BBC BLOGS - The Editors
« Previous | Main | Next »

Unfair attack

Stephen Mitchell Stephen Mitchell | 21:30 UK time, Thursday, 5 June 2008

When I was growing up one of my heroes was a man called "Stan." I never met Stan...And that wasn't his proper father carried a picture of "Stan the Pole" in his pocket and used to show it me. He had met Stan in Italy fighting the Germans and the things they had done together had convinced me as a boy that I was looking at a picture of a super hero, drawn from a race of super heroes... so when Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski announced out of the blue on the Five Live Breakfast show and Today Programme on Wednesday that the BBC was to blame for a rise in attacks on Polish people living in the UK I was always going to take it seriously - not just because of my job, but because of "Stan."

Polish deliThe problem was Mr Kawczynski's claim took most of us here by surprise. Mr Kawczynski said that the "liberal elite" at the corporation knew they had to cover the subject of immigration, but would "not do stories about more controversial immigration, focusing instead on the 'soft touch' of "White Christians from Poland".

It's not a point of view we have really heard expressed before. And I suspect that most of my colleagues feel, like me, that it's just not true.

I also suspect that, while there have been pieces of searching journalism which analyse the impact of the mass immigration we've seen in the past few years, particularly when concentrated on particular towns, most of the time Polish immigrants have had a pretty good press.

However, just because the claim doesn't feel right to us, it doesn't mean that it's not valid. It's also possible that, even if not true, the perception might nevertheless be widespread among Poles in the UK. I have spent a bit of time yesterday and today going through previous items we've broadcast on Today and Five Live looking for evidence that Mr Kawczynksi might be right - and so far haven't found anything to go on.

I did discover through later interviews Mr Kawczyinski did that he had already complained about two other programmes - Question Time and Panorama. It has been pointed out to him that Panorama hasn't done any journalism such as he imagined and that the comments on Question Time he objected to had been from panellists...not the BBC. It is the nature of a programme of lively debate such as Question Time that a whole variety of views will be expressed, not all of them comfortable to everyone. I also pointed out to anyone who would listen that the BBC's coverage of immigration has over time dealt with all the main immigrant communities, not just the Poles.

But I've also been looking through the e-mail responses we've had from listeners, some of whom say Mr Kawczynski has got a point. So it's an issue we will have to consider in our journalism and our Home Affairs Editor Mark Easton began to do just that in his appearances on Newsnight last night and on Today this morning. It's also a topic we will return to in our conversations as editors...and I have no doubt that you the readers of this blog will let us know your thoughts...


  • Comment number 1.

    Mr Kawczynski's comments rather took me aback, too. As someone who has Five Live on in the office from Breakfast through to Drive, I can honestly say I've never heard any reportage that backs up his claims.

    There will always be people who object to immigration, and perhaps the Polish community has been more prominent than any other in general news coverage recently, but not in any negative sense. Editorial policy seems to me to be very balanced on this issue.

    This MP's opinions were undermined by his own additional calls for a Bank Holiday to honour our Polish community; that in itself was always going to rouse ire among the native English who understandably objected based on the fact that if our own saint's day is not thus recognised then why should our Polish friends be thus recognised.

    All in all, this Parliamentarian's wide-of-the-mark outburst would be best served with a pinch of salt and a mildly amused raised eyebrow.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hmm, Mr Kawczynskis constituency is in Shropshire, reportedly a county with a fairly significant population of Polish immigrants. Apparently immigrants that are EU citizens have the right to vote in UK local elections, as well as European ones. (Something I find strange, but there you go.)
    Could there be a connection with his raising this issue and trying to gather Polish votes to the Conservative cause for the 2009 local elections? Perish the thought!

    But I won’t diminish the seriousness of the issue, According to the London police, between December 2006 and November 2007 there were as many as 48 (reported) attacks against Polish migrants, so I imagine this may well have happened elsewhere too. But then I suspect that all immigrant communities have suffered violence towards them to a greater or lesser extent. To be honest I don’t think he can blame the media either specifically or generally for the actions of the small minded, xenophobic, racist louts that perpetrate these kind of attacks. Unfortunately they have knee jerk reactions to anyone who is different from them that crosses their path. I imagine the mention of the word Immigrant sets them off.
    The only anti Polish sentiments I can remember have been on the HYS comments board, and those are from a somewhat unrepresentative sample of members the public. The consequences of freedom of speech Im afraid.

    But I am glad to see someone from the Right, himself descended from immigrants, standing up for the right of immigrants to this country to be treated decently. I hope he is prepared to demand that all immigrant communities are treated with equal decency, and doesn’t just favour Poles whilst ignoring injustices against other groups.

    I still think our collective mindset should become more American and see Britain as a land of opportunity for anyone that is prepared to work hard and contribute to the economy.

  • Comment number 3.

    My overriding impression of BBC (and other media sources) reporting in recent years has been that no one has dared to touch on immigration issues involving the Indian sub-continent, from whence come the majority of UK immigrants.
    The elephant in the room has been consistently politely ignored whilst the Poles , who are much closer in faith, appearance and culture to us, are thus fair game.

  • Comment number 4.

    I think, in a whole, the BBC, and some newspapers, are afraid to comment on issues that involve non-white races thus rocking the 'multi-cultural' boat.

    What ever happened to the report of Asian men grooming white, teenage girls for sex?

    The story of the white, middle class couple wanting to adopt a black child being rejected because the social working in charge would rather prefer the child to spend his entire life in care than go to this couple. Where is your report on that? Is that not headline/front page news?

    When you are white, you are fare game. If you are any other colour, totally un-PC!

    The BBC is biased, racially and politically.

  • Comment number 5.

    Claiming that the views of Question Time panelists are only representative of themselves neglects the fact that, by giving such views the oxygen of publicity you are tacitly endorsing them whether you wish to or not.

    The same goes for Have Your Say, which seems to exist only to allow a small number of male WASPS to bash every other minority and historically oppressed group under the sun with apparent impunity, and provides deeply flawed a recommendation system that favours the most controversial / hateful viewpoints.

    In recent years the BBC has frequently demonstrated its willingness to sensationalise stories and to simplify complex and controversial topics in order to compete with commercial rivals. I would be very much inclined to trust Mr Kawcynzski's perception of this issue above your own - which, considering he's a politician, is not a compliment to the BBC.

  • Comment number 6.

    It comes as no surprise that the BBC were surprised about Mr Kawczynskis views and that they had not heard them before. The Liberal elite move in very rarefied circles and have some rather glaring blind spots when it comes to their inherent bias.
    There are some universal truths that permeate throughout this group , Multiculturalism= Good , Immigration=Good ... the barely controlled mass (net) immigration has had an immense effect on this country and it will continue to do so.
    The BBC have been reporting this but we would be forgiven for thinking that 92% of immigrants have come from Eastern Europe (1991-2006 ) instead of the actual 8%.

    The BBC is not alone in adding to this misconception and i think it is going to far to say they are partly to blame for attacks on Polish people but i would like to know why there have not been many many more reports and programs focusing on the other (non white) immigrant groups .

    Perhaps ex Director General Greg Dykes famous 'Hideously White' comments give us some idea of the mentality at the higher echelons of the BBC . I look forward to the day when the mainstream media report the immigration issue in a colour blind fashion , they must first recognise they have an inherent PC bias .

  • Comment number 7.

    This debate is becoming vaguely surreal. In today`s Metro a letter on this very subject says `The BBC has indeed joined the mainstream media and gutter press in constantly vilifying and demonising immigrants...`
    Live_the_Dream above says that: `by giving such views the oxygen of publicity you are tacitly endorsing them whether you wish to or not.`

    Whilst tobytrip above says `The BBC is biased, racially and politically.` and `afraid of rocking the `multi-cultural` boat.` A view echoed by Albion69.

    So who to believe?

    According to The Express in January 08: `A record 1.3 million Poles traveled to Britain last year….` (They included tourists and businessmen who stayed a few weeks, which just goes to show how statistics can be manipulated.)

    Unless I’ve been dreaming much media attention in the past couple of years has focused on this most recent wave (and the govt`s woeful underestimate) of migrants from E. Europe. The tabloids in particular have made much of this in their headlines and editorials. The Federation of Poles in Great Britain has repeatedly claimed that Daily Mail reporting has been defamatory to Poles living in this country.
    I`m surprised Mr Kawczynski singles out the BBC and ignores the tabloids. But perhaps he`s trying to please both camps. And the Right now seems to be split on this issue.

    As for statistics: according to the Office of National Statistics greatest number of immigrants into the UK in the years in 2005 and 2006 was Britons returning after having previously emigrated. The second largest group was the Poles. Arrivals from India came third. Poles made up 124,000 out of 591,000 people who arrived in the UK to stay for a year or more. That`s 21% of arrivals.

    The Times reported in Feb `08 that ` Since Poland joined the EU in 2004, 274,065 Poles have signed up for work permits. They make up 66 per cent of all applications from Eastern European countries... there area now one million British-based Poles` In the recent Crew by-election much was made of the fact that 10% of Crewe`s population is now Polish.

    But apparently now more Poles are leaving the UK than entering it; the Polish economy is apparently now on an upturn, ours is on a downturn. Free Market economics dictate that workers follow the jobs. Is it too much to expect unemployed British to follow their example and get on their bikes and travel to Poland for work?

  • Comment number 8.

    The BBC should not be surprised at all by Mr Kawczynski's comments - many of us have thought the same thing.

    Central European immigration is not the problem. It will assist in integrating the new EU states into the secure and prosperous democracies that the 'old' EU has already become.

    By creating labour shortages in Poland and the other countries their low wages are forced up towards the European average; the money they send home to their families boosts spending power in their local economies; when they go home (as many of them will) they will take capital and skills with them, as well as democratic values that will reinforce prosperity and democracy. In the meantime, we gain from their skills.

    The situation is truly win-win, and within a generation memories of the awful totalitarian governments in Central Europe will be a distant memory, and thier countries will be much more like ours.

    It is often forgotten that only one generation ago Portugal, Spain and Greece were military dictatorships, and all of them (along with Ireland) were poor. Two generations ago, the same could have been said about Germany and Italy.

    What has happened across Europe is that the EU has truly worked its magic, and at the same time opened up markets for us.

    Those Central Europeans who do stay permanently will integrate completely and disappear within 20 years. Many will inter-marry and there is no cultural or religious barrier for them to overcome here.

    It is quite cowardly of the BBC to pick on the Poles rather than non-European immigration, which is what really concerns most people, especially the illegal variety, and the bogus asylum seekers who our judges seem to be unwilling to deport.

    jayfurneaux (post 2): yes, EU citizens can vote in local and European elections. This is a reciprocal arrangement, brought in under the Maastricht Treaty, which also gives UK nationals the same privileges across the EU.

    The historical anomally on voting is that commonwealth citizens living in the UK can still vote in ALL our elections, even national ones, yet we have NO reciprocal arrangements in their countries - some are not even democracies.

  • Comment number 9.

    JayFurneaux (#7), with regards to singling out the BBC for criticism, I have been asked this question previously, in that instance with reference to my complaints regarding their heavily biased and frequently exaggerated reportage of the obesity epidemic. Certainly, newspapers of all political leanings have far more hateful things to say about fat people and what their editors and columnists believe should be done with them than the BBC, who use more subtle techniques to achieve the same ends. ITV and C4 particularly have developed an appetite for intrusive and sordid 'documentaries' which focus on those at the extremes of the weight spectrum and attempt to misrepresent them as commonplace. And I agree that many parts of the commercial media think nothing of plucking statistics on immigration AND obesity from thin air to fit the point they are trying to make (knowing that if challenged, they can always print a three-line 'retraction' on page 67).

    But the crucial difference is that should I wish not to, I do not have to fund the Guardian or the Daily Mail. I have no desire to read that contained within them, so I don't. I may contribute a tiny degree to the profits of commercial broadcasters through purchasing the products of their advertisers, but with the system as it is there's little I can do about that.

    The BBC on the other hand is funded by a compulsory (backed up by threat of imprisonment) charge on all, and as such it has a duty NOT to bow to sensationalist pressures; NOT to assist in the demonisation (deliberate or subconscious) of certain people or groups; NOT to attempt to skew the news agenda by giving certain topics (or particular approaches) to those topics more prominent coverage. It is there to represent the interests and meet the needs of EVERY license fee payer, be they Polish, fat, Muslim, whatever - and viewing figures /page hits be damned. It shouldn't be allowed to pick and choose the pet liberal battles dear to its staff of Islington trendies. I am not in any way against TV licensing; it is because I agree so strongly with the concept of non-commercial broadcasting that I find myself increasingly disturbed by the path the BBC as an organisation seems to be taking.

    To SuperJulianR (#8) I am assuming by 'non-European immigration' you are referring to those of a different skin tone who may or may not have a different first language and / or religion to yourself? I find it difficult to believe that you would support Eastern European immigration but object to Canadians, Americans, Australians etc setting here. As for me, I have a fiancee from the US and a deep belief in this world of carefully-defended borders and proclamations about 'homeslands' and 'national identity' that the diversity associated with immigration can only enrich a nation. But increasingly it would appear that I am myself in a minority who hold those views.

  • Comment number 10.

    Live_the_dream wrote:
    "Claiming that the views of Question Time panelists are only representative of themselves neglects the fact that, by giving such views the oxygen of publicity you are tacitly endorsing them whether you wish to or not."

    What an absolutely ridiculous position to hold.

    So you're saying that the nation's broadcaster should refrain from holding ANY debates on political or social issues for fear of endorsing one side or the other?

    Or maybe all debates on significant issues should be confined to mainstream figureheads expressing middle of the road opinions?

    I think it's absolutely vital for the health of this country to open up forums like Question Time to opinions from all ranges of the political spectrum. We actually learn far more from hearing people who we DISAGREE with - it helps us to formulate our own views - than from hearing those expressing mainstream platitudes. I'm sure that one of the reasons that the BNP has grown in popularity is in direct correlation to the lack of a public platform given to its views. If we all heard a bit more about the party's vision for the future of Britain we might just gain a better turnout at the polls to stand up and fight against it.

    Furthermore, the very fact that the license fee is compulsory means that the BBC has an absolute DUTY to give a voice to every opinion held by its licence payers - however disagreeable we may find their views. If producers start worrying about whether they will be seen to be "tacitly endorsing" those opinions it will only stifle debate.

    Also, would you mind clarifying how one can be biased about obesity? Surely there's either an obesity problem or there isn't. From what I gather, doctors seem to be suggesting that there is.

  • Comment number 11.

    To live_the _dream (post 9):

    No, I do not support free rights for US, Canadian or Australians to settle in the UK or Europe unless and until those countries are willing to give UK/EU nationals equal rights to emigrate to those countries, and to live work and set up businesses there without restriction without any need for permission/work permits. That is the right that all UK nationals have in other EU states, and vice versa. Any such arrangements must be based upon complete reciprocity.

    Unfortunately, I cannot see the US adopting the kind of free movement of people with us that we take for granted across the EU - especially the Schengen countries or between the UK/Ireland that we take for granted any time soon.

    In addition, my experience of north America particularly, (i do not know Australia) is that a common language masks a huge cultural divide with Europe (including the UK). The US is far more foreign to us English than, say, the Netherlands or Germany. Their attitudes to the role of religion, the environment, health care, support for the poorer members of society, business ethics, and view of the rest of the world are totally different from ours on this side of the Atlantic.

  • Comment number 12.

    I'm saddened by this. One of the reasons people have been relatively accepting of the huge number of east european workers is because we have never heard the 'you cant say that its racist. You must employ me I'm black' etc - they just got on with the job. It has always felt like decent people wanting to work rather than an invasion and colonisation.

    Now an MP - presumably thinking about his own votes not Polish workers - is starting to play the race card. A sad day.

    Personally I have not heard anything from the BBC that hinted of anti-Polish.

    But if you ever did have some legitimate comment by all means publish it.

    People need to understand that it is suppression of free speech and the failure of main stream parties to address issues that leads to extremism, not honest debate.

  • Comment number 13.

    I listen a lot to the World Service and frequently access the website. And I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that the BBC goes out of its way to minimise the negative effect of immigration to the UK of darker-hued people, especially Muslims, while Eastern Europeans are fair game - even though by all accounts they are generally productive and hard-working.

    I have the utmost sympathy for the Polish MP's point of view - though of course it is difficult to prove that BBC coverage actually leads to attacks on Poles.

    The BBC's attitude to immigrants is warped and hypocritical since it treats them differently depending on origin and skin colour. Similarly, for years it has been obvious that the BBC treats white murder victims of racial attacks completely differently to black and Asian victims of white racial attacks.

    This is despicable behaviour on the part of an allegedly impartial public broadcaster and it needs to change as a matter of urgency.

  • Comment number 14.

    You wrote

    "It's not a point of view we have really heard expressed before. And I suspect that most of my colleagues feel, like me, that it's just not true. "

    Dear God man.

    Do you and your colleagues every talk to real people?

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    On the matter of censorship, the BBC’s approach to communication on the Alan Johnston affair proved, like perhaps nothing else could, that the BBC censors comments it doesn’t approve of – even when the comments break no rules. The Johnston Have Your Say, though it started off accepting negative comments, quickly turned into a private club with only those rallying around to support Johnston granted entrance. Polite comments expressing an opinion on Johnston’s pro-Palestinian bias were not published or even actively rejected. (Two of my own comments were rejected and I learned via the blogosphere that others got similar treatment.) The number of rejected comments rapidly built up, while the early negative comments attracted a large number of recommendations, partly, no doubt, from those whose comments were not published. This is a pattern I have seen repeated again and again on Have Your Say, but the Johnston topic represented the most extreme example.

    In fairness, though, the BBC has come a long way over the last few years in opening the debate up to the public. But many issues remain that it simply will not debate. And it sticks grimly to its bias against America, Israel, Christianity, conservatives with a big or small ‘c’, and so on.

    This is why people find it extraordinary when an editor appears to be genuinely unaware of the bias. Back to the topic under discussion, any BBC editor interested in assessing the validity of the complaint that the BBC treats immigrants differently depending on where they are from should access a Newswatch programme from early February this year, because it is a fine example of the BBC’s refusal to look squarely at the immigration issue. Unfortunately I can’t find a link to it on the site, since Newswatch has no search facility, but here’s the gist of it:

    It featured complaints about a programme that dealt with the burden imposed on the NHS by foreign-born mothers having babies delivered in Britain. So where were these mothers originally from? I heard the words "Eastern European" once but no mention of any mothers of a darker hue and certainly no mention of any country like Pakistan or Bangladesh. I wonder why not.

    Then the BBC was accused by a studio guest of fostering xenophobic attitudes, still with no mention of immigrants of darker hue, as if Britain had not been flooded by immigrants from Asia. The accusation must have stung since this is the last thing the BBC would ever do. Unless, of course, the immigrants are white Christians like the Poles.

  • Comment number 18.

    Small point, SuperJulianR - Commonwealth citizens may vote (non-reciprocally) in most, but not all, elections in the UK. They are not permitted to vote in European elections.

  • Comment number 19.

    The only thing I have noticved is that there have been proportionally more articles recently highlighting Polish immigration, especially when compared to those of Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi ones.

    Most of these articles have been on the whole positive, however to some people even that will be a reminder and can bring up possible negative responses.

    I think the issue is more than immigration of Poles is something new for us, thus it garners more attention, whereas the flow of subcontinentals to our shores has been a steady stream for 50 years now, probably seen more as business as usual.

  • Comment number 20.

    It strikes me as entirely reasonable that news coverage should focus more on immigration from Poland than, say India. People have been immigrating here from India in large numbers for many decades, whereas large-scale Polish immigration is relatively new. Hence "news".

    And Albion69 (#6): I don't think your statistic about the proportion of Eastern European immigrants in the period 1991-2006 is even remotely relevant to the discussion, given that large scale immigration from Eastern Europe only started in 2004.

  • Comment number 21.

    “It's not a point of view we have really heard expressed before”. Are you joking? It’s a view many other people have been talking about. At first I found your comment hard to believe, then I thought that perhaps you have been holed up with your liberal Guardian/BBC clique for too long. I reckon you need to get out more.

    The BBC will allow criticisms of people from the U.S. or France on its airwaves, but will not tolerate similar views expressed about Nigerians or Ghanaians (for example). Is this discrimination against Americans and French or discrimination against Nigerians and Ghanaians? Whichever, it’s certainly discrimination.

    The most worrying thing is that you claim you didn’t know.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    TrueToo #17
    It seems to me that when someone refuses to discuss a particular subject because they are confronted with a point of view they do not want to address, then only possible conclusion one can come to is that the worst accusations must be right on the money.

  • Comment number 24.

    I'm so relieved that people are able to suggest the BBC are anti-Polish or racist, yet mention things like "those of a darker hue".

    The big immigration story in the media, is that of the EU and how it means those from Eastern Europe, could move freely into the UK.

    Perhaps this accusation that the BBC isn't reporting on the story of immigration of those of a "darker hue", is because it isn't as high as the levels of "good white Christians"?

    I do love it when religion is brought into it - it highlights the ignorance of some individuals.

  • Comment number 25.

    Too true, MarcusAureliusII at no. 23. I have watched senior BBC people try to explain away the discrepancy in the BBC's treatment of victims of racist murders depending on the colour of the victim. They are unconvincing, to say the least. The BBC has its favoured victim groups. They can do no wrong. They will never admit this fact.

    These include people of a darker hue, the phrase that EdwinJefferson above seems to have difficulty with, though I'm not sure why. I didn't use it in a racist sense but simply as a blanket phrase to cover those the BBC favours.

    Granted that monstrous organisation, the EU, rides roughshod over national boundaries and granted as well that the situation with Polish immigrants is topical, we see no attempt from the BBC to address the ongoing flooding of Britain by the darker hued from the east and south and the problems derived from said flooding such as the overburdening of the NHS and the general strain on welfare.

    I wont dwell on the fact that some Muslim areas in Britain are becoming no-go areas for those who are not Muslim. I'll be accused of Islamophobia.

  • Comment number 26.

    If you challenge the veracity of BBC reporting of incidennts related to their reporter about a year ago, your posting will be deleted. Even this indirect reference may be deleted. For BBC it is strictly taboo. They have blocked dozens of my postings about it on all their blog sites. That's what I'm referring to.

  • Comment number 27.

    Questions which first arose in my mind about the incident were, was this reporter an impartial observer or an advocate? That question seemed to be answered by his own father and others who knew him unless they were just saying what they did to placate his assumed captors. By his own account his captors initially told him he would not be harmed but later he said they told him they were considering whether or not to kill him. Since well before the incident he and BBC believed he would likely be taken hostage and might be killed why was he the last international media reporter left in the area? Were his stories which seemed very repetitive in their general tenure to me more important than his safety?

    When he reappeared in public about four months later, a whole host of new questions arose. Why didn't he appear traumatized by his ordeal the way the 15 combat ready Royal Marines did when shown on television making false confessions under duress (according to psychological experts viewing the footage on CNN and analyzing all visible clues for the audience) after just a few days of captivity by the Iranian government?

    When these questions were posed, they not only received no answers from BBC, they were deleted. Direct mailings to BBC received no more satisfactory answers either. For me the entire story just never added up. Even this posting may not be published.

  • Comment number 28.

    then only possible conclusion one can come to is that the worst accusations must be right on the money.

    or else here's another mad rant from the unwise .

    it is a little off topic. in that it really bares no reference to the topic.

    you say alan johnson story was a fix ,set up .etc.
    that is possibly slander certainly libleous.

  • Comment number 29.

    They have blocked dozens of my postings

    not suprising either considering the lack of content.

  • Comment number 30.

    Stephen Mitchell:
    I am not happy when someone accuses; that has no information that can be supported by the evidence!

    ~Dennis Junior~



Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.