Next up on Broadcasting House, Paddy O'Connell mounted the 'Nigel Farage Express' following the UKIP leader's comments that, travelling on a train from London to Kent he found himself feeling awkward when he could hear no English being spoken.
We heard from four people on that train, doubtless carefully selected for broadcast and just as carefully ordered in Paddy's report.
The first man, whose name wasn't given [out of fear of expressing such views on BBC radio?], backed up Nigel Farage's point that, particularly at certain times of day, you do hear only East European accents and that this creates social divides with each nationality sticking with their compatriots. He agreed with Paddy that his view was that people should speak English as a sign of respect to the community you're wanting to move into. The man also said there's a very strong, vociferous liberal group in this country that tends to scream 'racism! bigotry!jingoism!', when that's not the case.
Then came a couple, Sarah and Mark - one born in Hong Kong, one born in London - who Paddy had heard speaking a Chinese language. Mark speaks English and Cantonese, Sarah speaks English, Cantonese, a bit of Mandarin and a Chinese dialect. Both are fluent, to-the-manor-born English speakers. Sarah loves the lifestyle in Britain and Mark (perhaps joking) likes the weather - that it's so cool! Sarah and Mark are the kind of immigrants no one objects to - charming, funny, very English-sounding and the kind who go to gourmet food markets. If you were crafting a pro-immigration propaganda piece to counter Nigel Farage's comments you could hardly have chosen a better couple.
Finally, giving the final point of view, came Amanda from Kent who thinks thinks it's "very positive" that London is a multicultural city. "I'm very much in favour of a multicultural society", she said. "I think it has a lot to offer". She went on to say that British people are pretty lazy about other languages and had a go at those Brits who go to settle abroad and don't bother to learn the language. [I will admit that my right-wing, Guardianista-bashing instincts immediately kicked in at this point, as it was plain from her laughter that SHE hadn't bothered to learn to speak any other languages either, but still felt absolutely no shame in criticising her fellow countrypersonages for being lazy about learning other languages in contrast to immigrants into Britain.]
Now, Paddy's defence here will be that he provided BBC listeners with a balanced pro-Nige and and anti-Nige 'vox pop' (separated by immigrant voices) but (a) by ordering the sequence of vox pops in this way so as to immediate counter the first, pro-Nige vox pop with a pair of 'good' immigrants and (b) by then giving the anti-Nige vox pop the last word, and (c) by not humanising the first speaker with either a name or any personal background so as to endear him to the listener, and (d) by chipping in and undermining the pro-Nige man's colloquialism about 'doing in Rome what the Romans do' with a crack that 'we're not in Rome', and (e) by selecting for broadcast the 'best case' immigrants Paddy could possibly find (in contrast to all the poor English speaking, non-British-weather-loving, non-gourmet-food-loving immigrants), then I'd say that Paddy's defence looks a bit ropey.
Still, the appearance of balance counts, and Paddy's report was followed by an interview with (for the BBC) 'the only right-winger in the village' Peter Hitchens and Bavarian-born Labour MP Gisela Stuart.
Their discussion began with these two questions, the first of which was distinctly loaded:
[To PH]: "If there are people here who, like we when we go abroad, don't speak the local language, Peter Hitchens, does it matter?"
[To GS]: "And, Gisela Stuart, is it a problem for you that growing numbers of people may be ['may be'? Surely 'are'?] speaking their own language rather than ours?"
And the same sense of panic [a distinctly un-all right-sounding 'All right!'] entered his voice as Peter Hitchens made sensible point after sensible point.
Psychologists ('cod' or otherwise') on Channel 4's Big Brother used to call such things 'tells', in that they told us what the unconscious signaller is really thinking - and Paddy was giving off more 'tells' here than a Rossini overture.
Paddy then put a question that someone with his mindset might well think 'impartial' but which many other people (on a very different planet to Paddy) would find highly loaded in the way it places 'us' - native Brits, the British government - in the frame, and the way it seems to actively crave for 'state-sponsored integration':
All right, and do you both agree that we have a problem? We don't really know how to integrate. We leave it up to people, Gisela Stuart. We don't have any kind of state-sponsored integration?
Gisela didn't immediately give the answer Paddy wanted, so he interrupted her within two seconds. By this stage we'd clearly moved, 'tells'-wise, beyond a Rossini overture into a full-length Rossini opera. (Gisela's reply was characteristically reasonable: "As long as people live with each other, I'm fine. Once they end up living next to each other, I'm not fine."]
Gisela was given "the last word" after a particularly fine contribution from Peter Hitchens. She said he was "wrong", accusing him of "painting too bleak a picture" and adding that she's "sentimentally attached" to the BBC World Service (so, sadly, no chance of winning her round then to the idea of BBC bias then!)
Interesting guests, biased reporting/interviewing.
Later (after the midway news bulletin) Paddy read out an e-mail from Prague. Only e-mail mind. How many others did BH receive, and were they largely pro- or anti-immigration? We'll never know. Still back to Cathy in Prague (a keen Archers fan by the way), and Paddy's choice:Yeah, right.
Here, Mr Farage's Czech version would complain about the amount of English to be heard on the Prague metro and trams. What goes around comes around.