In the run up to the UK referendum on EU membership, much comment has been made on the role of the British media in reporting on it, accusations of bias, of scaremongering and concerns about the vested interest of the owners of British media outlets in the outcome of the referendum.
Certainly tactics employed in sections of the media have been deplorable, and contrary to the principles of impartial journalism. However, in 2016 I believe there are two important factors to consider.
Firstly, in a digital world, newspapers are less relevant now than ever and secondly, and I believe more importantly, the population in general is far more sceptical and cynical of the media than it once was.
While there will always be some who believe exactly what they read in the papers, the generation who grew up on headlines like Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster and Binman Turns Into Dog is much more likely to take news reporting with a pinch of salt.
Daily news itself has largely disappeared as a concept. Many people now find their news not from journalists’ reports but from discussions in social media about what is “trending”. This has two significant impacts – firstly much new information is second hand and secondly most news is now received with an opinion attached to it, largely rendering the perceived bias of the media irrelevant. Everyone is now an armchair journalist, pundit and commentator.
I have observed, over probably the last couple of years, a change in one significant term. Migrant. The Press seems to have have taken a shift from “immigrant” to “migrant”. I do not know the precise reasons why this has happened, but, as the referendum approaches, I do think it is significant, and a factor to consider.
Immigrant is someone moving into the country. Someone leaving their country of birth to live in another is an emigrant (a term not often heard). Migrant, however, refers to both. It is, quite simply, someone who moves from one place to another, with no direction implied.
I am an EU migrant. I was born and bred in the UK. People rarely think of EU migrants being British but there are thousands of British people living and working in the EU. Migration is not just about scary foreigners coming over here to take “our” jobs, but about an open playing field where we have the same rights to travel for work as our neighbours.
Many years ago I was assigned by my employer at the time to a long term secondment in Geneva, Switzerland. Before anyone rushes to point out that Switzerland is not part of the EU or the Eurozone, I am well aware of that, but it is a small, landlocked country surrounded by EU nations (France, Italy and Germany) and it is also in the Schengen Area, a zone of cross border cooperation between several European (EU and non-EU) countries.
Geneva is very close to the border with France. Many of my work colleagues were what was locally known as frontaliers, a term meaning those who lived on one side of the border while commuting to work in the other. The cost of living in Switzerland is generally higher than in France, so people traversed the borders regularly and freely to sleep, to shop, to eat or to work according to their own needs. From the train station in Geneva, it was a simple matter of hopping onto a train to several countries.
“Ah but what about the terrorists?” some ask. If we leave the EU we can close our borders and that will stop all terrorists and all these immigrants coming to take our benefits. Really? We don’t have open borders. Even so, Dunblane and Hungerford and even the London bus bombings were all carried out by people born in the UK. As for the benefits thing, if people are given refugee status (a UK immigration authority decision, regardless of whether or not we are in the EU), that makes them UK citizens with the same entitlement as other UK citizens to both benefits and work. Tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, teachers and care workers in the UK were born overseas and and all are working, contributing to the UK economy and tax system an amount far exceeding any benefits paid to migrants. As a nation, we have gained far more fiscally than we have spent on migrants.
For a small city, Geneva is amazingly multicultural. I worked and socialised with people from a great variety of countries, languages and cultures. Although part of the French speaking part of Switzerland, Geneva has huge Italian, Portuguese, British and American communities. These are not insular cliques, but fully integrated. A (somewhat flippant) example of this was going to a karaoke in the city and finding a book of songs in several languages. Restaurants offer cuisine from all over the world and the tables are occupied by locals and internationals alike.
Although not part of the EU, Switzerland is one of the best examples of its motto “United in Diversity”
Later, working for the same company, I spent a couple of months working in Poland, and was thoroughly impressed by the work ethic of its people.
Coming from this perspective, I find it baffling to see the hysteria of opponents of the EU when it comes to migration. I have never felt xenophobia, perhaps because I actually have met and had direct conversations and interactions with many other cultures, faiths and backgrounds. We may see things differently, but, through direct engagement, have taken the time to see and understand each other’s perspectives.
The point of this blog post is not to tell people how to vote. That is up to each individual to make their own choices, but please take the time to educate yourself before making up your own mind. Do not be swayed by the media (social or otherwise).
Please research for yourself the history of the EU, why it, and its predecessors, was set up and especially take the time to understand the differences between the EU and, for example, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, Schengen and the Eurozone. All are different, all have impacts on British life and the referendum is just a vote on one thing, not all interaction with our European neighbours.
The EU referendum is not a magic wand to wave and have an overnight effect on local or global problems. Whatever its outcome, remain or leave, our position as an island nation will be determined.