If it's still the case that "Radio 4's Sunday programme offers perhaps the most undiluted liberal bias to be found anywhere on the BBC", then every klaxon in the country should have sounded at the news that today's edition was going to be an immigration special.
The bias was off-the-scale today.
William Crawley's introduction announced the "controversial" subject by featuring a clip from a Sunday report about most of the congregation at a church in Stoke upping and leaving after the vicar opened a refugee support hub there. The clip consisted of a woman wagging her finger at the congregation (figuratively-speaking), saying that faith "isn't meant to be comfortable".
Then he promised us two Syrian refugees-turned-stand-up comedians, and played us a sample joke: "Any country wouldn't give a visa to a Syrian family, even though they need it, but they would give it to a white man because he needs to find himself".
And then came the coup de grâce: William announced that he'd be joined throughout the programme by two people: Dr. Anna Rowlands of Durham University and writer Shelina Janmohamed (author of Love in a Headscarf and Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World.)
Would they have sharply differing views on the subject of immigration? Of course not. This being the BBC's Sunday, the two 'experts' approached the issue from very similar, pro-immigration positions.
After being introduced, both gave us their initial takes on the subject. Dr. Anna thinks it's a "largely distorted debate" and that the voices of migrants and refugees themselves have been "largely marginal" and "even very often missing from public debates", while Shelina thinks it's "a big, bad scary conversation" and that "it's almost as though every evil in every woe that we have in our country is somehow the fault of immigration" and that "the most worrying part" is that "we are transposing all of that hate, fear and worry onto immigrants themselves".
The perfect guests, then, for a BBC Radio 4 Sunday special on immigration.
A report from Birmingham followed, beginning with Sunday reporter Rajeev Gupta painting a scene he described as "a positive image of multicultural Britain" before turning to the matter at hand: the views of Leave and Remain supporters from what William Crawley called "the British Asian community". Most of the people he spoke to had voted Remain - Yasmin Ali, for starters, called the debate "misguided" and said "this country needs immigration" - but when the Sunday reporter then interviewed a Hindu family, two of whose members had voted Leave and who had (as he put it) "curiously" cited immigration as a key reason for that, the mood changed. Having let Yasmin have her pro-immigration say without challenge, Sunday's Rajeev then challenged the elderly Hindu lady about her views, asking her whether present day immigrants "deserve an opportunity the same way you had that opportunity". Her son, when he echoed his mother's views that present-day immigrants don't make the effort to become British but keep to their own ways and said that this is a Christian country and that he doesn't want it to lose its identity, Rajeev of the BBC said, "There'll be people [including himself, by the sounds of it!] that say your views resonate with people that are regularly in the media accused of preaching hate speech". The Hindu gentleman's own son, a Remain voter, then praised immigration and multiculturalism - and, naturally, the Sunday reporter didn't challenge him. And the report ended there and then with the son's praise for immigration and diversity left ringing in our ears. A very 'Sunday' report indeed, with bias running through it like letters in a stick of rock.
Then William talked to those two Syrian refugees who are now stand-up comedians here in the UK, making jokes about their experiences. We heard the earlier joke again.
Then came 'balance' - an interview with Eric Kaufmann, author of Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities”. Prof. Kaufmann distanced himself from populism and "the anti-Muslim discourse that we see", but said it isn't racist to be concerned and that it's harmful to suppress majority identity. He didn't get a free ride, as you'll see if I list William's questions to him:
- And the two key examples you have of that populist moment are the rise of Donald Trump and Brexit?
- These themes - white identity, and white identitarianism, we hear these days - are themes we typically associate with white nationalist narratives. Are you concerned, Eric, that your work could be drawn on by those kinds of groups to give some kind of academic legitimacy to essentially racist or white supremacist ideas?
- So, actually, what you are suggesting, it seems, is that we need to talk more about white identity in order to deal with, to challenge, racist ideas?
- Even your critics, I'm sure, will accept that there is a dimension of the human experience where we tend to 'other' other people and, in a sense, engage in bigotry. Even though we may not use language that is so clearly bigoted, we 'other' other people. And, instead of pandering to that in the future and developing a system that descends into some kind of presumed race realism, we should challenge that tendency to 'other' other people?
- What about the role of religion? Do religious beliefs play any significant role in shaping an individual's view of immigration?
- And in the past year we've reported quite a bit on Sunday on how immigration in some areas of the country has had a very beneficial effect in terms of those religious communities. [You can say that again, William!]. When you look to the future to what extent do you think the religious future of Britain will be tied to the increasing levels of immigration?
Prof. Kaufmann's contribution was then discussed with the programme's two guests, Dr. Anna Rowlands and Shelina Janmohamed. I could guess in advance how that was going to go, and I wasn't disappointed.
Shelina - doing a bit of a Cathy Newman-style "What's he's really saying is" hatched job on the now-absent Eric - complained of "the veneer of respectability" in how he "couched" his views in "academic language", and called them "a complete misdirection". He's "placating racism", according to her, and promoting "race superiority" among whites ("white" being "the norm" in society.)
Dr. Anna objected to his focus on identity, or any talk of identity when it comes to discussing immigration. She'd prefer a focus on "the serious political questions about moral obligation, about inequalities, about the protection that the state owes externally to those who are in need, and also, in a sense, for our own responsibility from a policy point of view for our own intervention in terms of arms sales, economic and wider political policy".
Perhaps taking fright at Shelina's increasingly inflammatory language about Prof. Kaufmann, William ended this section by saying:
OK. I know that Eric Kaufmann absolutely denies any claim that he's championing race superiority. But thank you both very much. We'll come back to both Anna and Shelina in a few minutes.
The programme then paused to preview Sunday Worship on Radio 4, and went from covert 'preaching' about immigration to overt 'preaching':
A quick look ahead to Sunday Worship later this morning on Radio 4. The former Lib Dem MP and education minister Sarah Teather reflects on the biblical story of Jesus and his refugee family.Sarah Teather: And it's hard to escape the realisation that God seems to be doing something in these refugees' lives, something that doesn't come so easily to those of us who live with more certainty and security. Perhaps refugees who have walked the lonely journey of anxiety and struggle, and learned through it to lean on God, have something to teach us.
The programme then resumed, and William Crawley began talking of the Iranian migrants from France trying to illegally enter the UK by sailing across the English Channel in flimsy boats. Not that he put it like that, of course. He merely talked of "extremely dangerous crossings that have been undertaken by extremely desparate people". He then talked to former anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland about the situation. William asked Mr Hyland:
Well, what you make of the strategy proposed by some people, regarded as a very tough strategy by others, that the government should follow the lead of, for example, Australia and try to discourage these dangerous crossings by telling anyone making these crossings or attempting to make them that they will be denied entry?
Mr Hyland didn't approve of the strategy. He called it "simplistic". We need to "rescue" these people and "treat them with dignity" and "listen to the migrants". He also picked up on William's talk of 'othering' earlier and complained that the Government sees such people as "others" and "a nuisance", whereas they should be thinking of them as being "vulnerable".
It was off to church then (for more 'covert BBC preaching'), and Brexit-voting Stoke-on-Trent, and that story previewed at the start of the programme. The Anglican vicar, Rev. Sally Smith, had - as William told us - "opened her church...to refugees in the area". She "encountered strong opposition from her existing, mainly white congregation, most of whom left the church". Sunday reporter Rosie Wright talked to Rev. Sally, various volunteers helping the "asylum seekers" and some of the "asylum seekers". Only one side of the story was represented.
It was then back to the two guests, Dr. Anna Rowlands and Shelina Janmohamed. William began with the migrants in the English Channel and quoted to them an Anglican bishop wagging his finger at the Government and calling on them to "remember that those attempting these dangerous crossings are people in need" and that "compassion" is needed. Dr. Anna said that these people are in "a place of desperation" (France?), and agreed with the bishop. Then William asked Shelina about the idea that the UK should become "a place of sanctuary" to such people, and Shelina talked of our feelings of "insecurity" about such people and how "sad" she finds that. It's not a sign that we're "a strong country", she said. She wants us to focus on the history of immigration and "have quite difficult conversations about British empire, about colonial history, about imperial legacy, and even slavery and the role of the Church within that...". And so on, and William added his own two-penn'orth too:
William Crawley: Anna, I guess if we talk about the theology of immigration, the media is part of that story too, isn't it? Basic information, when we hear words like 'invasions' or 'influx', and the UN migration agency tells actually in global terms the numbers attempting these crossings in the Channel remain small. You've got to wonder who you're getting your information from?
Anna Rowlands: Yeah. absolutely. And I think we've generally debased our language. I think we have really, really debased language with people and myth and narrative, and the Brexit debate have shown that over and over again. We need good quality narratives and they need to come from multiple sources.
[Is satire dead? Here were William Crawley, Dr. Anna Rowlands and Shelina Janmohamed all giving us the same narrative. I suppose she'd consider the three of them, all saying the same thing, to be "multiple sources" of "good quality narrative"-telling.]
If anyone thinks this was impartial BBC broadcasting, I'll eat the late Lord Ashdown's hat. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the programme would have a strong bias on the issue of immigration (in the usual left-liberal direction), but this was something else: an absolute raging torrent of bias.
I know I'm not alone here, thankfully. Here are a few tweets about the programme this morning:
David Robertson: Listening to BBC R4 Sunday this morning was somewhat disappointing - it offered the kind of shallow, one-sided narrative that feeds the far Right. Refusing to engage with the discussion and simplifying concerns about immigration to racism or even the British Empire, is not helpful.
Davy F: BBC R4 Sunday. Look, thanks for sharing from poor old Stoke. IF any of you lived here you would realise that there are far too many unemployed immigrants already in residence. It is undeniable and unsustainable. Talk as much as you like around your coffee tables, this is FACT.
Eamon: BBC R4 Sunday as always the two contributors on this topic came from the same side of the fence. A lot of unchallenged assumptions and assertions were allowed to go unchallenged. Not good enough..v poor.
Ploughboy: Both of whom seem to be very left wing, as is the BBC's practice. And why the dishonesty from them on the illegal immigrants trying to cross the channel? These people aren't in imminent danger, they're coming from European countries where they are quite safe. Simply lies.
Linda Floyd: This infuriates me, just listened to BBC R4 Sunday prog on racism & immigration, but enormous distinction between legal & illegal immigration not mentioned. It isn't racist to want ILLEGAL immigration prevented. (Legal immigrants welcome).