Monday, August 04, 2003

How BBC 'Impartiality' Operates

Two stories on immigration and asylum.

One - the Tory proposal that all immigrants to the UK should be screened for infectious diseases.

Two - an Industrial Society proposal that it should be made easier for asylum seekers to find work in the UK, as they are "skilled, willing and keen to work".

Both of these stories could be seen as controversial. Pro-refugee and asylum groups would consider the first a disgraceful proposal. Organisations like Migrationwatch or journalists like Anthony Browne would take issue with the second.

But on the BBC, one story is considered so controversial that the reaction to it is played more prominently than the proposal itself. On Radio 4 the story is trailed - "the Conservatives have been defending their proposals". On the BBC News web page there are four different reactions - all critical. I'm particularly impressed with the way Evan Harris remarks are inserted into a description of the report - as below.

Immigrants would have to pay for the tests and asylum seekers would be detained until it was clear the tests had been met, it said.

" This is an unnecessary, extremist, unethical and unworkable policy "
Evan Harris
Liberal Democrat health spokesman

The document said more than 50% of TB in the UK now occurs in people born abroad, the majority of whom arrived in Britain within the last 10 years.

The other proposal ? Obviously entirely uncontroversial - no critical voices are present. And no mention of the fact that the report's author, one Gill Sargeant, is a Labour councillor (in Barnet), nor that the Industrial Society, now rebranded as the Workplace Foundation, is headed up by one Will Hutton, Guardian journalist and New Labour guru.