This article is part of the Media Monitoring Highlights of February, a monthly overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.
Date of publication: 20 February 2020
Media outlet: BBC Question Time, a topical debate show in which guests from the worlds of politics and the media answer questions posed by members of the public
Description of the anti-migrant content: On the airing of BBC Question Time on February 20th, host Fiona Bruce and her panel (which included George Eustice MP, Alison McGovern MP, Howard Davies, Ash Sarkar, and Michael Portillo) tackled several audience questions on topics ranging from the proposed new UK points-based immigration system to kindness, the UK floods and public support of the BBC. One audience member asked a question, or rather shared a rant, which was extremely inflammatory and xenophobic, stating: “At what stage does the panel, and people think, that this country has had enough. That we should close the borders, completely close the borders. Because it’s got to the stage now: there’s no education, schooling, infrastructure. It’s enough, we are sinking. Surely someone has got to see common sense and say: enough is enough. You’ve got people flooding into this country who cannot speak English. I’ve come from London, in the National Health Service everything is written in different languages. How much is that costing? How much is it costing for the interpreters? [..] What sort of country is allowing this?” The full clip of the woman’s remarks was also posted on the BBC Question Time Twitter account, with the caption: “‘We should completely close the borders … enough is enough.’ This audience member says the number of people ’flooding in’ to the UK is costing public services too much. #bbcqt” Over two million people watched the broadcast live on TV, with an additional 6.4 million people viewing it later via the Twitter post.
Myth debunked: The premise of BBC Question Time is to allow the public to ask questions on topical issues. Immigration is one of those issues, with many members of the public engaging in debates around the newly proposed UK immigration system. The public should be given a platform to ask officials their views on such topics, with BBC Question Time being one of those providers. However, there is a stark difference between asking or critiquing, and spreading hatred. The woman in question stated many unfounded and false claims, all under the premise of an anti-migrant stance. The BBC allowed the hateful rant to air without providing any context or counterargument, and furthermore shared it on social media without any critical stance. This is dangerous, as it makes it seem like the BBC sees these hateful remarks as valid. Best for Britain, a cross-party campaign, responded to the incident: “Broadcasting such opinions to millions of people and framing them as valid, merely normalises the expression of such racist views.” As the British public service provider, the BBC has a task to inform the public. In this situation, the BBC should have provided critical context when sharing the clip on social media, giving a factual argument against the woman’s hateful claims. Many were disappointed with the BBC’s handling of the case, with one person responding on Twitter: “Please stop simply regurgitating and spreading intolerance, lies, and bigotry unchallenged. It's deeply irresponsible of you as a broadcaster.”
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