Monday 22 December 2014

Conservative Women (and Men) & BBC pro-immigration bias

Conservative Woman continues to bash the Beeb with some abandon. 

David Keighley (no woman he) has given John Humphrys both barrels today over the Today presenter's latest 'confessions' about his corporation's past pro-immigration bias - a 'confession' he rightly describes as "eerily similar" to other such pronouncements from past and present BBC types, "as if emanating from a common hand in the BBC equivalent of the Politburo".

The form is simple: A prominent BBC figure loftily admits that the BBC skewed its coverage of immigration and failed to reflect the public's concerns, but does so without citing asking specific, damning examples, only generalities. The BBC figure then locates the problem as existing firmly in the past and never explains why he (or, as in the case of Helen Boaden, she) failed to do anything about it at the time. And the BBC figure ends by reassuring us that things are much better now.

The aim appears to be to show a bit of contrition, park the problem in the past, and then move on (a strategy Ed Miliband might also relate to).

David Keighley is unimpressed for two reasons:

(1) Because such people are basing their statements on "gut instincts" rather than "any form of measurement". 

(2) Because the BBC "will never, ever respond to genuine concerns about bias".

I myself tried to put "measurement" about "gut instincts" at my first blog, and found from studying every political interview on a whole range of BBC flagship current affairs programmes for some nine months up to April 2010 (well over 1,300 interviews in total) that UKIP politicians were the most-often interrupted by BBC interviewers, followed by (in descending order) Conservatives, English Democrats, the SNP, Sinn Fein, the BNP, Plaid Cymru, the DUP...and then, after a pause, the governing party of the day, Labour, followed by the Lib Dems, the Greens, various Northern Irish minor parties and, least-interrupted-of-all, Respect. 

But, because the BBC "will never, ever respond to genuine concerns about bias", they simply dismissed my findings. For them a statistical analysis of interruptions meant nothing. It was all about 'context' they said, even though my methodology was quite clear in its stripping away of 'context' on the grounds that 'context' was completely irrelevant to my study - which was, very simply, to obtain an average figure for each political party for how many times its spokespersonages were interrupted by BBC interviewers, regardless of any other factors. 

Disregarding context then, a UKIP spokesman was four times more likely to be interrupted by a BBC interviewer than a Green. An opposition Conservative was twice as likely to be interrupted by a BBC interviewer than an opposition Lib Dem. An opposition Conservative was just over 36% more likely to be interrupted that a Labour politician from the governing party.

I still content that this proved something significant, but if the BBC "will never, ever respond to genuine concerns about bias" then what can you do about it?

Still, at least I know I'm not alone in that. 

Here's David Keighley recounting his own experiences:
Back in December 2004, my organisation News-watch (then Minotaur Media Tracking) was commissioned by Sir Andrew [Green] to investigate across seven flagship programmes whether editors were paying enough attention and were properly balanced in covering precisely the issue and period Humphrys is talking about - the lifting of the controls (because of changes in the EU) that led to an influx of Poles and others from Eastern Europe.
The meticulous 12,000-word report involved the transcribing of every item in which immigration or asylum was mentioned over a three-month period. Its headline conclusions included this:
'TODAY - for example, despite broadcasting 30 items on the topic, had only three on economic migration as opposed to asylum. It scrutinised poorly the moves towards the dropping of the UK's EU veto, and paid disproportionate attention to asylum seeker problems while not investigating the impact of immigration on the UK.'
With the benefit of hindsight, this could have been a little clearer. What the meticulous research actually spotted was that Today was virtually avoiding escalating immigration from the EU while focusing on the bleeding heart cases of those who were trying to obtain asylum - and mixing the two together as if they were the same thing. This was larded, of course, with frequent direct and indirect accusations of racism.
Other conclusions?
'In the entire three month period in coverage of immigration, there were only around 20 brief mentions of the figures involved....'The coverage of immigration, therefore, was carried out with only minimal analysis of one of the key components of the debate...This was rather surprising, given the debate itself - for all political parties - is mostly about numbers.'
'During the 14 weeks, apart from one brief mention of a planning inquiry for a new centre for illegal immigrants, there was no item designed to examine the impact of immigration on British communities, and little effort to cover why there was concern about immigration.'   
Sir Andrew presented these findings to then BBC news chief boss Helen Boaden soon afterwards - but she did nothing, to the point that (I am told) Sir Andrew now believes that any form of protest to the BBC news management is pointless.
In other words, despite what Humphrys says, the BBC did have knowledge of the glaring inadequacies of its coverage. His 'confession' is thus utter nonsense. It boils down to that there was a disgraceful avoidance by he and the BBC of debate in an area of crucial public importance. 
This thing is, however, that I do think the BBC isn't as blatantly biased as it used to be over immigration. 

That's partly because (ten or so years ago) it was extremely biased, and that anything in comparison with that stratospheric level of blatancy must, inevitably, seem like an improvement. 

Immigration isn't ignored as an issue any more.

Migration Watch aren't as airily dismissed/smeared as they used to be these days, even though they are still held at arm's length (unlike other comparable pro-immigration groups). 

The immigration figures aren't ignored these days (far from it), even though they are usually given a strong pro-immigration spin. 

More attention is being paid to the impact of immigration on British communities, even though the BBC tends to weight such reports in such a way as to present the impact in a more positive light. 

More attention is being paid to cover why there's concern about immigration, even though BBC reporters tend to 'balance' such reporting with other reporting which seems to undermine those concerns. 

That said (or so my gut tells me), the BBC is still pumping out moving stories about friendly migrants seeking refuge in the UK, still pushing pro-immigration voices (experts) over anti-immigration voices (plebs), still trying to undermine the anti-immigration side of the argument and help the pro-immigration side, etc.

Is there a way to measure that bias though? And would measuring it matter, if both the BBC and the established political parties then automatically dismiss any findings that don't help their cause? Questions for the New Year perhaps.

The most striking aspect, however, of the BBC's recent immigration coverage - in contrast to David Keighley's research from a decade ago - is how the BBC does now focus on EU immigration and on the numbers and the economics (though with a heavy spin).

What it doesn't focus on is the cultural effects of immigration, especially from beyond the EU - particularly the concerns of many people about the more culturally aggressive, non-integrationist immigrant communities (the Muslim ones, above all), over such issues as crime and terrorism. 


  1. I think we've had the discussion about your interruption quotient in the past, Craig. By insisting on considering context, the BBC can dismiss the whole charge and claim that the interruptions were all necessary because the guest was being evasive or whatever. Evan Davis' interruptions are usually more because he's not getting the confession of sin that he wants, and so has to talk over his guest in order to appropriately twist the person's words.

    Having said that, I think the focus on the EU immigration is due to two reasons which complement each other. First, it's the reflexive defense of all immigration of any kind or any number, full stop, because racism. Secondly, it's the reflexive defense of the EU. Although the BBC far from being entirely to blame for the discussion being framed like this. Both the Conservatives and UKIP focus way too much on EU immigration. I'd say the Conservatives (by which I mean leadership, not back benchers) do it for the same reasons as the BBC, and Farage does it because of what his party's name says on the tin.

    So the BBC can easily keep the whole debate within relatively safe parameters, and nobody has to admit that Rotherham and the murder of Lee Rigby had nothing to do with the EU. In reality, it's the Nationality Act and subsequent amendments about asylum that are the real problem. The immigration of third-world Muslims via European countries only compounds it. In fact, I'd bet that not a few BBC smart-asses are laughing about the whole thing and sneering the Tories and UKIP supporters because of it.

    The BBC won't talk about this, but neither will Cameron or Farage (much).

  2. Yes the BBC does discuss immigration now - back then, as I pointed out on TCW, they tended to conflate it with asylum. Yes. too, they talk to Lord Green and figures from UKIP. Now thought the name of the game is a constant search to show that UKIP is fundamentally racist. For detailed evidence of this see my research at my site And as I pointed out in another piece on TCW, they repeatedly ignore Lord Green's Migration Watch research while going to town on figures and stats from those like the units at UCL and Oxford whose primary role is to tell the world how important immigration is.

    1. They also refer to "UCL" without explaining that the unit in question received funding under an EU programme!

      Dan Read

  3. A brilliant analysis!

    It's true the BBC no longer ignores immigration issues but I think the latest approach is (1) to suggest that the vast majority of people who are concerned about mass immigration are old white people and (2) to focus on issues which appear at least to put mass immigration in a good light.

    There is little coverage of issues such as bogus weddings, bogus asylum claims, and forged passports, and no analysis of why people pass through maybe 20 countries to get to the UK to seek asylum. The BBC also seems determined not to make any connection between mass immigration and the huge population growth we are experiencing! - this is despite the ONS having made the connection explicitly.

    Dan Read


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