BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson has announced that the BBC was once – at an unspecified period in the past – biased in its reporting of immigration issues.
He is reported as saying (in connection with pre-publicity for a programme he has made) that the corporation made a ‘terrible mistake’ in not reflecting the public’s concerns about the numbers and issues involved.
Mr Robinson’s mea culpa resonates closely with a similar confession by former director general Mark Thompson. In July 2011, he conceded that ‘taboo’ subjects such as immigration were avoided by the BBC for fear of its appearing too right wing. He said:
“I think there were some years when the BBC, like the rest of the UK media, was very reticent about talking about immigration. There was an anxiety whether or not you might be playing into a political agenda about immigration.”
What’s striking about these BBC admissions about bias in the reporting of immigration issues, however, is they are almost laughably predictable in substance and form.
It’s a routine BBC reaction to criticism that the corporation admits to problems in the past, but then says with total self-conviction (but no objective evidence) that those errors have
now been totally righted.
Then they hire someone from a BBC background and with close connections with the BBC Trustees – such as Stuart Prebble with his recent report into coverage of immigration, the EU and religion – to agree with them.
The evidence of past bias in the coverage of immigration is abundant. In 2004, for example, Newswatch compiled a report based on three months’ output from seven flagship news programmes for Sir Andrew Green’s group Migration Watch that revealed devastating shortcomings, especially with regard to the failure to reflect public concern and in the relentless thrust to portray those who opposed Labour’s immigration policies as xenophobicand racist.
More recently, the think thank The New Culture Forum produced an equally comprehensive report on the topic that revealed in both the past and the present, the corporation was not reflecting properly public concern. Among its conclusions are:
“It would be no exaggeration to say that a foreigner who subscribed only to the BBC might visit this country and be blissfully unaware of many of the social problems associated with immigration. These have never appeared in the national conversation and are instead whispered of in the shadows. This cannot be healthy.”
Nick Robinson says that these failings have been rectified. They have not. Evidence is easy to find. On November 5, the Today programme gave acres of space in bulletins and the main body of the programme to a report by two academics from University College London, in their survey claimed that EU immigrants had made ‘a particularly positive contribution to the public purse’. The editorial goal in giving the item such prominence was clearly to undermine those who are worried about the more negative effects of immigration.
Danny Shaw, the BBC’s home affairs editor, declared:
“I’ve looked back to see what other similar pieces of research have been done, and this does appear to be the most thorough analysis of its kind.”
On that basis, the report’s authors were interviewed and Justin Webb said in the intro:
“People who come to live in Britain make a substantial contribution to the public finances – they make us richer than we would otherwise be. So says the Centre for Research and
Analysis of Migration at University College London. They’ve been studying the figures in some considerable detail.”
Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch was included in the sequence – ostensibly to give balance – but the set-up and the questioning was undoubtedly designed to allow the
authors to amplify their claim that fears about immigration were unfounded. The effects, despite what public opinion believed, were positive.
What Danny Shore omitted to say – and the BBC has subsequently failed to report – is that even the most cursory analysis of the UCL survey shows that – to put it mildly – the statistical evidence in question was totally unreliable. Who says so? The Civitas think-tank commissioned emeritus professor of statistics at UCL Mervyn Stone to examine the findings. His conclusion?
“Most of the underlying crude assumptions that the all-embracing approach has been obliged to make have not been subject to sensitivity tests that have might been made if the
study had not been so obviously driven to make the case it claims to have made.”
Ouch! In other words, the BBC as recently as November shouted from the rooftops the findings of a report about the positive effects of immigration that the most rudimentary of checks would have shown to be highly suspect.
Danny Shore, the home affairs editor who is paid vast amounts to ensure that what gets to air is accurate, endorsed a report ‘ as the most thorough analysis of its kind’ when it was anything but.
If, as Nick Robinson maintains, the BBC is no longer biased in their quest to hide and manipulate the truth about immigration – how could this be the case?