A former BBC editorial director has told how "groupthink" affects the corporation's coverage of stories concerning immigration or asylum seekers.
Roger Mosey has also revealed that former business editor Jeff Randall's suggested solution was for the "BBC's policy unit/Thought Police [to] read Richard Littlejohn".
Mosey reports Randall as saying: "He reflects popular opinion far more accurately than the views of those whose idea of a good night out is reading the Indy over a vegetarian meal in a Somali restaurant."
Roger Mosey, whose memoirs are serialised in The Times today, said that BBC journalists “steer well clear of party political bias”, but said “there can be a default to ‘groupthink’ – a set of assumptions that seem reasonable to everyone they know”.
He also wrote how, in the summer of 2003, he went “into battle… with the BBC’s editorial policy team, who circulated minutes from an advisory meeting about coverage of asylum seekers”.
Mosey said the meeting criticised the corporation’s TV news department for “muddling up” asylum with war and terrorism. The use of “iconic” pictures of the Sangatte refugee camp was also criticised.
According to Mosey, the meeting concluded “that we should take care to use reliable information and not stoke up prejudice – which is correct – but asserted that this area was ‘being led by an angry tabloid agenda and extreme right-wing groups’.
“I sent a truculent email back. I should make it clear that I abhor racism, and I accept 1,000 per cent the need to reflect all debates with balance. But the asylum debate is one in which we’ve done rather badly in reflecting the concerns of our audiences or the genuine crisis faced by the government in dealing with the issue, and these minutes read like a pure liberal-defensive response rather than a quest for range and diversity in our journalism.”
He said that he shared the correspondence with then-BBC business editor Jeff Randall, who responded: “Does anyone in the BBC’s policy unit/Thought Police read Richard Littlejohn? They should. He reflects popular opinion far more accurately than the views of those whose idea of a good night out is reading the Indy over a vegetarian meal in a Somali restaurant.”
Littlejohn was a columnist at The Sun in 2003 and now writes for the Daily Mail.
The Times also ran an extract on Mosey’s account of the Jimmy Savile scandal, a period in which he said the “BBC was in danger of eating itself alive”.