Dear Mr Spencer,

Thank you very much for taking part in our programme last week and I am sorry to hear that you are unhappy with the way we reported the announcement of President Obama’s new immigration policy.   The story is a complex one, but we strive for accuracy on this as in everything else we do.   I have listened back to our programmes and looked in detail at the points you raise.

The broadcasts you refer to were the 2000GMT and 2100GMT editions of Newshour, presented by Owen Bennett-Jones.  You appeared live at 2000GMT as part of a sequence of interviews on the immigration reform proposals which had just been announced and the interview was edited and rerun at 2100GMT.  The later edition is the one that was podcast. 

The President was speaking as we went to air at 2000GMT and we took our cue from our Washington correspondent, Paul Adams. In his interview summarising the President’s speech, Paul refers to the speech and to some White House material released at the same time. There they mention a four-part plan: First, continue to strengthen our borders. Second, crack down on companies that hire undocumented workers. Third, hold undocumented immigrants accountable before they can earn their citizenship; this means requiring undocumented workers to pay their taxes and a penalty, move to the back of the line, learn English, and pass background checks. Fourth, streamline the legal immigration system for families, workers, and employers….”

Here’s a transcript of the first part of the immigration interview sequence on Newshour at 2000GMT:

…Bennett-Jones: Did he make any specific proposals?

Paul Adams: It was very much a classic Obama speech…in his speech he very much laid out general guidelines… at the same time the White House distributed several points in a framework with quite detailed points…very much like senators yesterday…

Bennett Jones: …On the specific proposals is the broad outline of it:  Amnesty for 11 million immigrants and tighter order border controls to stop people in the future coming in?

Paul Adams: Yes, but in reverse order and that’s the key feature of what he and the members of congress outlined yesterday that it’s all about making sure that border security is thoroughly enhanced first and then, as a kind of consequence of that, yes as you say, giving a pathway to citizenship as they both put it for the eleven million or so who are illegally in the country.  But that question of security – which is clearly designed to appeal to those largely republican sceptics in the southwest of the United States that is absolutely key. Interestingly nothing said by the White House about putting together a commission of governors and attourneys general from those southwestern states to verify border security and that was very much a feature of the proposal we heard yesterday.

Bennett-Jones: OK, a slight difference but they are very much in the same territory…let us get an immediate reaction… from Glenn Spencer, volunteer border guard patrolling the Mexican US border…. Now the president is saying border control first, and then look at the 11 million or so illegal immigrants in the United States. Does that satisfy you?

Glenn Spencer:

I think if you listened carefully it is the Republican or rather actually it’s a bi-partisan Senate proposal that we have border security before citizenship. The president appears to oppose that approach.

Bennett-Jones: No, no… just to be clear. Paul Adams our correspondent has seen the material that’s come out of the White House in the last few hours tied to the president’s speech and the president is saying border control first and then look at the 11 million immigrants. So, they are on the same page…

Glenn Spencer: Well, let’s set that aside for a moment and say yes. But the problem is we have, let’s define what border security means. We haven’t reached that point. Everyone agrees that we need to secure the border, but no one has defined what it is. That’s what our organisation has been working on.  ….”

(You then got the opportunity to explain your idea about border security and how it fits into the wider picture.)

Your point is that our correspondent misrepresented the content of President Obama’s speech because you think that he gave the impression that the President called for increased border security as a pre-condition to other measures and, in particular, to an amnesty for undocumented migrants.

The White House also released a fact sheet This also mentions border security as the top point, but does not explicitly suggest that border security is a pre-condition for the rest…It speaks of “continuing to strengthen border security”.

You are also right to say that President Obama’s proposal is not the same as the senators’ proposal, especially since it’s lacking any suggestion of a commission of governors, attorneys general etc to monitor the progress of securing the border. But our correspondent Paul Adams points out in his interview that this element was missing from the President’s speech.

Listening back to the programmes carefully I think that you are right that we gave an inaccurate impression that the President has said that enhanced border security was a pre-condition for other policies, which you were able to correct on air. Your first answer, which made this clear, was unfortunately dropped in the second edition of the programme.

Having spoken to the producer of the segment it was clear that this was done for timing reasons, not with the intention of changing the editorial focus of the item. It should not have been edited that way and the producer accepts this.

You were able to clarify this in the remainder of the interview.

 The coverage of this story which appeared at 2100GMT in the main news bulletin was better:

 Newsreader: A day after members of the Congress laid out their blueprint for reform of America’s immigration system, President Barack Obama has outlined proposals of his own.  In a speech to students in Las Vegas, Mr Obama said if Congress did not act quickly, he would ask them to vote on his own bill. From Washington, our correspondent Paul Adams reports:

 Paul Adams:  Barack Obama said the time has come for a comprehensive approach. The good news, he said was that members of Congress – both Republicans and Democrats – seemed to agree. The President’s proposals, for enhanced border security and a path to citizenship for an estimated eleven million illegal immigrants were broadly similar to those already laid out by a bipartisan group of senators. But anticipating political fights ahead, Mr Obama said the issue must not get bogged down in endless debate. If members of Congress failed to act, he warned he’d send them his own bill and ask for an immediate vote.

 This is a story to which we expect to return over the coming months and will try to ensure that our reporting is as accurate as possible.   On this occasion we fell short: part of the sequence did give the impression that the President had made tighter border security a precondition for reform.  On balance, the coverage in the programme overall was fair and accurate and the news bulletin in 2100GMT copied above did reflect the story accurately, as did the supporting BBC material online.   

 If you are still unhappy with our coverage you can contact the BBC complaints unit at the following address

 Yours sincerely,

 Lucy Walker

 Editor, Newshour

BBC World Service News

 Lucy Walker

Editor, Daytime Programmes

BBC World Service News


+44 (0)7711 386 356

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