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Rarely is BBC bias quite so blatant.

A few days ago, a European Commission-funded report was published about the impact of benefit tourism. With the European Commission taking legal action against the UK government over the right of EU citizens’ to claim benefits in Britain, Brussels certainly has a dog in the fight.

And sure enough, EU Commissioner, László Andor, unveiled the report with a declaration that “so called benefit tourism … is neither widespread nor systematic”.

“Nothing to see. Move along”, seemed to be the line from Brussels.

Disgracefully the BBC seemed to swallow it all hook, line and sinker.

“Claims about large-scale benefits tourism in the EU are exaggerated,” Huw Edwards informed us on the Ten O’Clock news. The report “rebuffed” claims about benefit tourism, announced the BBC website.

Really? If the BBC editorial team had read the detail of the report, it is hard to see how they could possibly draw that conclusion.

Worse, the BBC editorial line seemed to ignore entirely the central, thudding issue at stake:  the UK is one of only five EU states (the others being Finland, Germany, Estonia and Ireland) that offer non contributory benefits to the unemployed. In other words, only if you live in one of those countries are you able to claim unemployment benefits without having paid into the system.

If you or I – or the BBC home affairs editor Mark Easton – pitched up in France, Italy or Greece, we could not claim unemployment benefit without having contributed into the system. (There might, as someone in the comment thread will point out, be a million or so Brits living in Spain, but they have no right to claim any Spanish benefits that their taxes have not contributed towards.)

The European Commission is, however, demanding that if Brits can claim non-contributory unemployment benefit in Britain, then so too must every EU citizen. It is the whole reason why they commissioned this report in the first place.  That there are no corresponding non-contributory entitlements for Brits to claim in most of Europe is something they ignore. We must open our system up to all comers, they insist.

Ridiculous? Too absurd to take seriously? Not if we rely on the BBC to report on what is happening and set the parameters of public debate.

Already one in every 25 claimants on Job Seekers Allowance is an EU migrant. I must have missed the bit where the BBC pointed this out.

There has been a 70 percent increase in migration from the EU over the past few years, a rise in the rate of unemployment amongst EU migrants, and a sharp increase in the number coming to the UK without work. Where did the BBC examine the public policy implications of this?

The report concluded that welfare payments were not acting as a magnet, on the basis of something called “stakeholder consultations”. In other words, officials asking other officials. Yet the BBC coverage seemed to take it all at face value.

Nor did the report that the BBC said rebuffed the idea of benefit migration make any effort to assess how many EU migrants were claiming housing benefit (I could find only three uses of the term in the report at all). Or council tax benefit, or indeed, various other non-contributory benefits that Brussels would like us to make available to all EU citizens.

For a public service broadcaster, you’d have thought that the report posed a key question; can the UK’s system of benefits survive if we have completely free movement of people within the EU, and no residency qualifications?

The BBC did not seem to ask it.

With Romanians and Bulgarians soon able to move to Britain, you’d have thought the impact of free movement across the EU on the sustainability of our welfare system merited further questions.

The BBC did not seem to think so.

For years, official opinion in this country – on immigration, the EU and much else – has been formed this way. Lazy, Lefty analysis, with the same tiny pool of “experts”, recycling the same identikit opinions. Thankfully the internet has begun to democratise comment and opinion forming. We can at last start to see how awful and out of touch the opinion forming classes can be.

A final thought. If we had state regulation of the press, the BBC would be free to carry on recycling its establishment clichés. But newspapers would find themselves having to answer to the same sort of grandees that preside over the BBC. Is that really what we want to see?

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