Thursday 25 November 2021

It isn't impartial broadcasting


This morning's BBC Breakfast included an interview with the French MP for Calais and a former Chief Immigration Officer for UK Border Force in light of the tragedy in the Channel yesterday.

In a very BBC moment, BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty decided to interrupt when the latter, Kevin Saunders, said something that, however factual, was clearly unpalatable to her. 

She then took umbrage with him when he reacted with bemusement to her interruption. 

And, not letting it go, she then went on to try and shame him by playing the time-honoured 'please think of the children' card. 

It was all rather aggressive from the BBC presenter. 

Here's a transcript of that section:
Kevin Saunders, Former Chief Immigration Officer for the UK Border Force: In the longer term, we have got to have offshore reception centres for these people. The draw to the UK is phenomenal. They want to come here because basically everything is free. And that's the attraction. That's why they wants to come. They are going to get housing, education, money, everything. That's why they are wanting to come...
Naga Munchetty, BBC[interrupting] Because they are seeking asylum.
Kevin Saunders: Ah,
Naga Munchetty: Sorry, what do you mean by...what does that gesture mean?
Kevin Saunders: I was in France for 16 years pulling people out of the back of lorries and such like. Most of the people that I dealt with were not asylum seekers, they were economic migrants. And I do think it's a little bit disingenuous of some of the people who've never met a migrant in their life to say that they are all asylum seekers. They are not all asylum seekers. A lot of them are just plain economic migrants.
Naga Munchetty: What about those who aren't like the child that died on that boat yesterday?
Kevin Saunders: I mean, I'm not saying that everybody is an economic migrant. But a lot of them are.

And then came a report from the BBC's Lewis Goodall which contradicted the lived testimony of Mr Saunders, former Chief Immigration Officer for the UK Border Force. 

Here are some quotes from that:  

  • Some of those have made that journey two, three, four or five times to try and make it to the UK. Why? Well for some of them at least they feel they have already risked everything coming from countries where they have been persecuted perhaps, or where their family have been imprisoned, and so it's merely the latest in a series of risks. 
  • And of course some people say, well, why don't they just stay in France? There are a few reasons for that. Sometimes it's about family connections, their last family in the world might be in the UK. Sometimes it's about language, they can speak English, they don't speak French. One of the other reasons is they feel they have been treated badly in France and I don't think people necessarily appreciate just how poor conditions are in the camps, and I call them 'camps' charitably. They are basically really just woods and roadsides where people with kids - women, men and children - are living. 
  • To understand that, we spent some time in some camps in Calais and Dunkirk and here is a sense of what we found there. When you think of Dunkirk, this almost certainly is not the escape you think of. But in 2021, this is what Dunkirk is. Thousands of people from around the world, men, women, children too, living in the woods, wondering the motorway, waiting for the call to flee at dawn across the sea from France to Britain.
  • We should remember, too, that in terms of numbers at least, compared to other European countries, or indeed elsewhere, we are not talking about that many people. It's just more visible.   
  • There's much discussion in Britain about whether these people are genuine asylum seekers. It's a fair question. But also fair to consider whether many or most would credibly take these sort of risks if they weren't.
Now, who would you trust to know whether the bulk of the people crossing the Channel are migrants or refugees: the former Chief Immigration Officer for the UK Border Force who has dealt with these people for 16 years or a BBC 'instant expert' Newsnight reporter who has just popped over to France for a couple of days and talked to a few people?

And this isn't just any old BBC journalist. Lewis has a reputation

And, as per an earlier post, both Mark Easton and Newsnight were on a concerted mission to try to defuse this as a story before yesterday's tragedy struck and Lewis Goodall was obviously despatched to help advance that mission. 'Defusing the story' is now impossible, so deflecting it seems to be the new approach. 

Watching a Lewis Goodall report is like watching a university debating society in action. Note, as ever, how Lewis uses the tricks of rhetoric to advance it further - that last quote in particular.

Lewis just can't imagine that people who have travelled so far and are trying so hard can be economic migrants. For him, 'it stands to reason' that they must be asylum seekers. Well, it doesn't for me, and I think that's an absolutely ridiculous thing to say.

Note also his 'we should remember' in the fourth quote. Should we really? Why is a BBC reporter telling us what we should think?

As for the Dunkirk references [and there were images from the war], it crossed my mind that Mark Easton was playing the 'little ships' card. Lewis Goodall, unlike the very canny Mark Easton, was less discreet about using that analogy.

And he really hammers home the 'women and children' angle - despite everything we've seen with our own eyes from video after video over the past couple of year [something the full report heavily reinforces]. 

It's a one-sided argument disguised as a report, loaded in both its content and language.

The whole report also goes out of its way to tug at the heart strings, and - in typical Lewis Goodall style - features talk of what he calls ''this political purgatory''. This gets him into familiar territory, and he negotiates the UK-French angle by putting the emphasis on the French side's criticisms of the UK government. 

Even while he's emphasising his own fears for the lives of the migrants he's spoken to he can't but advance his own position on matters of controversy, and do it with a partisan politician's way of winning an argument. 

Whatever this is, it certainly isn't impartial broadcasting.

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