said that “many economists agree with the Bank’s gloomy prognosis” and then featured one such economist doing just that…
  • ‘…balanced’ by (c) a clip of Norman Lamont saying, very briefly, that Mr Carney is wrong…
  • and then (d) BBC political reporter Alex Forsyth setting the context by saying that Mr Carney’s intervention is “undoubtedly a boost” to the Remain campaign as Mr Carney is “a senior, credible figure once again warning in no uncertain terms of the economic risks of leaving.

ITV’s early evening news bulletin also led with that pro-Leave point and, like Kamal Ahmed, ITV’s deputy political editor Chris Ship also laid out the governor’s concerns in some detail.

Unlike the BBC, however, Chris Ship also said “the truth is” that the economic forecasts aren’t great at the moment whichever way we vote, and his ‘talking heads’ included two people who disagreed with Mr. Carney: John Redwood and Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin – both making substantive points against the BoE governor.

ITV struck me as taking its ‘impartiality’ responsibilities far more seriously than the BBC there. The BBC felt outrageously one-sided in comparison.

And after giving us its Mark Carney coverage ITV then moved straight onto the EU immigration question – for many Brexiteers the big story of the day – and those ONS figures with Chris Ship giving us James Brokenshire on one side and Liam Fox on the other, plus talk of economists claiming immigration is good for us on one side and Leave supporters saying we can’t control our border on the side, plus mention of the “true scale” of immigration and the figures taking us into “unprecedented” territory.

The BBC, in contrast, didn’t move straight onto the EU immigration story. It moved on to other stories instead. And we had to wait until nearly the end of the bulletin again for the EU immigration story to appear. And, again, it was given short shrift.

The BBC newsreader, George Aligiah,  introduced it as being a case of Leave campaigners “saying” and the ONS “clarifying”. It’s “quite complicated”, said George. Yes, it’s “not very easy”, said the BBC’s Tom Symonds. Tom said that “Eurosceptics say” it’s an underestimate but “the nation’s number-crunchers” have “tried to explain it today” as being just a matter of short-term migrants. He elaborated somewhat on the the ONS’s explanation, explaining their case in a tone of patient reasonableness. Then he said: Eurosceptics say this, the government says that.

‘BBC impartiality’ duly fulfilled. Story duly downplayed. For those who think that the government shamelessly ‘managed’ this story today (the ONS figures being released on the day the BBC was fixating on itself), this might suggest the government was ‘aided and abetted’ by the BBC here.

Is ITV biased? Is the BBC biased?

On the strength of this I’m definitely going with the latter.

Maybe the Charter review should have focused more on that.


This article first appeared on The Conservative Woman

Photo by Ben Sutherland

Craig Byers: BBC ‘European’ Correspondent bias ‘off the scale’

Craig Byers: BBC ‘European’ Correspondent bias ‘off the scale’

Well, ten minutes after posting that piece about BBC Europe correspondent Damian Grammaticas’s Remain-biased piece for Monday’s BBC One News at Six his latest report popped up on tonight’s BBC One News at Six

…and I think we may now have the winner in ‘Most Biased Report in the BBC’s EU Referendum Coverage’ category.

I know it’s an early call but I really can’t see anything topping it over the next six weeks. It was that biased.

It discussed the UK’s contribution to the EU – a highly controversial issue. And what did impartial BBC Europe correspondent Damian tell us?

Well, firstly, he showed us a dramatic graphic showing the huge amount of money we make as a country each year (UK GDP 2014 – £1,817 bn) and then total government spending (£747 bn). One and a bit columns of huge numbers of coins stacked up next to him. The graphic then shed two tiny coins to show us our EU contribution (£11 bn). It make it look like mere chicken feed (or sparrow feed).

[Of course, comparing our EU contribution to the totality of the UK economy (and the totality of UK government spending) is the most extreme comparison imaginable. Of course it will make our EU contribution seem tiny. It makes nearly all UK government (i.e. UK taxpayer) spending seem tiny.]
A second graph then showed us that we put in way less than Germany and France (and even Italy). Ah, but we put more in that Malta: so a third graph was then used to show that “we pay by far the lowest measured by our share of national income” [his emphasis].

Why this “special treatment”? In two words (Damian’s own two words): “Maggie Thatcher”.

He called the rebate our “discount”.

“What happens to our cash?” he then asked. More than half “comes back to us”, he answered, “to be spent in the UK”. He then listed all the wonderful things the EU spends this money on here before saying:

If we controlled this money we could spend it on other things. But only by depriving these of funding.

And by ‘these’ he meant the list he’d just given: farmers, “poorer regions, roads, ports, businesses”, “research grants, universities, companies like Rolls Royce”.
Would you want to “deprive” those things of funding by voting to leave the EU? That was very clearly the unspoken question Damian Grammaticas was putting to BBC One viewers here.
After all this there’s still the UK’s net contribution to the EU of £5.5 bn [half of that ‘chicken feed’ figure he quoted earlier]. Damian quickly told us that we’re one of 10 countries that pays more in that we get back [so we’re far from alone] and that Germany and France pay more than us anyhow. The money goes to Europe’s farmers, poorer regions and Europe-wide projects – infrastructure, energy, “spent in space even – European rockets and satellites” [and who doesn’t like European space missions involving the UK?].
And this tiny £5.5 bn figure?

Essentially it’s our fee for entry into Europe’s single market, with which we do more than 40% of our trade.

Who wouldn’t want to pay such a tiny amount to get us that much, and as well as saving Rolls Royce?
Frankly, my Biasometer was going off the scale by this point. But then came Damian’s closing comments and it exploded. The BBC man – despite a pretence at even-handedness – played the ‘uncertainly card’ (the ace in Project Fear’s pack):

But all these figures could be dwarfed by what might happen to our economy if we quit the EU. If it grew a lot or shrank a lot the impact either way on our government’s finances and on us all could be huge.

And that was how it ended.
This article first appeared on Is the BBC Biased
Evan Davis: helping to spread the pro-EU message?

Evan Davis: helping to spread the pro-EU message?

(This article was first published by Is the BBC biased?)

If you were wondering where the BBC’s Evan Davis was on Saturday (and why wouldn’t you be?), well he was in Paris at a conference for UK school children (sixth formers) called Your Future in Europe.

(I stumbled across this by accident, so, no, I’m not stalking Evan!)

I was especially struck by the list of speakers for the conference.

Along with Evan, there’s also ex-boss of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti, Alan Johnson MP and Dominic Grieve MP.

They all have something in common: Mr Johnson is leading Labour’s pro-EU campaign, Mr Grieve is among the most pro-EU of Conservative MPs and Shami Chakrabarti turns out to be pro-EU too (surprise, surprise!)

I was curious about that ‘And more to be confirmed’ though, as it suggested there might be some balancing pro-Leave politicians too…

…but here’s a photo (recently tweeted) showing the full panel for the conference’s Question Time:

Yes, alongside Shami, Alan and Dominic is pro-EU Lib Dem Kate Parminter

…and the SNP’s Angela Constance, whose views I don’t know but can guess, given that the SNP is presently fiercely pro-EU, so she’ll doubtless be too.

So that’s an entirely pro-EU panel then.

Now, what take on the EU referendum might the near-voting-age British school kids get from this entirely pro-EU panel? I think we can guess that too.

Of course, this isn’t a BBC event, so it’s not a case of BBC bias, but…

…it’s interesting, isn’t it, that Evan Davis is there, chairing the interestingly-titled – Your Future in Europe – as he apparently does every year?

From what I can gather on Twitter, he also gives the opening talk and answers questions about the EU from the children. Wonder what he tells them?

Returning to official BBC matters in the light of all this: How many episodes of the BBC’s own Question Time will have an overwhelmingly (or entirely) pro-EU panel over the next few months?

I bet someone will be counting.

David Kieghley writes:  Another major BBC figure appears to be deep in a pro-EU propaganda exercise. Former deputy director of BBC News, Fran Unsworth, who now heads all the BBC World Service  output, lists on her BBC declaration of interests that she is a director the EU’s Erasmus Mundus programme for students. Among its goals are spreading the EU’s policies relating to climate change and international development, which are saturated with socialist dogma.

Photo by Policy Exchange

Ofcom: Europhile content board head Bill Emmott ‘will not rule on EU issues’

Ofcom: Europhile content board head Bill Emmott ‘will not rule on EU issues’

This is a guest posting from Craig Byers of the Is the BBC Biased? website.

Further to an earlier post
This is what that Ofcom statement says:

“Any conflicts of interest involving non-executive Board members are managed appropriately and Bill Emmott would not be involved in discussions or decisions related to the EU referendum.”

Isn’t that extraordinary?
For starters, they’ve clearly conceded David’s point that Mr Emmott’s appointment is problematic and, even more strikingly, they’ve shown themselves to have absolutely no confidence in the poor man’s capacity to behave in an impartial fashion in his new job on matters related to the EU referendum!
So, if what Ofcom are saying is true, Mr Emmott will surely have to leave the room or keep his mouth firmly shut every time matters relating to the EU referendum are raised?
Given that he’s supposed to be chairing those meetings, that isn’t exactly going to be an ideal situation for his fellow board members, is it?
Especially as Ofcom’s Content Board is likely to have quite a lot of discussions and make a lot of decisions on matters of related to the EU referendum over the coming months (or years).

Photo by UK in Italy