LOOKING back, the day the BBC died for me was in 2000 when it lost its chief political correspondent to ITN. Why the wonderful John Sergeant was not elevated to BBC Political Editor, a post handed to Andrew Marr, hot from editing the Independent, I don’t know, but I can guess. Sergeant was altogether too funny; just too charming, whimsical and witty, and far too independent-thinking for the New Labour-loving and ever more PC BBC.
Oh, how different it might all have been had the BBC chosen him, giving us another veteran broadcaster to balance that other pro, the finally retiring John Humphrys. I bet Radio 4’s ratings wouldn’t have collapsed in their ruinous quest for a youthful audience.
My bet is that with John Sergeant steering the BBC’s political ship we’d have suffered far less bias and far more properly critical coverage of the controversial topics of the day – the EU, immigration and more recently Brexit.
Sergeant himself has been expressing his concern about one of these, immigration. He’s revealed that even when he was in post, ‘sensible discussion’ on immigration was shelved for fear of outcry.
‘In my years [at] the BBC and ITV, I was fully aware of the immigration taboo,’ he wrote in Radio Times. ‘There is an old journalistic rule that says “if in doubt, leave it out” and, looking back, we were guilty of not encouraging more serious debate on this subject.’ Otherwise known bias by omission.
He lambasts both broadcasters for dodging this most significant of issues of the last 25 years, which became ever more urgent after the 2004 EU enlargement of the single market (and free movement of peoples) to include the ‘A10’ countries of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, and Bulgaria and Romania in 2007.
Having brushed it under the carpet for so long, he warns, unless we can discuss the topic openly, British democracy will suffer for years to come. At the very least, he suggests, ‘we could try to reduce personal attacks on the integrity of those who put forward the case for a proper system of immigration control. It is not racist to talk openly about this subject.’
Well, amidst more denial at least one broadcaster has risen to the challenge. On LBC yesterday morning Nick Ferrari asked Rod Liddle, Sunday Times columnist and former BBC Today programme editor, and our own scourge of the BBC, David Keighley, whether Sergeant had grounds for his critique. Their answer was emphatically yes: immigration is viewed through rose-tinted spectacles, never the downside and never the numbers. You can hear the broadcast here.