Referendum Blog: June 8

Referendum Blog: June 8

MERTHYR TYDFIL BIAS: On this morning’s Today programme, BBC reporter Sima Kotecha visited Merthyr Tydfil. There were three features.

In the first, she spoke to three locals whom she said were undecided, ‘leave’ and remain’ in the referendum debate. The first, Val Williams said she was undecided because the two sides were not making convincing arguments. And were ‘just scaremongering’ instead of using logical means.

David Brill – in favour of ‘remain’ said:

There are so many arguments which inform my decision in the matter, not least of all the fact that Wales benefits hugely from income from, from the European Community. This very square in which we are standing, beautifully restored in memory of erm, Janice Rowlands, who was Lord Ted Rowlands’s er . . . was Ted Rowlands’s wife. Funded from the EU. We’ve got a super College just across the river, funded by the EU. Erm . . . dual carriaging (sic) dual carriageways on the Heads of the Valleys road, there’s so much, and anyone who thinks that London, knowing London would, would give us that kind of money if we were cut away from the EU is mistaken.

Kotecha put it to him that he was a Labour voter (he agreed he was), and then wondered if Labour had been successful in getting its message through. He replied:

I had my concerns earlier on, but as I look at it, the more I applaud the way Jeremy Corbyn has conducted himself, he’s kept away from this marvellous scene of bloodletting within the Tory party, he’s refused to share platforms with these people who are just . . . I just being offensive and rude on a personal basis. And he’s retained a lovely, quiet dignity. People know what he stands for, even if the press doesn’t give him the appropriate publicity.

Next was Clare Jones. She replied that she was looking to the future of her children and grandchildren, and said it was time that the UK took a chance of doing as a nation what Switzerland (and, erroneously, Sweden) had done as ‘not part of the EU’. Kotecha pressed on her reasons. She said it was not ‘people coming to Great Brtitain to work  and border controls, because that had nothing to do with it’, but as a nation the UK could take back control of its agriculture and fishing. She asserted:

There are things there that we are able to do, and I just think that if we can take control as a nation, we’d be fine. It’s not for me, this is for my grandchildren, and I just feel that we need to take that chance.

Kotecha then observed that immigration was something people had been speaking to her about and asked undecided Val Williams about that. She responded:

Speaking as an historian, rather than just somebody . . . talk about the EU (sic), this town is built on immigration. Just up the road from us, there is what is the first English, sorry second English language Baptist Church in the whole of Wales, because there was immigration coming in here. Okay, in the early years, immigration was coming largely from other parts of Wales, but . . . we always had immigration, and I it’s more perceived than real, people here other languages and panic a bit.

Kotecha asked whether, having heard the arguments, she now knew which was she would vote. Williams said that David Brill’s point about EU money was very good, because ‘Wales benefitted more per head’ in that respect than anywhere else in the UK. She added, however, that her jury was still out.

In the second report, Kotecha  was at a local social club. She spoke first to Chris Smith, who wanted out because he wanted the country’s borders back and wanted to get rid of muggers. He claimed that it meant he could not get doctor’s appointments.

Kotecha noted that once coalmining brought people to the town, then after the war, factories that had been built to take advantage of the local unemployed workforce. She added:

Today, it’s these factories that have attracted thousands of European migrants to the town. You have a large Polish population, don’t you, here in Merthyr? CS: Well, that’s part of it, because the mess they leave round the place is unbelievable. A lot of them, they just don’t care like, they’ve got no appreciation for the country at all. You know.

SK:      You sound angry?

CS:      Oh, I am. You know, my father fought . . . the Second World War . . . to (fragments of words, unclear) to help Poland.  (word or words unclear) happened – they’ve all come over here. I . . . I just, there’s too many all coming in the country.

Kotecha observed that figures showed that Merthyr’s population of immigrants had rocketed by more than  200%  in the decade to 2011.  Val Sergison, also in the social club, said she would be voting in, and Kotecha said that her and her colleague Pat Jones believed that arguments that Poles were taking all the work were unfair.  Sergson said:

Like they say there’s no jobs for (fragment of word, unclear) for our youngsters, but I’ve got to be honest, where we’re from Phillipstown . . . some of the youngsters don’t even want work.

PAT JONES:  Old age pensioners, that have gone to Spain to live, if we come out . . . what happens then? Also the immigrants who come here are working. They’re youngsters and their working, they’re not draining our resources like we are in Spain.

Kotecha said that the lack of jobs, especially for older people, combined with poor health were driving people ‘to want change’.  A local bricklayer, Darren Lock said:

They’re taking jobs from people that . . . it’s our culture, isn’t it? You know what I mean? It’s where we’ve been brought up, isn’t it? No one knows the future.  So this is a gamble, and I . . . I still think we’ve got to go.

SK:      In the recent Welsh Assembly elections, UKIP took more than 20% of the vote in Merthyr Tydfil, an illustration of how significant the issue of immigration is to those living here.  With Port Talbot’s future uncertain, and thousands of jobs at risk, the national mood seems to have soured, and this could be a crucial factor in how people vote in June 23. (singing)

In the third feature, Kotecha spoke first to Mark Jones, ‘who says he’s had enough of the Polish and Portuguese immigrants’

Jones suggested that the migrants had broken into his shed and a bunker and had stolen his clothes.  Kotecha told him that he did not know the culprits were Polish.  Jones appeared to begin to say that they might have been Portuguese, but Kotecha interrupted and said that he could not know that.  Jones replied:

I can’t prove that. If . . . if an hundred of them take £150 out of our country, because they, they go home with their money, they send it home, right. We’re talking thousands of pounds leaving this country. And like, it’s not fair, they’re flooding our country. Your mum and dad have probably been here for donkeys years, right? But if we keep fetching them in and bringing them in and br— . . . we’re going to flood this country. I went to the doctors the other day, three weeks waiting. It’s absolutely full of foreigners, Bulgarians, Syrians . . . the schools are even for. It’s, it’s gone too far now.

Kotecha suggested he was going to be voting to leave the EU.  Jones said he was definitely out. He added:

There’s, there’s some of them, they come over here, they sit on the wall outside my property, and they just get drunk every . . . they not working, they can’t . . . and what irks me, they don’t want to speak our language, they’re not integrating in, into our country. And it’s sad.

Kotecha cut him off at this point and then spoke to Jorge D’Ascencao, who had moved to Merthyr in 2004 and now had his own pub.  She asked how ‘listening to that tape from Mark Jones’ he would respond.

Well, people need to understand one thing, er, when I come to the country first of all we were invited to come to the country, because we were filling a gap that it was on the system, because the job that needs to be done, they would not find the local people to do it.  So when we come to the country again, we come by invitation of people that they were needing our er . . . will of working, er to do the job that was needed to be done. Erm . . . and that’s what people need to understand.  Er, again, flooding the country – it’s something that the immigra— the immigrants they, they don’t have their own fault if they search for a better way of life, and if they can find it in the UK, especially in Merthyr, so probably Merthyr is so good that everyone want to come in here.

SK:      Having spoken to many people in Merthyr over the last couple of days, immigration seems to be the key issue, because there is a large Polish population here.  Do you think immigrants can do more to perhaps improve their image if you like?

JA:       Yes, I think, you know, if they come as I come in the beginning, with the aim of working, erm, yeah I think their image will improve, er, a lot, er . . . that, I think that’s the main thing. When they come, they needs (sic) to come with a job, er, in mind, and then it’ll be much easier, and then everyone will be able to work, and, you know, the economy will work much better as well. And erm, when erm, it’s mentioned behaving badly in the streets and all that, they don’t do nothing that locals don’t do, so probably, you know, they’re just trying to match.

SK:      And what about that ‘English’ comments he made, about speaking . . . the national language, do you find that people do do that, Portuguese people?

JA:       Well . . . the Portuguese people they, they, I, I cannot speak by the Polish (sic) I, I just know them, but I have, you know, no big relations with them. Er, but well you see me, when I come to the country, I barely speak English, and er, and I learn on my own, and er, the Portuguese people, I think they tend to adapt, wherever they go. Er . . . but, erm . . . yeah, I think it is some people, but like everywhere else, er, that they’re not able to pick up the language.

SK:      Okay, you’re going to be voting to stay in the EU.  What would you say to those people that I’ve spoken to over the last few days that say that immigrants are just really taking the mickey, if you like, depending on benefits and the free resources that this country offers?


Clearly, this was a carefully selected and partly pre-recorded assemblage of views across three features.

In the first, – ostensibly an equal selection of an undecided, a ‘leave’ supporter, and one in favour of ‘exit’ –  the ‘remain’ supporter had a polished and carefully considered set of reasons based on that Wales received heavy funding from the EU and that is had revived the local community with gleaming and useful new projects.  Kotecha also gave him the chance to say he was a Labour supporter and that the party was conducting itself well but the Conservative party was being ‘offensive’.

The ‘exit’ supporter actually favoured immigration, but felt the UK should ‘take a chance’ on its own to win back agriculture and fisheries.  The ‘undecided’ contributor berated both sides for their lack of logic and ‘scaremongering’, but then – at the invitation of Kotecha – stepped in to say that   local people were panicking about immigration, it (the threat) was more ‘perceived than real’ and had always been a feature of Merthyr.

For evidence of this, she claimed she was a historian and pointed to the local Baptist church, which she said had been founded by immigrants from within Wales.

In the second entirely pr-recorded feature, the anti-immigration interviewee was worried because the people who were in the town were muggers who took doctors’ appointments. swamped local surgeries, were messy, and did not care for the community. His father had fought in the war and he was angry now about what was happening.

Kotecha in response mentioned research which showed immigration was rocketing by up to 200% Her two remain interviewees said first that immigrants were perhaps not taking local jobs – the problem was more that local people did not want to work, second that immigrants were not draining local resources because they were working, unlike expats from Britain who went to Spain.

Kotecha then observed that older people not having jobs was a local problem and that Merthyr was a very deprived area. It was this that was driving people to want change. She then included another quote from a local who said that immigrants were swamping local culture.

On the face of it, this was ‘balanced’ with contributions for and against immigration. In reality, it was carefully crafted to illustrate that those who opposed immigration held deeply controversial views, whereas locals who supported immigrants had clear, more considered, reasons for their stance – locals did not actually want to work. Kotecha used this springboard to suggest that such anti-immigrant prejudice had fired a rise in local support for Ukip.

Kotecha, it is important to note, deliberately chose to include the pre-recorded interview with such controversial views. She could have sought out someone with a less provocative stance.

The third item could only be described as was blatantly biased against those who were against immigration.  Her anti-immigration interviewee  (like the one in the previous feature) clearly had no substantive evidence for his allegations of thieving and was edited for maximum impact.

The local Portuguese businessman rightly made mincemeat of his claims. The point here is that Kotecha deliberately selected both interviewees and constructed the piece to show that anti-immigration voices could be unreasonable.  There are more measured arguments against immigration and with more application, she could have found ways of including those views. Emphatically she did not. This was deliberate.

The aim of these three features from beginning to end was to show that ‘remain’ arguments were more valid. It was deeply biased reporting of the worst, superficial kind. The central goal appeared to show how negative and unreasonable anti-immigrant voices are.



Photo by Dai Lygad

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