Paxman bashes BBC bosses in email

The <em>Newsnight</em> host celebrates the demise of the show’s promotional email with a poke at the

Jeremy Paxman is no shrinking violet. Whether he's taking on a government minister or a BBC boss, he tends to speak his mind. Paxman calls a spade a spade and a cut a c***.

His forthright opinion on the demise of the Newsnight email – a daily plug for the show, sent to a few hacks and Newsnight nerds – is below.

Paxman used the valedictory email to attack BBC bosses and be generally contemptuous of new media. It's well worth a read.

Good morning. And good afternoon. Or possibly, good evening.

Welcome to positively the last Newsnight daily email. The time has come to put this exercise in fatuousness out of its misery.

It gives me no pleasure to say that it should have happened years ago. Actually, I lie. There is more joy in heaven, etc, etc.

The reason for killing it off is pretty straightforward. It's crap.

Conscientious readers may have noticed that Monday's email this week was actually promoting a programme which went out last week. A carrier pigeon would have been quicker.

The daily email was dreamed up – like so many other utterly brilliant initiatives (anyone recall the Newsnight podcast, for people who preferred their television without pictures?) – by visionary senior management at the BBC.

For a while we even sent out a morning email, as well, detailing the mental anguish of the editor on duty that day, and soliciting suggestions as to what people would like to see on air that evening. This, too, often arrived after the show had been broadcast.

Like a dodgy plumber skulking away from a flooded bathroom, those responsible are blaming the tools of their trade. In this case, they're right. The piece of kit (the "gizmo", to give it its technical name) which sends out the email is completely useless and we can't afford to fix it.

But fear not. There are other, thrilling ways to make sure you're not pleasurably surprised when the programme goes on air. The fascinating blog on the Newsnight website is updated every day, and we're also on Twitter and Facebook.

Alternatively, you could just switch on your television to BBC Two at 10.30pm.

So, farewell daily email. And a Happy New Year, Merry Christmas, Easter and Millennium Eve to all our viewers.

Jeremy Paxman

Follow @duncanrobinson on Twitter here.

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A small dose of facts could transform Britain's immigration debate

While "myth-busting" doesn't always work, there is an appetite for a better informed conversation than the one we're having now. 

For some time opinion polls have shown that the public sees immigration as one of the most important issues facing Britain. At the same time, public understanding of the economic and social impacts of immigration is poor and strongly influenced by the media: people consistently over-estimate the proportion of the population born outside the UK and know little about policy measures such as the cap on skilled non-EU migration. The public gets it wrong on other issues too - on teenage pregnancy, the Muslim population of the UK and benefit fraud to name just three. However, in the case of immigration, the strength of public opinion has led governments and political parties to reformulate policies and rules. Theresa May said she was cracking down on “health tourists” not because of any evidence they exist but because of public “feeling”. Immigration was of course a key factor in David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on the UK’s membership with the EU and has been central to his current renegotiations.  

Do immigration facts always make us more stubborn and confused?

The question of how to both improve public understanding and raise the low quality of the immigration debate has been exercising the minds of those with a policy and research interest in the issue. Could the use of facts address misconceptions, improve the abysmally low quality of the debate and bring evidence to policy making? The respected think tank British Future rightly warns of the dangers associated with excessive reliance on statistical and economic evidence. Their own research finds that it leaves people hardened and confused. Where does that leave those of us who believe in informed debate and evidence based policy? Can a more limited use of facts help improve understandings and raise the quality of the debate?

My colleagues Jonathan Portes and Nathan Hudson-Sharp and I set out to look at whether attitudes towards immigration can be influenced by evidence, presented in a simple and straightforward way. We scripted a short video animation in a cartoon format conveying some statistics and simple messages taken from research findings on the economic and social impacts of immigration.

Targeted at a wide audience, we framed the video within a ‘cost-benefit’ narrative, showing the economic benefits through migrants’ skills and taxes and the (limited) impact on services. A pilot was shown to focus groups attended separately by the general public, school pupils studying ‘A’ level economics and employers.

Some statistics are useful

To some extent our findings confirm that the public is not very interested in big statistics, such as the number of migrants in the UK. But our respondents did find some statistics useful. These included rates of benefit claims among migrants, effects on wages, effects on jobs and the economic contribution of migrants through taxes. They also wanted more information from which to answer their own questions about immigration. These related to a number of current narratives around selective migration versus free movement, ‘welfare tourism’ and the idea that our services are under strain.

Our research suggests that statistics can play a useful role in the immigration debate when linked closely to specific issues that are of direct concern to the public. There is a role for careful and accurate explanation of the evidence, and indeed there is considerable demand for this among people who are interested in immigration but do not have strong preconceptions. At the same time, there was a clear message from the focus groups that statistics should be kept simple. Participants also wanted to be sure that the statistics they were given were from credible and unbiased sources.

The public is ready for a more sophisticated public debate on immigration

The appetite for facts and interest in having an informed debate was clear, but can views be changed through fact-based evidence? We found that when situated within a facts-based discussion, our participants questioned some common misconceptions about the impact of immigration on jobs, pay and services. Participants saw the ‘costs and benefits’ narrative of the video as meaningful, responding particularly to the message that immigrants contribute to their costs through paying taxes. They also talked of a range of other economic, social and cultural contributions. But they also felt that those impacts were not the full story. They were also concerned about the perceived impact of immigration on communities, where issues become more complex, subjective and intangible for statistics to be used in a meaningful way.

Opinion poll findings are often taken as proof that the public cannot have a sensible discussion on immigration and the debate is frequently described as ‘toxic’. But our research suggests that behind headline figures showing concern for its scale there may be both a more nuanced set of views and a real appetite for informed discussion. A small dose of statistics might just help to detoxify the debate. With immigration a deciding factor in how people cast their vote in the forthcoming referendum there can be no better time to try.