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David Keighley: Double standards on immigration. The BBC trumpets the case for and ignores critics


The BBC keeps telling us that its coverage of the immigration debate is getting better and fairer.

Remember, for example, when, back in January, political editor Nick Robinson uttered a solemn and very public undertaking that Auntie was mending her ways? No longer, he suggested, would opponents of the EU’s ‘free movement of peoples’ principle be bracketed with xenophobes or racists.

He also wrote:

“My own organisation, the BBC, has admitted that in the past we made mistakes. We were too slow to recognise and reflect the concern, dislocation and anger felt by many.

Six months or so on, how is Auntie doing?  Well…

Exhibit A is from the think tank Civitas, which published a few days ago a very important contribution to the current immigration debate by respected Cambridge economist Bob Rowthorn.  This former ‘leftist’ (as the Daily Mail gleefully described him)  pointed out that on current trends immigration would lead to a population growth of 20m in the next fifty years, and would create massive strains on the country’s infrastructure while at the same time having few discernible economic benefits and only minimal improvement in GDP per capita.

This is a meticulous 83-page survey by a master of economic theory, a cool-headed, objective look at the immigration debate.  It received widespread analytical coverage in newspapers, including the Independent as well as the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph.

So what did the new, immigration-aware BBC make of it?

Well nothing.  Zilch. I have searched the BBC website in vain for any mention of it, and also been in touch with David Green, the director of Civitas to check with what broadcast coverage there has been. He tells me his office has not received a single call about the report from any of the Corporation’s serried ranks of 5,000 or so journalists.

Importantly, Professor Rowthorn’s paper debunks a report by Christian Dustmann, a University College, London, immigration ‘expert’, who argued back in November in a paper for the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration that immigrants, especially those from Eastern Europe, were having a strongly positive impact on the UK economy through the increased taxes they paid.

The Dustmann report – unlike Professor Rowthorn’s – did receive widespread coverage on the BBC, those same massed ranks of newshounds got very excited and went to town with items in the bulletins and a string of features, including on Radio 4’s Today.  Breathlessly, the morning bulletins declared:

“A report says recent immigrants have paid substantially more into the public purse in taxes than they have taken out in benefits.  The study, by University College London, says migrants from European countries have made a particularly positive contribution.”

Dustmann’s views, it is true, were ‘balanced’ in the Today feature with commentary by Sir Andrew Green of the Migration Watch think tank, who questioned the statistical techniques he employed. But in other parts of the programme there was commentary from BBC correspondent Danny Shaw, who said that the report was ‘the most thorough of its kind’. In other words, he stressed the credence of the report.

Back in March Migration Watch itself published a comprehensive report rebutting Professor Dustmann’s arguments.  The BBC’s reaction?  Well, they completely ignored it.

Exhibit B is that News-watch is now well advanced in the he process of completing analysis of more than 300 transcripts across eight of the major BBC news programmes in the month leading up to European elections, which took place in May.

Immigration, of course, was centre stage. The clear headline is that throughout – largely because they favoured stronger controls – Nigel Farage and UKIP were treated as aberrant, venal incompetents pursuing racist, nasty-party policies. The issue of potential racism was raised editorially time and time again.

By contrast, those who favoured the EU’s free movement policies and indulged in the ‘racist’ name-calling, such as the Labour MP Mike Gapes, received a much fairer hearing.  Of which, more when the research is complete.

The BBC, as I have already pointed out in a separate TCW posting, have already declared this News-watch analysis to be wrong, without having read or considered it. Their view is that the coverage of the European election campaign was perfectly balanced.

Which leads where? The BBC tells us they are being fair on immigration and, indeed, they engineered that one of its most senior correspondents shouted it from the rooftops. But meanwhile, when hard evidence is produced to show that this is not the case, they bury their heads in the sand, say it’s wrong or ignore it altogether.  How very, very Animal Farm.

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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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