Monday, 7 February 2011

"Fuelling xenophobia"

Former Tory spin doctor Amanda Platell (who achieved the impressive feat of getting fired as editor of the Daily Express for not having high enough standards) used her column in Saturday's Mail to look at last week's Transatlantic Trends survey. You may recall that it found that Britain topped the league table for intolerance of immigrants, and noted that the average Brit thinks there are three times as many foreigners living here than there actually are.

Platell chose to ignore this finding, instead concentrating on the claim that "two thirds of Britons see immigration as a problem".
Is it any wonder that a poll this week found that two-thirds of Britons see immigration as a problem, not an opportunity for this country, when we have cases like that of the woman known only as ‘ZH’? She is the failed Tanzanian asylum seeker who continually lied to officials, but who has now been allowed to stay in Britain because she has had two children in the 15 years she has been here.
Of course, political correctness gone mad etc. But Platell - herself an Australian citizen who has come over here and taken a job that could have otherwise been done by a British spin doctor-turned columnist - actually has a little bit of sympathy for ZH's kids, and concedes that it wouldn't be fair to throw them out of the country where they were conceived (by a British father), born, and raised. That's because the problem in this country isn't all down to immigrants like ZH and Plattell:
Surely the real villains here are the hand-wringers on the Left who established a legal system which allows transparently fraudulent asylum seekers to stall and appeal for so long that it becomes impossible to deport them. In so doing, they have only fuelled xenophobia against the many legitimate immigrants who have helped enrich British life.

Now, there may be a kernel of truth in this - too many politicians (of all sides) have made life easy for the likes of the BNP by refusing to address the fears and prejudices of voters who have misconceptions about the impact of immigration on this country. But where do those fears and misconceptions come from in the first place? From where do the BNP and EDL forums copy and paste a steady stream of stories that support their views? Where can you reliably go to get stories about immigrants that are at best gross distortions and at worst totally untrue?

Could it possibly be from a certain right-of-centre daily newspaper whose name rhymes with "fail" and that at the time of writing has more than 5,600 stories on its website that contain the word "immigration"?

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

The voters don't have "misconceptions about the impact of immigration on this country". Their "fears and prejudices" don't derive from misconceptions, they derive from the simple fact of immigration.

You are quite right that "politicians have made life easy for the likes of the BNP by refusing to address the fears and prejudices". But then if your analysis is correct, it would not be their job anyway. If it was a matter of simply correcting false statistics, then that would be best left to official statistics offices.

You and your fellow tabloid-watchers deny you are trying to blame the tabloids for xenophobia. But it''s hard to see that this post has any other goal.

You say explicitly that the BNP and the EDL rely on the tabloids, to provide stories in support of their beliefs.

You suggest that "misconceptions about the impact of immigration" are linked to the availability of distorted or false stories about that impact, and you imply in the links that those stories are coming from the tabloids.

You say explicitly that the Daily Mail is carrying a large volume of stories about immigration. You say that in a post with the title "Fuelling xenophobia". You ask a rhetorical question that that suggests the Mail is in fact the main place for the BNP and EDL to go, in search of "stories that support their views".

Any reasonable person would conclude, that you are indeed trying to blame the tabloids and especially the Daily Mail, for fueling xenophobia.

You don't have a shred of evidence to back that up. Neither do your colleagues at similar blogs. (The Transatlantic Trends report does not say so either). But instead of providing any evidence when asked, you simply deny that you are blaming the tabloids.

In summary: you repeatedly post items that suggest or imply, that the tabloid press is capable of inducing negative attitudes to Muslims / immigrants, yet you never say so explicitly - and consequently you refuse to back up your implied claims.

Alex said...

To be fair the Trends Report noted:

"Immigration experts blame this on the hostility to foreign newcomers espoused by many British newspapers"

Which seems to be some evidence, along with the fact the ELD on Facebook often link to Daily Mail stories to back up their campaign. (I can't provide evidence to this, as I can't do screenshots and all those technical things).

Anyway, I was going to add some of my own useless anecedotal evidence, as I used to work for the Border Agency in the UK. The backlog of complex immigration cases which leads to cases such as this Tanzanian woman appeared to be due to two main reasons:

a) there was no where near enough trained staff to deal with the cases, which require a huge amount of resources, as well as considerable disruption to the life of the Asylum Seeker themselves (who have no, or very limited access to public funds). I had to send to generic 'sorry you'll have to wait' later to an applicant who frequently wrote to the office to tell us her son was starving and she couldn't afford to feed him).

b) the system is extremely complicated. I can't add much to this - is it because of Lefties, or is it simply because clear-cut cases rarely exist?

I don't have a problem with the ideals behind the system (lentil Leftie, me), but the way it was implemented was shockingly ineffective, and from what I've heard from people still there, is simply getting worse.

Add to this Cameron's speech in Munich, clearly catering towards anti-immigration pressures, and it's not a pretty picture. Ho hum. Maybe I'll move abroad.

Alex said...

later = letters. Apologies.

P. Stable said...

Welcome back, Anonymous. Nice to know you're still reading.

"Any reasonable person would conclude, that you are indeed trying to blame the tabloids and especially the Daily Mail, for fueling xenophobia."

That's because I am.

Transatlantic Trends found that the average Briton overestimates the number of immigrants in this country by a factor of three. That's not some subjective idea of whether immigration is a good thing or not - the pollsters asked subjects how many immigrants there are in the country and the average person was way, way out in their estimate.

Where did this idea come from? What made people think there are far more immigrants in the country than there actually are?

I know you like to say that newspapers don't influence their readers' opinions and to a degree I agree with you - people buy a paper that reflects their existing views.

But when it comes to a factual point - whether it's the number of immigrants in the country, the size of the national debt or identity of the only goalscorer in Saturday's game between Nottingham Forest and Watford - people don't have an inante sense of what the right answer is.

It's not a subjective question, it's a factual one, like the difference between asking a student to explain why Hamlet procrastinates for so long before offing his step-dad and asking a student to explain what the square root of 25 is. You can read what you want from Shakespeare's writings, but five times five is still going to be five.

So, on what evidence do most people in this country base their claim that 30 per cent of the population is foreign? Where do they get that factual information from? Is taught in schools? No. Does the Office for National Statistics publish handy leaflets that are posted to everyone in Britain telling them the latest immigration and migration figures? No. Do millions and millions of people spend their day logging on to data.gov.uk so they can downloads the latest facts and figures on such issues? No.

Most people in Britain read at least one newspaper each day. Many of those newspapers - generally those with the biggest circulations - provide a constant stream of demonstrably false and misleading stories about immigration. And most people still expect newspapers to publish facts.

Do you honestly think that reading a daily diet of lies and distortions week after week, month after month and year after year has absolutely no impact on an individual's perception of the number of immigrants in this country?

Minority Thought said...

Primly, I hope you don't mind but I am very interested in seeing if our esteemed friend, "Anonymous", would mind awfully answering some of the questions that have been put to him here:
http://www.minority-thought.com/2011/02/daily-express-plays-race-card-over-nhs.html

Anonymous said...

Alex says that:

To be fair the Trends Report noted:

"Immigration experts blame this on the hostility to foreign newcomers espoused by many British newspapers"


No it did not. It does not say anything of the kind. That's a quote from the Financial Times, which was posted on this blog in an earlier post, and subsequently re-churned on a New Statesman blog by Steven Baxter, who is apparently blogger Anton Vowl of the blog Enemies of Reason.

So where did Alex read that it was in the Transatlantic Trends report? And more to the point, who are the nameless 'experts' of the FT report?

Try rewriting the quote slightly. Suppose the Daily Mail said "Immigration experts blame foreign newcomers for snowstorms", then this blog would want to know who they were, right?

Anonymous said...

The reason I have not replied to the questions posed by Minority Thought, is that he has changed his comment posting, effectively barring anonymous comments.

Minority Thought said...

@Anonymous (20:51): For some reason, I thought DISQUS had an anonymous option. Apologies for that. You can still comment anonymously here (it's the mobile version).

Anonymous said...

And so to the core issue. I give this blog credit for at least saying explicitly that 'the Daily Mail is fueling xenophobia'.

However, it isn't. If it was, then the government could deal promptly and effectively with xenophobia, and indeed all social tensions. They could simply pay the Daily Mail to print reverse-enginered stories, thereby causing the readers to become less and less xenophobic.

Similar campaigns would cause EDL members to become firm friends with their Asian neighbours, and also cause Afghan-trained jihadists to espouse liberal democracy. And the UK population would stop smoking, stop drinking, start exercising regularly, and so on.

The press cannot possibly have the powers you attribute to them, even if they print distorted stories for decades on end. Just think about it: you are claiming that any newspaper owner can control the population, simply by printing enough distorted stories.

It is also disputable that the coverage is as distorted as you claim. The comparison with Migration Watch is illustrative. They slant everything, and some of their statistics may be inaccurate, but their basic premise is accurate, namely, that Britain is experiencing mass immigration and that British society is being transformed by it. That is also a premise of the BNP, but that does not make it factually wrong, and it does not make me a BNP supporter for pointing it out.

That's the most important reason to question the blame-the-tabloids thesis. It evades the migration and national identity issues, by attributing negative reactions to migration, to malevolent and powerful media.

Ben said...

Anonymous - You say "The press cannot possibly have the powers you attribute to them, even if they print distorted stories for decades on end."
And yet when the papers started printing scare stories about the MMR jab (to use a high profile example) the uptake of the vaccination plummeted.
There is a documented psychological effect that shows that people who hold a particular belief, if presented with 'evidence' that their belief is true, are more likely to accept that evidence at face value, and have their belief strengthened, even if they later are told that the 'evidence' they were given was false. This can easily lead into a positive feedback loop that runs something like this:
There Seems To Be More Coloured People Round Here Than There Used To --> The Paper Says Immigration Is Up Again --> The Paper Says The Immigrants Are Taking The Jobs --> It's Hard To Find Work So They Must Be Right About That Too --> The Paper Says Immigrants Get Free Housing --> I Can Barely Afford My Mortgage, And They Get Free Houses? --> Maybe Those BNP/EDL Guys Have A Point?

P. Stable said...

"And so to the core issue. I give this blog credit for at least saying explicitly that 'the Daily Mail is fueling xenophobia'. However, it isn't. If it was, then the government could deal promptly and effectively with xenophobia, and indeed all social tensions. They could simply pay the Daily Mail to print reverse-enginered stories, thereby causing the readers to become less and less xenophobic."

Riiiiight. Because newspaper editors and owners are always happy to print whatever the Government tells them in return for cash? That's certainly an interesting take on how the media works.

"Similar campaigns would cause EDL members to become firm friends with their Asian neighbours."

No it wouldn't, and I never said it would. Because, and I know it's easy to miss as it's only in the headline and, er, your own comments, I'm not saying the press cause xenophobia but that they fuel it. On more than one occassion, including in my reply to your original post, I've made the point that pepople buy newspapers that reflect and reinforce their existing views. The problem comes when those views are reinforced not with facts or even with opinionated argument, but with lies and distortions.

We have a free press in this country and if the Mail's executives reckon they can shift a few more copies by having an editorial tone that is anti-immigrant then fine, that's up to them. But is it too much to ask for them to make their stories factual, rather than just making stuff up and creating a false impression of the world?

Anonymous said...

The point is not whether the Daily Mail will print stories for money, although that is what advertorials are anyway.

The point is that if their content is as effective as you say, then they could indeed be used to influence the population. If the feedback loop described by Ben exists, then it should work in reverse.

Or are you claiming that it is unidirectional - i.e. the media can make people more xenophobic but not less so? Or are only right-wing media able to influence their readers? If you don't want people to read implications into your posts, then you should be more explicit.

P. Stable said...

"The point is not whether the Daily Mail will print stories for money, although that is what advertorials are anyway."

Advertorials have to be clearly labelled as such so that people know they are paid-for content and not objective journalism. Unfortunately, as I pointed out in this post, too much journalism on the subject of immigration is not objective.


"The point is that if their content is as effective as you say, then they could indeed be used to influence the population. If the feedback loop described by Ben exists, then it should work in reverse."

Indeed it could. If the Mail stuck to the facts about immigration it wouldn't be fuelling (key word there) the existing xenophobic feelings of its readers. It might take a while for the effects of a decade of bias and inaccuracy to wear off, and for a whole generation the damage may already have been done. But it would certainly be interesting to see what would happen if newspapers started printing facts instead of bullshit, don't you think?

"Or are you claiming that it is unidirectional - i.e. the media can make people more xenophobic but not less so?"

I don't think I've ever said that or, as far as I can see, implied it. I'm happy to be corrected if you can point me to somewhere where I've said so.

"Or are only right-wing media able to influence their readers?"

Again, if you'd like to point me to somewhere where I've said this, I'd very much appreciate it. I generally cover the right-wing tabloids as they have a habit of publishing totally made-up stuff that fits their agenda. If I ever see the Guardian or Indy publishing something as untrue as the "Muslim extractor fan" story then I'll certainly call them out on it.

"If you don't want people to read implications into your posts, then you should be more explicit."

I'm not sure how I could be more explicit, given that your habit of trying to put words in my mouth regardless of what I say.

lushd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lushd said...

Readers of this exchange of comments might like to read Charlie Brooker's piece in the Guardian today (February 14th)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/feb/14/daily-star-crude-propaganda

I do keep wondering why the Nazi state put so much money into "Der Sturmer" if they didn't believe it would stir up hatred and bigotry.

Minority Thought said...

@"Paul": I personally believe that your comment (which was that if newspapers can influence xenophobia, then they can also discourage behaviours like smoking and eating too much) is invalid.

We are, as animals, predisposed to eat too much and indulge in long-term destructive behaviour for short-term rewards.

The same can surely be said of racism and xenophobia. Both of these attitudes are within our nature (that is not, however, to say that they are good or desirable).

Encouraging people to exercise and stop smoking wouldn't have quite the same effect because it goes against our nature, so to speak.

Whereas encouraging dislike and distrust of people who are not "our people" goes along with our natural predisposition.