Saturday 3 January 2015

New Year, Same Old Bias

There was a short series of reports on Radio 4's Broadcasting House last year that I meant to blog about at the time, but (for some reason) didn't. 

There were three reports in the series. 

The first focused on the stories of desperate (im)migrants trying to get to Europe via the Spanish (Gibraltar-like) enclaves on the Moroccan coast. (There have been quite a few such reports on the BBC in the past couple of years - Paul Mason's pieces for Newsnight being the ones I remember most clearly). 

The second focused on the stories of (im)migrants trying to get to the UK via Calais, featuring a very charming chap desperate to get here. 

The third focused on the story of a British lorry driver and his experiences of how (im)migrants are stowing away on British lorries to get across to Britain. He expressed some sympathy for them. 

That struck me as being 'typical BBC' in its focus on the sad stories (or 'sob stories', as some might call them) of desperate immigrants seeking to reach our (safe) shores. 

They tugged at the heartstrings, despite being couched in the quasi-distancing language of BBC reporting. 

In fact, they tugged at my heartstrings so successfully - and I remembering thinking that the reports were very thought-provoking - that I haven't blogged about them, until now, when a light bulb has suddenly gone on.


I'll come back to that 'light bulb' in a minute, but first a BBC News website article from the BBC Asian Network's Catrin Nye called Deportation story: One man's journey from London to Zimbabwe - a story that intends to show the sad consequences of deporting an illegal immigrant back to his homeland (where, he admits, his life is in no danger). 

You'd have to be hard-hearted not to sympathise with him as he seems a decent guy...hence, I suspect, the reason for the report. 

Catrin's previous BBC News website report on the subject was The secret world of the UK's immigration removal centres, which also focused on the sad stories of those being deported...and prior to that (working back chronologically), a positive report on a Labour mayor in Newham promoting integration, a highly positive piece called Hackney exhibition portrays 100 years of migration and some sad stories from Glasgow about "destitute asylum seekers" in Glasgow

Catrin Nye may have a very kind heart, but this kind of reporting is very far from impartial. It's pro-immigration reporting, plain and simple.


And BH and Catrin aren't alone at the BBC in focusing our attention on the sad stories of immigrants. Very far from it. 

Today ran a remarkable series on immigration from their chief reporter Matthew Price last month, on which we here at Is the BBC biased? reported (and doesn't that sound pompous?) 

Again, the plight of immigrants was a key focus, but overlain on such heart-tugging was a strong emphasis on the downsides of the government's moves to cap benefits for immigrants, and on the pro-immigration views of various influential parties and experts. There was a final report reflecting the concerns of 'ordinary people', but those were undercut by questioning from the reporter. And all the 'expert' voices were pro-immigration.

The overall level of pro-immigration bias was strong and hard to question.
As the New Year dawned another of Radio 4's current affairs staples began a series on immigration. As per Dan on a previous comments thread, The World Tonight ran a series on the subject last week:
On Radio 4 World Tonight (not a programme I normally listen to) they had a latest installment of a series on immigration issues. The bias was incredible. Firstly, we only heard from "experts" like Oxford Migration Observatory - not Migration Watch. Our immigration rules were described as "restrictive" - despite some 500,000 coming to this country to settle each year! The Observatory used incredibly sloppy "categories" like "countries which have traditionally been immigration destinations" to claim our rules were somehow draconian.  
It certainly was incredibly biased. and it began with an extraordinary statement from presenter David Eades:
All this week The World Tonight's Beth McLeod will be talking to the people you hear a lot about in this heated debate but rarely hear from.
Believe it or not, he meant immigrants - people whose views are far from ignored by the BBC. 

The reports by Beth McLeod followed much the same template as those on BH and Today

The first report asked the question, "Is Britain a soft touch on immigration?", and gave the firm answer 'no'. The words of the Mayor of Calais, much reported in the UK press, were her starting point. We heard hard-luck story after hard-luck story from various illegal immigrants, all of whom said Britain was so harsh they were thinking of going back home. [What's the betting not a single one of them will go home?]. A young Afghan man with a broad grin, someone from a refugee forum, a homeless South African all bemoaned the situation. As for asylum seekers, a blonde Albanian thought the UK system was generous but a Somali refugee denounced the government's plans to send him back as "shocking". Beth asked him a leading question about what he thought of the Calais's 'soft touch' claim. He said she was wrong. Then came the 'expert': Madeleine Sumption of Oxford's Migration Observatory. She reassured us that most applications are rejected and that the trend for asylum seekers is well below last peak in 2002. Beth asked her about the Mayor of Calais? The UK ins't that popular and is low down the list of favoured countries per capita, reassured Madeleine. Beth's pay-off was to reassert the point that these people don't think the UK is a soft touch on immigration. 

The second report, following David Eades' highly questionable assertion of the Migration Observatory's spin on the Bulgarian-Romanian migration figures (which were exactly what he unmentioned Migration Watch predicted) as reported fact - a very positive, reassuring spin on those figures (of the 'nothing to see here' variety) - introduced us to more immigrant voices: Latvians feeling unwelcome, a lovely Spanish lady, a single mum (with a hard-luck story) who might be hit hard by David Cameron's new rules. We also heard from an NHS director and a care work recruiter, both of whom 'explained' why we need immigrant workers. Madeleine Sumption then gave her expert overview again. 

The third report again questioned the "soft touch" claim and talked to "some of those affected by the government's recent laws". A string of hard-luck stories followed about how tough life is and how "hard" the new rules are. A highly successful immigrant businessman and peer denounced the government. Madeleine Sumption declared that the UK has "some of the toughest immigration legislation in the world". A British man whose family has been hit by the legislation said he'll "never forgive the government for what they've done", and Beth ended by saying that many businesses, and families say the laws are too "restrictive".

So far, as you can see, it was much the same as Today's coverage, except even worse. To re-quote myself, "Again, the plight of immigrants was a key focus, but overlain on such heart-tugging was a strong emphasis on the downsides of the government's moves to cap benefits for immigrants, and on the pro-immigration views of various influential parties and experts." The angle here, however - that the UK is too hard on immigration - was pushed even more strongly than Today's angle-pushing.

And to keep on re-quoting myself, "There was a final report reflecting the concerns of 'ordinary people', but those were undercut by questioning from the reporter. And all the 'expert' voices were pro-immigration": The final report presented 'the other side' - the concerns of local people about the effects of immigration in their area. It then returned to the voices of nice immigrants, pro-immigration politicians and ended with Madeleine Sumption explaining why people's concerns aren't borne out by the statistics.

This was all highly biased stuff. (If you disagree, please feel free to explain why). 


Imagine if Beth McLeod had used Migration Watch in all of her reports. She would have been accused of bias by pro-immigration people. Instead, she used the Oxford Migration Observatory, an organisation that is 'independent' but not unbiased. It is pro-immigration.  


Incidentally, we've been down this route before with Beth. 

The report from Calais by Beth McLeod was the sort of report that's got the BBC a reputation of being biased in favour of immigration though. 
It opened with a British tourist returning home and witnessing all the agro at Calais, describing what she saw but (crucially for the BBC, I suspect) ending by saying that she feels sorry for them. Then came Beth's description of the demo by the migrants, protesting about their human rights. She described some of their signs, ending with the one that simply said "Help!". Then we heard from a man from Sudan who said his family had all been killed. "I'm suffering really", he told us. Beth then said there'd been a counter-demonstration by what she described as an anti-immigration group. We didn't hear from them but a migrant from Eritrea described them as "fascists", adding that the French police are part of problem, beating up people like him. Beth then turned to some locals in a cafe to find out what they think. She briefly paraphrased one saying that he's scared of being attacked by the migrants. We didn't hear from that man but we did hear from another one, described as 'rolling his eyes' at the first man's comments, calling for tolerance, saying the migrants are not aggressive and adding that the English government should be doing something. To the sound of an accordion player (who Beth intuited was bemused by all of this), she said that Calais is now a microcosm of the world's problems. 
I think that can be described as loaded and rather one-sided.

UPDATE: There's also a prominent article on the BBC News website by the BBC's Africa Editor, Richard Hamilton, headlined Europe's ethical dilemma over migrants

It focuses on the "personal tragedies" of the migrants, spotlights the point that "championing the rights of refugees is difficult” and discussing a "shocking" photo that shows African migrants climbing a border fence in one of the Spanish North African enclaves while two people are playing golf "amid a paradise of palm trees, luminous fairways and gently undulating greens."

"Even looking at the picture makes me feel guilty", writes Richard Hamilton.


As my gut told me the other week, 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.

In other words, the BBC is biased in favour of immigration.


  1. If you look at the sort of rubbish pumped out by the Migration Observatory,one of my favourite "findings" of theirs is that mass immigration reduces house prices! LOL This despite the population increasing by about 400,000 per annum, nearly all as a result of immigration (or previous immigration) - as confirmed by ONS.

    So why didn't we hear from Migration Watch in programmes like this?

    Why is absolutely nothing negative ever said about immigration? We hear so much about our reliance on immigrants in the care sector - true enough - but we hear virtually nothing about, for instance, Muslims in the UK prison population being 13.4% - about 3 times their general representation in the population.

    No mention of bogus marriages, the modern slave industries (how much do you think those Vietnamese girls get paid for working in nail bars?), the benefits racketeers, the beggar and pickpocket rings...Why not?

    The BBC wants to have it both ways: it wants to appear to be reporting on immigration objectively, but on the other hand likes to put the moral arguments FOR immigration - without allowing any space for rational voices that put the case against mass immigration.

    Migration Watch has given the current government an easy ride on mass immigration - please note, recently ennobled Andrew Green... and that hasn't helped matters.

    Dan Read

  2. That article by Richard Hamilton is a very revealing piece.

    Why would he feel guilty because he plays golf and people from other lands want to get into Europe? So many ethical assumptions. And it leaves me with an uncomfortable feeling on two points:

    1. Isn't it a kind of "luxuriating" in ethics? Unless you are prepared to take active steps to self-pauperise yourself till you get to the world average income, it's a pretty meaningless observation, from an ethical standpoint.

    The real ethical imperative is surely to do all we reasonably can to help people in poor countries enjoy better health and wealth. How we do that is of course a whole other debate. It's certainly questionable whether the BBC official policy of (a) support charitable intervention and (b) allow people to migrate from those countries works or whether it exacerbates the problem through a "brain drain and initiative deficit" effect and whether charitable intervention distorts home markets in a bad way. Personally I think we should pursue a strategy of (a) direct employment (how much cheaper it would have been in Afghanistan just to take 5 million young men on to the western payroll rather than fight them) (b) direct aid to poor people e.g. through export of solar power panels and associated equipment, through mobile phones and computers and (c) improving transport links within poor countries.

    2. Is this what we pay BBC reporters to do: to indulge in some pretty shallow ethical reflections.

    Dan Read

  3. The BBC limits immigration concerns by always giving emotional sympathy to immigrants and in this way anyone who feels otherwise is seen as nasty and callous. There is no room for rational arguments when the emotional strings to a story are played - this is a well calculated strategy and is dangerous to fair minded people who are being manipulated time and time again on this and other issues. It should be exposed as often as it can be for what it is --- biased reporting at its very worst. See

  4. I think it's more that they're biased against people who aren't. Admitting that there might have been one or two negative consequences from rapid, mass immigration from third-world Muslim areas would be acknowledging that a racist was right about something. Can't have that. So they shift the debate to asylum seeker sob stories and other distractions.

    1. There's some truth in what you say. The B'NP were actually the first to alert to the horrific grooming scandal involving children and the failure of the authorities to deal with that. For a long time the media were resistant to accepting the truth of the accusation because it was seen as a racist, far right complaint.

      We really need to have a much more focussed debate on some of these issues within our political process.

      Why on earth is it considered somehow reprehensible to oppose Sharia as a dire threat to your nation and our values?

      Why on earth would anyone consider it a good idea to import a disparate bunch of people numbering as many as the people of Liverpool every year - some 500,000? The idea that you can carry on doing that year after year after year with no negative consequences is truly absurd.

      Dan Read

    2. Indeed, the BBC has continued the journalist practice of dismissing a story out of hand because the wrong sort of people were talking about it. Both with the Tea Party movement and more recently Mark Mardell's admission that he and they dismissed the Benghazi scandal because only what the disgusting Beeboid referred to as Islamic hate sites were saying there was a problem, and it was difficult for him to discern any facts. All well-documented back at Biased-BBC.

      The Beeboids believe their job is to change the world, influence the national discussion and thought process on everything, to educate and change minds. Hugh Sykes had admitted (we get a lot of mileage out of that tweet, don't we, Craig?) that the BBC deliberately censors news that might "give permission for prejudice". In other words, the public must not be informed of something important if it leads to unapproved thoughts.

      The BNP/Muslim grooming gang story and the more recent Benghazi story are just two obvious examples.


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