Saturday 31 August 2013

Ozzie impartiality rules

"Pale, male and stale" - Phil Mercer, BBC

Despite what they say at a certain university in Cardiff...

One of the BBC's Australia correspondents seemed to be engaged in something of a campaign against the tough immigration policies of that country's politicians. 

Phil Mercer's piece on Radio 4's Sunday a couple of weeks ago, described here, was one of the most loaded pieces I've heard on the BBC for a long time, with a stream of pro-immigration 'talking heads' denouncing tough immigration policies and the reporter himself offering just two explanations for the irrationality ("deep fears") of the Australians' response to asylum seekers  - (a) "fear of invasion from Asia" or (b) "simply xenophobia". 

This forms part of a pattern though, as you can see if you watch the following video report: Australia crackdown on refugees raises concerns

This begins with Phil Mercer talking of "increasing severe measures" being promised by the politicians, then features an interview with an Afghan Muslim refugee who came "seeking Australia's protection" and went on to set up what seems to be a successful business in Australia (like others "going quietly about their business").  He's "dismayed" about the current debate about immigration. After a brief outline of the current government's policy, Phil says "the authorities remain extremely sensitive" to the coverage of the immigration debate. Cue a clip from one of his earlier reports (from outside a Sydney detention centre) where he's in the middle of making a pro-immigration point saying "The drive and determination of successive waves of refugees have had a significant impact on Australian society and have often been been forgotten amid a hardline policy..." when a security guard interrupts and tells him to stop filming. Next comes another refugee "forced" to come to Australia by the "unimaginable brutality" of "militants" in Afghanistan. He's very happy at the peacefulness and security afforded by "multicultural" Australia which has, Phil says, "welcomed" more than 800,000 refugees since independence from Britain in 1901. The report ended with the following point: "Modern Australia has been built by mass migration. A quarter of the population was born overseas and despite an often toxic political discourse their is a broad appreciation of the nation-building contribution made by refugees."

Now, whatever the rights and wrongs of the issue at hand, that is certainly not an impartial report. Not by any stretch of the imagination. From the subjective choice of adjective, the use of the 'talking heads' and the one-sidedness of the views they express, and the whole framing of the story, it's very clear where this BBC reporter stands on this issue. 

And he keeps standing there.

Asylum seeker?

Here's another Phil Mercer report from this month: Australia's refugees show their business sense

The headline really does tell you all you need to know here. Phil's making the 'immigration is good for the economy' argument we're all so familiar with here in Britain. This report is an expansion of the above video report and emphasises how past refugees have become a "vital cog in the economy". 

As well as the refugees, Phil also calls in the support of Paul Power, the head of the Refugee Council of Australia who appears in his Sunday report too. ("While there is no data on the precise contribution this vast displaced group has made to the Australian economy over the decades, Mr Power insists that the impact has been profound.") 

There's a brief sop to balance - ("Not everyone agrees"), as Phil described "right-wing groups" as arguing against immigration and multiculturalism and sections of the public being "anxious" about the issue and we hear of entrepreneur Dick Smith, who Phil's seen on TV, offering a reward to anyone who can solve the problem of Australia's "population and consumption growth-obsessed economy" - but this perfunctory nod to impartiality is swiftly swept aside by Phil's own talk of the "rejuvenating force" given by the "humanitarian waves" of refugees. A town that has (apparently) thrived because of mass immigration is held up as proof, with the approving words of its mayor left ringing in our ears - "It really is something that we treasure."

And there's more. 

Last Saturday's PM may have had Syria and the Shetland helicopter disaster to report but the programme still had time for a report from Phil Mercer predicated on this problem posed by the failure of the Australian cricket team: "Could Australia's problem be that the cricket team is too white?" Can you guess what answer Phil gave to that question? 

Yes, and all his 'talking heads' (former refugees, a Muslim politician) were on board with the same message. (Not a whiff of dissent anywhere). The problem: "Cricket here hasn't mirrored the country's multicultural make-up". The solution: "Multiculturalism."

[No one thought to point out at any stage that 'pale' and 'male' Australian cricket teams have made Australia the most successful Test nation in history, and that a lack of multiculturalism in the team didn't stop them winning three consecutive world cups during the last 20 years - the only nation to have done so.]

Pale, male and...'All Hail!'

Where will campaigning pro-immigration BBC reporter Phil Mercer pop up next? 

Well, he's back on Sunday tomorrow morning apparently, and two weeks after reporting about the criticisms of Australia's politicians by pro-immigration Australians, what is Sunday promising for tomorrow? More of the same:
Australia's election next week pits Kevin Rudd against Tony Abbott. The leaders' faith has helped to define their political outlook, but they have been criticised for their uncompromising stance on asylum seekers. Phil Mercer reports.
Why two reports just two week's apart on exactly the same subject, and what's the betting this second report will be just as one-sided as the first? 

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