Our hearts melted for Sir Mo Farah. Why did the BBC claim racists were calling for his deportation?

If there is one comfort we should all take from the current Tory leadership contest, it is that race relations in Britain are in a fine and healthy state.

Yes, it’s true, the country faces some weeks of uncertainty while the process grinds on. And, yes, it’s true that the Conservatives have been plunged into a bout of fratricidal conflict.

But against that, look at the candidates and marvel that the so-called ‘nasty party’ has within its ranks such an impressive diversity of senior politicians.

In the original line-up of 11 contenders, six had immigrant backgrounds. As we enter the final stage, there is still a good chance that the United Kingdom may get its first non-white Prime Minister. So, obviously, something to be admired, something to be proud of?

You’d think so – but there is a conspicuous absence of celebration from at least one quarter. This breakthrough moment has been met with sullen silence from the BBC which, true to form, only ever wants to tell us a negative story about race and identity in Britain.

If it were happening in another advanced democracy – say, France, or Sweden, or Germany – the BBC would be falling over itself to highlight the admirable diversity on display. As it is, however, the Corporation seems loath to even mention this landmark moment.

Mo Farah, pictured, celebrates winning the Men's 10,000m final at the Olympic Stadium, London, on the eighth day of the London 2012 Olympics

Mo Farah, pictured, celebrates winning the Men’s 10,000m final at the Olympic Stadium, London, on the eighth day of the London 2012 Olympics

How is it that in a week when we have seen ‘the British Dream’ made real, the BBC still prefers to highlight stories with a negative racial edge to them?

Why is the BBC so purblind about this truly positive aspect to our society? For instance, at the beginning of the week, the BBC unveiled the sad inside story of Sir Mo Farah’s boyhood – how he was trafficked into the country to work as a houseboy, a virtual slave to another family’s children.

This great athlete’s personal story will have touched the hearts of millions and, certainly, the Home Office was quick to point out that, though he arrived here illegally, Farah was, without question, welcome to stay.

Nothing daunted, on Wednesday morning’s Today programme, presenter Amol Rajan suggested – without any sourcing – that some people were calling for Farah to be deported as an illegal immigrant.

‘Some people take a hard line on these issues,’ Rajan told the Olympic gold medallist. ‘[They say] the fact he came here as a victim of child trafficking means he came here without legal permission and there’s a question about whether Mo Farah should remain in Britain today.’

Rajan referenced the same unnamed ‘people’ when he pressed the point home further.

‘What would you say to those people who say that [your PE teacher] Alan Watkinson did something wrong in getting you citizenship under the name Mo Farah?’ (Farah himself has, in fact, made it clear that he and Watkinson gave all the correct information to the authorities from the start.)

Where these suggestions came from, we were not told. Perhaps from the darker corners of the internet.

Yet, no matter how flimsy the source material, Rajan chose to put the suggestion into the public domain. And by doing so, he conjured up a lurid, mythical Britain, a mean-spirited, racist dystopia which seems to be how the BBC sees the country it serves.

Does this accord with reality? Is ‘deport Farah’ an opinion often heard on the streets of Britain? Only people who never believe anything good about our country could believe such nonsense.

But that, unfortunately, seems to pretty much include the BBC’s entire journalistic establishment. For if there is one thread that runs through the Corporation’s reporting on race, it is that we are irredeemably bigoted.

The obsession with identifying racism – even where none exists – allows the Corporation to drag ethnicity and cultural background into the most unlikely stories.

In the wake of the England women’s football team’s impressive 8-0 victory over Norway last week, one of its sports presenters, Eilidh Barbour, unburdened herself of the following doubt: ‘All starting 11 players and five substitutes who came on to the pitch were all white, and that does point to a lack of diversity in the England team?’

Was such a comment really necessary? Does anybody out there truly believe that the team coach, Sarina Wiegman, selects players on some criteria other than pure ability?

Barbour’s comments reminded me strongly of the former BBC director general’s Greg Dyke’s statement back in 2001 that the Corporation was ‘hideously white’. (Dyke was a Labour donor appointed during Tony Blair’s first administration.)

What he said was a travesty. As a BBC reporter in those days, I can say that, if there was racism, it was invisible to the naked eye. The news division fell over itself to avoid any stories that showed any ethnic minority in a negative light while relentlessly pursuing any story with any whiff of racism involved.

Today, I think the BBC’s approach to racial matters amounts to actual ‘race-baiting’, which can be defined as any action that ‘seeks to divide or inflame a racial group against others, either for personal aggrandisement or political advantage’.

The Olympic hero revealed a huge secret in the BBC documentary The Real Mo Farah

The Olympic hero revealed a huge secret in the BBC documentary The Real Mo Farah

I think some BBC journalists derive a sense of moral superiority from condemning others as racist and – because most BBC people incline to the Left, politically – they see political advantage for their side in repeatedly highlighting racist behaviour, real or imagined.

But when good news emerges about race relations – as it did in March 2021, when the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities found that, by and large, race relations in the UK are pretty good – the BBC makes little of it. In fact, I vividly recall the Corporation’s leaden, downbeat reporting of these positive conclusions.

It’s a case of confirmation bias writ large: they only ever want to hear one story on race – the one peddled by the grievance-mongers of the Left. As the former BBC presenter Andrew Marr has pointed out, the make-up of the Corporation reflects its central London location – ie it employs liberal, urban graduates.

Such people, whatever their academic brilliance, have their own world view and their own neuroses. Their obsessions are not shared by the country at large.

The BBC’s unbalanced coverage is harmful. It does nothing to foster good community relations. On the contrary, the unfair criticisms makes whites resentful and non-whites anxious.

Meanwhile, in the real Britain, talented black- and brown-skinned people are happily getting on with their lives and are being made welcome and enjoying success in the Conservative Party – once the party of Enoch Powell.

When Barack Obama became the first black US President in 2008, the BBC’s joy was unconfined and there followed eight years of obsequious coverage.

So, should it come to pass that Rishi Sunak or Kemi Badenoch wins the day, it will be interesting to see if the BBC can bring itself to celebrate a little.

And the acid test will be if, in future, the BBC takes off its blinkers and dials down the self-hating rhetoric.

No one could say race relations in Britain are perfect, but there are few countries in the world where they are better – and that really is something to celebrate.

  • Robin Aitken is a former BBC news reporter and author of The Noble Liar: How And Why The BBC Distorts The News To Promote A Liberal Agenda (Biteback).

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