The negative way in which the media has covered immigration is giving rise to increasing levels of racism in society and the growth of the BNP.
Proof of this approach came with the recent coverage of a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) disproving the myth that migrants coming into the country jump the queue for social housing. The myth had been propagated by groups like the BNP for their own political advantage.
The report found more than nine out of ten people who live in social housing were born in the UK. Some 64 per cent of people who arrived in the UK within the last five years live in private rented accommodation. Just 11 per cent of new arrivals get help with housing - almost all of them asylum seekers. The researchers found that social housing policies target those in most need including the homeless, the elderly and families with children.
Observing the media coverage it was difficult at times to discern this message. The BBC is opposed to immigration per se. So on the EHRC report, the BBC flagship programme Today opened with a typical anti migrant position, pretty much stating the opposite of what the report research had established, namely that migrants come in and jump the social housing queue. The author of the report then responded, establishing that this was not the case. Interviewer John Humphries then moved to the local government minister John Healey asking why if the queue jumping story was a myth had the government talked of local homes for local people. This government move seemed aimed at the claims of the BNP which as the ECHR had proved were falseThis was a fair line of questioning and the minister responded well pointing out that the real problem was a lack of social housing.
Later in the day a local BBC London report took a more dangerous line, following a similar pattern to Today in the morning only with no interview with the minister. The news report ended interviewing a BNP representative in Barking and Dagenham who ofcourse refuted the report.
A week later I was able to assess the impact of this type of coverage when interviewing people in the same area about the findings of the report.
"Yes its right they are coming and getting preferential treatment. The country is nearly bankrupt," said one man. "There is a definite preference. I was born in Barking, moved away with my husband to Peterborough. Now we've split up and I've come back and the council won't house me because they say I haven't been here for six months and lack links to the area. Others are definitely getting ahead of me... I'm not racist but the government and council put us last," said a young woman."They do come in and jump the queue and they know where the social is as well. We lived in one room for five years. We must stop so many coming in," said an elderly couple.
It wasn't all one way traffic with some saying the report was right. The most obvious thing though coming over was that the ECHR report and the way it was reported had made little impact on the popular perception of migration and housing provision. Many of those questioned only really related to elements of the reporting that chimed with their own prejudice. There was no enlightenment but simply a reinforcement of existing prejudices.
The damaging nature of this dynamic will only become clearer as time goes by. The immediate danger can be seen from the election of BNP politicians at local and European level.
In the longer term it could lead to very real damage to the economy. The population in the UK is ageing rapidly. Academic David Blake found 500,000 migrant workers need to come into the country if the economy is to continue at recent levels of prosperity. The revenue received from the tax provided by these migrant workers is needed to sustain the UK economy. Then there is also the very services themselves. If the BNP repatriation policy were followed the NHS, care and education services would collapse.
The idea that migrants come in sponge off the state and receive benefits is a complete myth. The problem is that when this narrative is taken up and force fed by influential media outlets like the BBC and papers like the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and Sun it becomes a reality for many. Migration is good for the country and every effort should be made to attract people to work and contribute to the society