I read an interesting opinion piece in the Guardian yesterday written by former president of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Denis MacShane.
Mr. MacShane used the article to pan BBC Today radio journalists over their "vox pop" coverage of immigration in the London borough of Newham.
"Vox pop" is short for vox populi (Latin for "voice of the people"). It involves radio journalists going out on to the street to solicit quick opinions on issues of the day from a few random passers-by.
Respondents rarely have much time to articulate a response and nobody needs qualifications to participate.
As a consequence, the way a question is framed and presented by a journalist says as much about a respondent's take on things as their actual reply.
And respondents' views in no way reflect those of the broader community in which they live - unless of course journalists solicit view from tiny hamlets with under 20 inhabitants (which they rarely do).
But programmers rarely acknowledge this. Instead they tend to air as wide a range of opinions as possible and give disproportionate representation to those holding extremist views. And they scarcely ever qualify or question a respondent's take on things. Indeed they often present views as established facts.
Mr. MacShane notes that: 'In the 1970s, ... the BBC drew up guidelines on race reporting that put some limits on the excitement of the metropolitan BBC Oxbridge elites who thought they had an exciting story about mass immigration changing the face of Britain and destroying communities.
'[They] worked out rough-and-ready, deontological guidelines on reporting these issues. It is time the BBC sat down again and took a lead in raising the debate above the very low level where [BNP leader] Nick Griffin, Migration Watch and MPs who think that claiming immigration is out of control will lessen the BNP vote want to keep it.'
Mr. MacShane also rails against the 'three great lies' propagated about immigration:
(1) Politicians are not talking about it
So says former UK ambassador, now chairman of Migration Watch UK, Andrew Green.
But is this really true? The UK immigration and border rules have been completely overhauled in recent years - witness the introduction of the new points based immigration system - and who hasn't heard of immigration minister Phil Woolas, who appears on the television and print media on an almost daily basis?
(2) It is out of control
A recent labour market survey commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and KPMG said that despite rising unemployment employers still struggle to recruit the people they need and have no option but to look abroad to plug the gap.
Moreover, while 24,000 people claimed asylum in the UK last year, another 65,000 asylum seekers left the county either voluntarily or because they applications were rejected.
In addition, overall immigration to the UK fell by almost 25,000 last year.
(3) There is something easy to be done
As Mr. MacShane notes, the answer to immigration in the 1980s was 'mass unemployment.' '[N]o one came to work here and, instead, we exported our "Auf Wiedersehen Pet" workers to richer economies.'
Obviously, nobody wants a return to those days.
Other alternatives? Leave the EU and stop European citizens living here? Just imagine the social and economic trauma that would induce.
Withdraw from international treaties on refugee rights? Tell British citizens who want to marry foreign nationals that they cannot? Both morally indefensible ideas.