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David Keighley: BBC coverage of the migrant crisis is the gospel of the liberal left


One of the key points of the BBC’s style guide is the need for terminological exactitude.

But that’s exactly what we are not getting in the BBC’s coverage about the huge tide of humanity currently surging into Europe.

The chances of hearing concern about this on the BBC are virtually zero. The incursion is being projected one-dimensionally as a humanitarian crisis. Jonathan Munro, the Corporation head of newsgathering has laid down coverage guidelines on that basis. At the same time, in many reports, those who oppose the influx are cast as xenophobic and possibly racist.

Typical is that Newsnight on Wednesday night gave liberal luvvie Emma Thompson an open goal to spell out her “racist” chant.  And, of course, for her to declare her undying love for Jeremy Corbyn. In these pressing times, those are the issues that count to Guardianista Ian Katz and his Newsnight team.

Despite what the Left say, the reality is that Britain has a long and compassionate tradition of being a safe home for thousands of unfortunate people of myriad nationalities who have genuinely been forced to flee war or tyrannical regimes. In doing so, the authorities honour far beyond the letter of the law the UN, the EU and Geneva Convention requirements to accommodate such souls.

Many of those who have arrived here in such dire straits have contributed richly to the economy and culture of their adoptive country.  Others, of course, have not, taking long-term advantage of our generous benefits and our housing welfare system.

It’s plain that many if not most now camped out in Budapest and Kos and Calais are not ‘refugees’ or ’asylum seekers’. Because of the EU’s open borders, no one seems to have a clue about their point of origin or their reasons for being here.

The suspicion is that a high proportion are economic migrants; pictures suggest they are mostly male and they are desperately trying to queue jump in order to get what they want.

This is potentially worrying because it suggests the beginnings of the complete disintegration of border controls. The EU’s ‘free movement’ principle has seemingly transmuted into a total free-for-all.

The BBC could and should be investigating issues like these in parallel with the hardship stories. But it chooses not to do so, instead assuming simplistically that everyone coming here is a victim of oppression.  They have developed into a fine art the ways of expressing their plight.  News-watch found in an investigation for Migration Watch that this has been an historical characteristic of the BBC’s coverage of ‘immigration’. It seems that nothing has changed.

Ethically, it may be difficult to reject or to resist these people because they are clearly desperate and many are suffering hardship. Our heartstrings urge us to act.

Yet whatever is actually happening, the scale is unprecedented. Richard Littlejohn adroitly pointed this out in this Daily Mail article. And the brutal horrors of 7/7 and the Charlie Hebdo massacre are clear evidence of the dangers of alienated immigrant communities. Should we ignore these warning signals in a headlong rush for compassion?

A primary reason for the crisis is the open borders EU policy introduced by the Schengen agreement. The rationale by the comrades in Brussels was that this would lubricate trade. Blinded by socialist ideology, no-one envisaged that it would pave the way to an influx at the levels now underway.

Many commentators strongly disagree with the BBC’s narrow approach. Craig Byers, of the Is The BBC Biased? website, for example, has noted points such as:

  • On the BBC1 Six PM news, the emphasis was on showing heartrending  pictures of babies to underline the migrants’ plight.
  • There  was a deliberate attempt in other programmes to suggest that the peoples involved were genuine refugees from the Syrian conflict rather than, say,  economic migrants from Kosovo and Albania (who seem also to be on the move in huge numbers)
  • That BBC correspondent James Reynolds followed a completely atypical example of a wealthy highly educated Syrian woman’s journey from Syria to Sweden with the clear aim of suggesting that this was somehow the norm.
  • That the BBC correspondent in Hungary has been virtually welded in his reports to a highly articulate Hungarian woman charity worker who has produced an endless stream of equally articulate female migrant ‘victims’, while ignoring the thousands of men there.

Other commentators have suggested other types of bias are involved in the BBC approach. For example, when Nigel Farage, was interviewed on the Today programme, Sarah Montague’s main focus was to suggest aggressively that he might have to water down Ukip’s approach to border controls and take in more ‘refugees’. The underlying insinuation was that the policy was wrong-headed and (probably) inhumane.

By contrast, the Labour spokesman on this subject that day, Chuka Umunna, was given a much easier ride, as was the spokesman from the of the EU who was wheeled out to articulate the usual mantra that EU rules are EU rules and must in all circumstances  be obeyed, especially by xenophobes in the UK.

Also on Today, James Naughtie’s simplistic line when he interviewed Baroness Warsi was that Britain has always taken refugees in, and should surely honour the tradition. Naughtie pointed to the example of the Huguenots.  They were welcome so why not Syrians now?

Such generalisations and manipulation of history are all too common on the BBC and are  actually an editorial mechanism to justify deep bias.

What Naughtie conveniently did not include in his crude comparison was the important qualification that the arrival of an estimated 40,000 Huguenots in England after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV was the only mass re-settlement of foreign nationals in the UK in the whole of the seventeenth century.  East India Company employees from various parts of Asia began to settle here, but in much smaller numbers.

What we are facing now is the influx of equivalent (in terms of proportion) numbers of the Huguenots every single year.

Shame on the BBC. Their duty, as defined by the public purposes, is to offer balanced reporting that reflects all sides of this massive story. Instead, we are getting the Gospel according to the Liberal Left. On Friday night, elements of coverage were actually accompanied by epic movie music. This was not news reporting. You could call it instead what it actually was: propaganda.

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David Keighley
David Keighley
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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