Alasdair Glennie, Daily Mail, December 14, 2014
One of the BBC’s top presenters has admitted that the corporation ignored mass immigration because it feared critics would say it was racist.
Radio 4’s Today interviewer John Humphrys accused his employer of being ‘soft’, ‘complacent’ and ‘institutionally nervous’ when it came to tackling the story or questioning multiculturalism.
And he said that BBC employees are unable to understand the concerns of ordinary people because they typically lead ‘sheltered’ middle-class lives and are overwhelmingly ‘liberal Oxbridge males’.
The criticism, which is the latest in a string of admissions of Left-wing bias by senior BBC figures, comes weeks after the Government accused the Today programme of misrepresenting its spending cuts.
George Osborne hit out at a one of its reports, which said his reforms were ‘utterly terrifying’. The Chancellor said the BBC coverage was ‘nonsense’ and had been ‘hyperbolic’.
Now Humphrys, 71, has told the Sunday Times Magazine that the corporation is facing an ‘existential crisis greater than it’s ever been’ because ‘people, serious, thoughtful people, talk seriously and thoughtfully about the future of the BBC in a way that they haven’t before’.
The veteran presenter admitted that the last Labour government’s controversial immigration policy was not sufficiently ‘interrogated’ by the BBC, saying: ‘The Labour government underestimated by a factor of ten the number of people who were going to move from Poland.’
He said the BBC was ‘frightened of appearing racist’, adding: ‘We were too institutionally nervous of saying, isn’t immigration getting a little bit out of hand? And can we be critical of multiculturalism?
‘We didn’t interrogate immigration rigorously enough. We failed to look at what our job was.’
Humphrys claimed he was partly responsible for the BBC’s ‘complacent’ approach towards immigration, because he failed to challenge Labour’s decision to allow migrants from Poland and Hungary to work in Britain from 2004, and the flawed prediction that only 13,000 would arrive.
After more than a million Eastern European immigrants moved to the UK, senior Labour figures eventually admitted the policy had been a huge mistake.
Humphrys said: ‘I do remember, vaguely, interviews with ministers at the time and saying, “Are you sure that’s all there’ll be?” And when they said “yeah”, accepting it.’
The star went on to say that too many BBC staff were ‘arrogant’ and thought they knew ‘what was best for the country’. He added: ‘It was and still is relentlessly middle class. Unfortunately. There was a predominant voice–the liberal Oxbridge male.’
Tory MP Conor Burns, who sits on the Commons culture, media and sport committee, said: ‘This is a refreshing outbreak of candour, honesty and rare insight from one of the big beasts of the BBC. Their bias has gone unchallenged for too long.’
Humphrys is not the first senior BBC figure to criticise the corporation’s failure to challenge Left-wing assumptions.
This year former Newsnight host Jeremy Paxman accused the BBC of being ‘smug’. He has also said its coverage of climate change ‘abandoned the pretence of impartiality long ago’.
Last year the BBC’s former head of TV news, Roger Mosey, criticised the corporation for shutting out critics of the European Union, saying: ‘On the BBC’s own admission, it did not give enough space to anti-immigration views or EU-withdrawalists.’
And another senior executive, current radio chief Helen Boaden, claimed the BBC had a ‘deep liberal bias’ when she became head of news in 2004.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘John Humphrys was merely echoing other senior BBC figures who have acknowledged that we were slow to reflect changing opinions on immigration. This was a historical issue and we now believe our reporting is in the right place and we cover this complex issue in depth.’