THE BLOG

Last Night's Panorama Wasn't Balanced, It Was Racist

17/12/2013 15:29 GMT | Updated 16/02/2014 10:59 GMT

Last night's episode of Panorama merely reinforced the power of myth. It was a poorly researched and at times racist portrayal of Eastern European migrants.

Early on, it establishes a clear divide between the Romanian middle-class and the poorer groups (largely Romani).

The idea of criminal behaviour is reinforced when they suggest (without evidence) that crime in Hendon fell once a Romani camp was shutdown.

They then cite Met police figures that indicate a causal link between the Roma and crime. However, the figures cited were only for arrests and not convictions. No distinction is made for the audience and many will draw their own conclusions.

This dodgy use of statistics is compounded when they cite a poll carried out for the Daily Mail. Harris Interactive only had a sample size of 1,027 and they only offer online polls. Nor are they members of the British Polling Council.

Harris Interactive admit that their style of polling means they can tailor samples to meet client needs. An analysis of this poll reveals that it is heavily weighted towards the 55+ age group. A group more likely to be anti-EU and anti-migration.

As a result, Ukip's Deputy Leader, Paul Nuttall, is free to make the link between Romanians and crime. A point left unchallenged by journalist Paul Kenyon.

For balance, Chief Superintendent Adrian Usher makes no such link. However, he warns many in the village of Apata to avoid coming to the UK without work.

"If you come to the UK without a named job to go to, then you're at really increased risk of being exploited or being the victim or perpetrator of crime." [My emphasis]

We cut back to UK where we are told about a "growing underclass" of Romanians working on the black market.

They interview Alex, a Romani, who works cash-in-hand. Kenyon is quick to emphasise his lack of qualifications, tax contributions and spoken English. Alex dreams of bringing his family over as he supports them through work. But Alex is one of many Romanians who are exploited in the black market economy. This is only touched on later.

Afterwards, Kenyon reveals that the number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK is just an "estimate."

Yet, the minister for immigration Mark Harper (who told an Iraqi asylum seeker to "go home") argues that estimating migration figures is not sensible.

Why? Because the last Labour government underestimated the number of Polish people who arrived in 2004. However, unlike in 2004, more EU countries will lift labour restrictions in January.

This allowed Ukip to once again paint the narrative of "uncontrolled immigration" without challenge. They even cite MigrationWatch as evidence.

MigrationWatch are described as a "think-tank" but this not strictly true. Over the years, the BBC has often portrayed this group as a neutral body.

Once again, it is down to the Romanian middle-classes to reinforce the notion that they do not intend to work in the UK.

We are then taken to a different (largely Romani) village where we met Alex's partner Magda. She is asked a series of unnecessary questions:

"Do you know anything about claiming benefits in the UK?"

"Has your husband mentioned [benefits]?"

"Would you go to England just to get benefits?"

She answers with a resounding 'no' and scoffs at the idea of moving to another country just to claim benefits.

Later on, Paul Kenyon cites that same dubious Daily Mail poll to make a different point about migrants and the 'increased' strain they might place on public services. Such flagrant dishonesty is quite remarkable.

Any positive migrant representations are merely interjections that disrupt the flow of negative reporting.

Panorama also reinforces inter-minority prejudice as it pits "new" migrants against "older" second-generation migrants.

This edition of Panorama is merely a symptom of the wider discourse around immigration. A debate so toxic that facts are shouted down in a wave of popular fascism. But it also threatens our relationship with Europe and our right to free movement.

On both fronts, we should all be worried about where this debate is heading in 2015.