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Unlikely bedfellows?

Peter Barron | 09:05 UK time, Friday, 9 November 2007

This week we did something we'd never done before. We brought together Newsnight and Radio Five Live for a live simulcast in the Big Immigration debate, presented by Gavin Esler and Richard Bacon.

Newsnight logoTaking phone-ins and reading out viewers' e-mails is something we have often said we won't do on Newsnight, but in the case of immigration where public opinion is such an integral part of the story it seemed appropriate that viewers and listeners should be able to question the politicians.

The response was huge - Richard received 3,000 texts during the programme and between them nearly 2,000 Five Live listeners and Newsnight viewers sent e-mails.

A few thought we make unlikely bedfellows, but I hope there were many more who didn't previously count themselves as Newsnight viewers or Five Live listeners who were pleasantly surprised. It's not something we plan to do regularly, but let us know if you think there are subjects we should occasionally tackle in this way.


  • 1.
  • At 09:52 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

The point about 'unlikely bedfellows' is well made, and I didn't think it would work. But there has been a disconnect between the way, say, the Independent deals with the debate and the slightly over the top approach of the populist papers like the Daily Mail.

This means that the government has been able to avoid engaging with some of the more prosaic issues about migration, like ensuring that councils like Slough get the right amount of funding, and has allowed a xenophobic element to creep in to the debate among tabloid.

I thought the programme was a useful step in redressing that balance by allowing all shades of opinion to have their say, but also putting the government on the spot in responding to public comments. Some of which might have been considered too inflammatory to have been discussed on a 'normal' Newsnight, but which, if they reflect the opinion of a significant minority of people, do need addressing, even if only by the better communication between people and steps to improve cohesion once the migrants start working over here.

In particular I thought Richard Bacon was very brave in the role of having to facilitate a live phone-in and be on the telly at the same time, and he surprised me by how well he coped.

  • 2.
  • At 10:32 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Mike wrote:

Possibly the worst ever edition of Newsnight! If we want to hear the inarticulate weirdoes that populate radio 'phone-ins then we'll listen to the radio. Newsnight is for those who can think for themselves, the guests in the studio were just underused. Immigration is an important issued that is clouded by myth and prejudice, this programme just made matters worse!


But the government spokeswoman on the program simply used all the usual tricks to avoid questions - AND NOW WE JUST MOVE ON TO THE NEXT TIME.
If - as I keep suggesting - you ANALYSE her (and other) responses, with the services of an LANGUAGE ANALYST and a PSYCHOLOGIST (both politically neutral) this politicians' "hiding place" will become unuseable. If the media had analysed Blair's utterances (as I have) his metaphorical debagging thereby, might have prevented some of his worst excesses. I have a title for you: "LINGUAPHONEYS: The weekly (daily) dissection of political-speak."

  • 4.
  • At 12:52 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • JOHN PARFITT wrote:

Much better than your usual set of talking heads. The only complete waste of space was the man from the IPPR enjoying an ego trip and being gratuitously offensive to Sir Andrew Green by making wet jokes about deporting retired ambassadors. Had the 'joke' been in reverse you would have called men in white coats or the police to take Sir A away. But do try the format again even if your 45 minute limit means you get a bit one dimensional eg we should be asking questions about why the NEETs etc don't work and what we could do about it also the way in which the Commonwealth has been sidelined in all this. If like me your uncle had fought alongside Aussies years ago ago and your oen undeserving neck had been saved by a gang of Kiwi soldiers and now seeing Canadians etc fighting alongside us in the ME while some EU soldiers are virtual observers you wouldn't think this a silly question


  • 5.
  • At 01:06 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Anthony wrote:

This type of thing can easily go wrong and it felt like a lot of work and rehersal had gone in to making it go right.

The choices of presenters were very good. Bacon has a straighforward professional style which also works well on television and Esler is the least patronising of the Newsnight crew. So what could have been a pile-up turned out to make quite entertaining and informative viewing.

I couldn't imagine it working as well with Victoria Derbyshire and Paxman.

Nice job Peter. Don't let it go to your head though - you still have a lot to make up for after that muslim punk 'experimental film' atrocity screened last month.

  • 6.
  • At 01:41 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Tony Baloney wrote:

And next week I understand Iggle Piggle will be presenting Question Time.

5Live was a great network that has been reduced to a joke by the obsession with attracting younger listeners and other demographic groups whose listnership is low (note - just maybe the lucky things have better things to do than sitting at home listening to the radio).

The introduction of the expression 'Text us...' marked the beginning of the end for 5Live. Such a shame.

  • 7.
  • At 01:43 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Martin wrote:

Mistake. I don't watch newsnight to hear uninformed rants. The point of your programme is that it's the last place intelligent and in-depth debate can be heard on TV. DO NOT REPEAT!

Richard Bacon (bless him) and his listeners are not in the same league. Blue Peter - yes, Newsnight - no.

  • 8.
  • At 01:49 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • James wrote:

I didn't enjoy the show. Whilst I accept it was a difficult job, Richard Bacon struggled to control his rambling viewers and keep their points succinct.

I also think there is a strong case with the debate on immigration that people should be present to make their opinions in person. By hiding at the end of a phone-line/email the comments seemed to descend into mindless bigotry.

Also the show was high on opinion and light on fact.

In some debates it may be cathartic - but on immigration the debate will never be solved with pub-like discussions. If anything it just increases racial tension.

  • 9.
  • At 01:57 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • David wrote:

All the media are in a difficult position. They are told that they have to make programmes more interactive. This can work on websites - but generally when I watch television, especially programmes like Newsnight, I don't want vox pop. I tune in to listen to expert opinions challenged by an effective interviewer.

  • 10.
  • At 02:05 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • A. Morgan wrote:

I watch newsnight regularly. I really enjoyed the show. I thought that Meg Hillier was straightforward and honestly trying to to tackle the issues. It is so refreshing to see young women in these positions rather than the grey suited know-alls.
Look forward to more debates along the same lines

  • 11.
  • At 02:12 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • marc woodland wrote:

I saw last nights presentation; actually it wasn't too bad. Having said that it did suffer from some of the problems which confront 'phone-ins' and frequently make them excruciating to watch. If someone is going to take the trouble to pick-up the phone they are likely to be have strong feelings and/or they are unlikely to be very coherent. For example it IS difficult to pick up a 'phone and construct a clear , concise and reasoned argument as to why you feel that Ian Blair should be hung, drawn and quartered at dawn and the the Editors at the BBC who were forced to resign, over an inadvertant mistake regarding the preview of an (un) broadcast programme that depicted the Old Bat in a poor light, should be re-instated forthwith. Such things are tricky. Which is why I leave them to my heros - Paxo and Ian Hislop. I invariably watch Newsnight - are there others. Please don't over do the phone-ins, they invariably present Joe Blogs in a bad light.

  • 12.
  • At 02:14 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Simon wrote:

The benefit of watching Newsnight is that you offer us informed articulate guests whose credentials are sound - they are the people that we would like to listen to. Yesterday you had uninformed inarticulate members of the public who had no credentials, after 3 minutes of listening to Joe Bloggs I switched over - I can go to the pub to hear his opinion - Newsnight should continue to offer us the opinions of people whose opinion we value.

  • 13.
  • At 02:15 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • L Evans wrote:

More please. Not enough time for debate especially from invited guests (you could have done better there, with the exception of MigrationWatch whose statistics are the only ones I believe.) To reddress the balance of the mostly pinko liberals you could have invited a few more controversal figures so that there was a stronger debate for Immigration v Dead against it. As you have observed from your findings this subject is huge and I hope the 'true grass roots' feelings of the people permiate into the decision makers before people start to vote with their feet on this issue.

  • 14.
  • At 02:16 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • John Lewis wrote:

Regular 5 live listened and Newsnight viewer. But Richard Bacon! eeeeeeeeekkkkk. No thanks!

  • 15.
  • At 02:16 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • de castro wrote:

why waste public time on minority issues !
There are much more important issues you need to address which the majority of us prefer to highlight.
Are politicians "value for money"
do we need so many of them ....

immigration is a euro problem now and whatever we say or do is irrelevant now.It is "history"! we cannot turn the clock back so stop wasting public funds debating minority issues
thank you

nb : so far only 3 comments ?

  • 16.
  • At 02:23 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Peter Evans wrote:

I enjoyed the experience. It was good to hear the opinions of ordinary people who were prepared to ignore political correctness. I hope the politicians will take note of how strong is public opinion against mass immmigration, from whatever source.

I came to England in the 1950s as a student and, on graduation, returned home. Unable to get appropriate employment, I returned to England as an economic migrant. The past 40-odd years have been great and despite the occasional and often inoffensive dig at my ethnic background, I think England is the best place on Earth. But for how long?

  • 17.
  • At 02:24 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • deryk pooley wrote:

You asked for comments on other subjects to be discussed in the future.
I'd like to see a sensible debate about the state of our "democracy", in particular whether we are in danger of becoming a corpocracy. All the evidence appears to point in this direction and I believe the population at large should be more informed of the increased political power enjoyed by major corporations in the 21st century.

  • 18.
  • At 02:31 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Peter Hughes wrote:

The issue is so important to me that I would have moved heaven and earth to watch the programme. I am a Newsnight person, and not the demographic at which Radio 5 is aiming. It is a measure of the success of Radio 5 programmers that they have managed to attract that very demographic. I found that the observations from the live callers offered neither hope nor enlightenment, and added nothing to the programme, but simply made the studio guests more attractive to listen to. I was impressed with how well Richard Bacon handled his role, and wished that Gavin Esler had been able to facilitate more discussion instead of grinding the 'put the politician on the spot' axe. The Labour minister and Conservative shadow minister appeared to say little that was new. However, I was surprised to find myself warming to what Nick Clegg had to say. I do not understand why the BBC keeps promoting Andrew Green as though he is an expert - Migration Watch UK is an organisation with a very specific brief, and it feels like the BBC is in his thrall. I should be most interested to hear more from the British Asian man whose name I did not catch.

  • 19.
  • At 02:52 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Brian Kelly wrote:

A great feat of live us in the buis' a very hectic successful programme.
Albeit i don't think it should be radio is able to cut off viewers without getting their complete views, very rude but necessary! Gavin & audience were plainly underused & it became embarrassing for 'some' studio guest/s...but good for the politicians who could avoid those very awkward Q's . Please lets not repeat too soon.
The fallout from Labour PM Mr Brown's words... paraphrased "British workers for British jobs" going to haunt him for the remainder of months in office & ever thereafter...Enoch Powell wouldn't have got away with saying that!

  • 20.
  • At 03:00 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Nick Thornsby wrote:

I share some of the thoughts of comment #2; good concept, but didn't quite work. I think the main problem with this kind of things is that in 50 minutes it is very dificult to bring all the aspects together to create a programme which really gets to the heart of the problem- and the emails and phone calls often add nothing more to the debate than would be there just with the panelists. The guests in the studio were good, so why not just have taken comments made on the blog and brought public input in that way. It seems a lot of a 50 minute programme was wasted on reading out phone numbers and switching presenters. The point made in this blog about all these phone calls and texts seems to be a problem to me rather than a good point- only a very limited number can be read out, and IMO viewers want to hear what the informed experts in the studio want to say about the issues. Would the substance of the programme have ben any different if they didn't have the simultaneous broadcast- I doubt it, but there would have been more views aired from the panel.

It was worth a try but I think things that don't work have to be accepted. Newsnight is not a mainstream programme- most people are not interested in watchin 50 minutes of in depth analysis of the news- it should be kept that way, and this seemed to be an excercise in trying to get more viewers perhaps, but last nights show discussed the issues in much less depth than is usual to newsnight. This sort of thing would work as a special programme, which has longer to discuss the issues, but newsnight should stick to what it is best at.

  • 21.
  • At 03:19 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Mike Underhill wrote:

It didn't work for me. I think both presenters are good and G.E operated as usual but R.B struggled with some poor phone-ins. The radio phone programmes get a regular bombardment,good, average and poor but over an hour or more and the variety stimulates interest. It's different with one or two offered at intervals like last night - no spontaneity. I think it's also easier on radio phone-ins to interrupt, bring in another listener etc.

  • 22.
  • At 03:50 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Paul Qureshi wrote:

I was quite disappointed by this program. I was hoping for some informed debate and intelligent comment, and to be fair there was some. However, much of what was said by politicians and especially the public was simply ill informed, reactionary, misguided or some combination of the three.

The problem is the people involved. Politicians will always spout point scoring drivel and are utterly unable to engage with realities for party political reasons. The public are largely uninformed and lied to en masse. They also have a tendency to focus on single, unverifiable experiences that only result in more pointless reactionary nonsense. The poor woman whose husband was denied dialysis while an African woman was treated is a good example - there is no policy of giving preference to foreigners and no way an immigrant would have been given preferential treatment simply for being an immigrant. She was not challenged on this point, probably because for some reason the public's opinion is highly respected, despite the general public being the least informed group in almost any debate.

What can be learnt from this somewhat pointless exercise? It's the job of BBC journalists to uncover facts, interview experts and provide an unbiased overview of the situation and possible solutions. In other words, to cut through political rhetoric, add something useful to the debate and inform the public.

  • 23.
  • At 04:23 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Graham Anderson wrote:

Newsnight doing radio phone-ins? Absolute disaster. I flicked over to catch my usual helping of informed and in-depth comment on the day's news to instead be confronted with Mr Angry from Purley ranting on about "all these immigrints" and complaining about the woman from Labour nodding her head too much. I nearly broke the remote control in my desperation to change channel. This is not something I want to see Newsnight doing again - truly cringeworthy. I don't listen to Radio 5 and I don't listen to radio phone-ins full stop - please don't make Newsnight unwatchable.

  • 24.
  • At 06:57 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Dennis Leech wrote:

I watched a bit of it. It was very dull and insulting to the audience. Newsnight is supposed to be an intelligent current affairs programme, one of very few around. But this was absolute dross. It consisted of giving us the opinions of ignorant xenophobes and then having them refuted by the minister, the same points being rehearsed repeatedly. I switched to the other side after a few minutes. Also what is the point of broadcasting pictures of a radio studio? I assume this stunt was the latest attempt in your idea of turning Newsnight into something resembling Top Gear. (You are on record as saying something to that effect.) Newsnight is going downhill fast.

  • 25.
  • At 08:37 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • missmibs wrote:

great experiment, if a bizarre and poorly matched marriage. perhaps, this partnership was designed to create discussion between different groups and opinions, informed or otherwise?

Perhaps there should have been a wider tv and radio announcement of this union which came over to the newsnight/5live audience as more of an ambush than an honest disclosure of even handed opionion from two very diverse audiences??

we believe the bbc should do this link up between newsnight and radio again, but with better research on different audiences, rather than seeking conflict that does nothing to endear any audience to bbc tv or radio. all this link up achieved was floundering between information and reaction.

  • 26.
  • At 10:48 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Angela Deighton wrote:

I thought it was a very poor programme - well below BBC standards. RB's phone-ins were ill-chosen and inarticulate. There was no proper debate at all. The Minister was useless - poorly prepared and uninformed. There was the usual BBC liberal bias, with, I feel, any strong opinions being edited out. Why was the question of low pay not tackled? It is immoral for Britain to import people to work for less than subsistence wages. There was no mention of Workfare, no internationa comparisons. Outrageous for the minister to say "now we're ging to count people out and in" - why haven't they been doing that for the last twenty years? Why didn't Gavin Esler challenge anything? He was like a Blue Peter presenter! Comment was made on the apparently contradictory results of the polls, but there had been no explanation prepared - my sixth-formers could have done better! It was a very disappointing display of soundbites, particularly from the Danny person, obviously set up to knock down Andrew Green, the only panel member who had appreciated the importance of the debate. Labour have now lost all credibility and will be out at the next election.

  • 27.
  • At 12:25 AM on 10 Nov 2007,
  • wappaho wrote:

It is very sad to witness the deep divide in our society between those who believe that NN provides informed, in-depth comment (whilst 5Live has been colonised by inarticulate rabble), and those who believe 5Live conceals a real but smothered voice (whilst NN nightly rehashes a series of non-analytical word games).

Truths such as 'it's all in the hands of the EU now' and 'there are more important things to be getting on with' not withstanding, should NN wish to return to the topic, I suggest a studio audience of around 15 self-elected persons to each side of this polarised debate, instead of the phone-in, and a mixed panel of politicians, lobbyists and academics. Not dissimilar from the QT format but I would be interested to see the people that the two sides are composed of, I can hazard a guess and I think we would all learn something about the society in which we live.

  • 28.
  • At 04:27 AM on 10 Nov 2007,
  • Lilly Evans wrote:

Good try and got me engaged. However, my engagement was mainly of being angry and disappointed when good questions were ignored or people like Andrew Green spouted unverifiable figures as if they were facts. Politicians from main parties did not bring anything new to the table. I am disappointed that given the themes there were no real experts, like Head of a school with significant migrant population and a CEO of a large company in the City who employ Russian astrophysicists in their back office! Plus, someone who lives in an area with lots of new immigrants.

The spurious arguments that immigrants 'take our jobs' were given too much space and not challenged. Another unsubstantiated argument was about cohesion - what is that? Are we to understand that without immigration Britain is cohesive society - please!

Whoever chose main headings and themes left us struggling to understand and follow the flow. Surely your technology allows for the text - like a title line to run below the picture telling us what is discussed and even more the kind of emails and texts that are being received. Kids programs have done this for a long time.

Phone-in was difficult to follow on TV, especially where RB had to squirm as his listeners went totally of the topic and started ranting. Were they not preselected? What was representative about 5 we heard from hundreds (or however many) who tried to phone-in?

I for one, would like to know what have you learnt from this experience?

  • 29.
  • At 08:00 AM on 10 Nov 2007,
  • wappaho wrote:

The Harris Interactive poll questioned more than 6,000 people for “The Talk of Paris," FRANCE 24's weekly interview show, and the International Herald Tribune. The poll, conducted Oct. 3-15, follows a previous survey in December 2006. It tracks the changes of public opinion in six different countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States) on their perception of future and present international issues.

The most striking result is a drop in optimism across the board. In all six countries, respondents’ perception of their personal situation dropped significantly. Just 47% of British respondents said they are optimistic about their personal situation, down from 66% in December 2006. Figures for other countries also showed a decline: with 44% optimistic in Italy (-23 points), 64% in Spain (-21 points), 62% in France (-10 points), 61% in Germany (-12 points), and 68% in the US (-13 points).

  • 30.
  • At 12:55 PM on 11 Nov 2007,
  • Sam wrote:

The spurious arguments that immigrants 'take our jobs' were given too much space and not challenged.

Lilly #24

It is snobish attitudes like that, that are the problem. It might be alright for you sitting at your desk in a job you know is not at risk from immigrants but believe it or not a substantial number is people in the UK do unskilled jobs, jobs which are now taken by immigrants.

Take our young people, they now have to pay to go to university and need part time work to pay for it. But the jobs they used to do are no longer there becuase of massive immigration.

Take people like my brother who are disabled. He applies for several jobs EVERY WEEK and loses out every time to immigrants becuase there is no interest by this government to get those on disability benefits in to employment.

I don't really care about the economic benefits and nor do most people, we managed perfectly well before. I do however care about our young people and those on benefits who want to find work and now can't.

I also care about the fact that in the building trade health and safety standards are low because of immigrants and that pay levels for people like joiners are at a all time low.

The only people who don't care about immigration are those who sit in middle class jobs and consider those english people who are not in middle class jobs to be lazy. Atittudes like that disgust me, as do you.

We need to stop all immigration from outside the EU no matter the circumstances, no more asylum seekers who have already passed through several safe EU countries. And we need to drastically reduce the number of eastern european immigrants with yearly quotas.

Those EU immigrants who do come here need to be safe guarded by the law to ensure they get at least the minimum wage and that health and safety measures are adhered too. This is better for them and it means there is a level playing field for our own workers.

To make up the shortfall in labour we need to stop this benefits dependant fiasco we have with the unemployed and those on working benefits and the government need to setup government run companies that's sole purpose is to employ the disabled.

Once we have 100% employment then we MIGHT be able to consider increasing immigration.

If being the the EU is a barrier to all this then we need to leave the EU. The EU needs to the UK far more than the UK needs it anyway.

  • 31.
  • At 08:11 PM on 11 Nov 2007,
  • njc wrote:

Why just recently is immigration a major issue?

People have been crossing boundaries for centuries to find better lives, education, opportunities, escaping oppressive leaders and fighting or wars, etc .

Now hate speech replaces anything else. Business/gov is trying to push globalisation while at the same time immobilizing people. Ordinalry people can't cross boundaries only gov. (via foreigh policies, occupations, military presence) or business( transnational corps, etc) can???

Xenophobia has no place .

  • 32.
  • At 11:40 PM on 13 Nov 2007,
  • William Sibree wrote:

BBC News 24 had the most ludicrous clip on English subsidies to Scotland and N. Ireland. It seemed almost a surpise that Scotland might not be able to cope without English taxpayers' subsidies and there were foolish Scottish politicians grizzling about our meanness. Let it be clear (as seems to be the awful hackneyism since Blair) that England has subsidised Scotland since James VI (I of England) came to the throne. That's over 400 years and is unlikely to change with a Scottish PM. We subsidise their peculiar legal system; we subsidise their Parliament; we subsidise their roads. Time for Jeremy Paxman to put his eagle eye on this. He is one of the few who could do it in a way which is fair (different from PC). People write about the failure of Belgium to form a government because the Flemings don't want to subsidise the Walloons. It is a rather more serious issue that the South East of England, the motor of the British economy, has to pay billions to prop up Scotland.
William Sibree

  • 33.
  • At 08:07 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • Sarah wrote:

I've just watched the debate online. It was very good but didn't really address the key issues of the immigrant debate. Why is nobody asking why Brits can't compete on the job market which is, rightfully, being dominated by more experienced and talented migrants? People forget that you compete for a job and I do not support giving somebody a job based on their nationality. If we want more Brits to get jobs then we need to train them to compete on a world stage. Unfortuatley, this doesn't seem to be the case. People forget that migrants are not just the Polish and other Eastern Europeans that we so regularly slander.

If migrants are being chosen over Brits to work for cheap so the company won't go bust, well, that's the way our economy works, unfortunatly and we need to change it. But the fact the govenment can't get a proper figure, which is difficult anyway, is pretty stupid.

Also, I feel sorry for Richard Bacon having to deal with a bunch of idiots on the phones, particularly the BNP twat who loves Enoch Powell. He should Migrate.

  • 34.
  • At 07:36 PM on 04 Dec 2007,
  • Matt wrote:

This was a cowardly, didactive, cliche-ridden show made by people who have given tacit support for the open-door policy these last ten years. All the studio guests bar one, were pro-immigration and the talk was therefore unrepresentative of public opion at large.

I think TV and parliament are no longer the fora for debate on immigration. Who cares what people will say when they're on TV with the prospect of being labelled racist - they'll say anything to save their job/seat/status. The real debate has already taken place ... in people's kitchens, in pubs and clubs, round the dinner table, at the work canteen ... between people who trust oneanother in an era of state-sponsored brain washing.

This show, like all the BBC's output on the subject, was make believe with the intent to deceive.

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