On last night's BBC Question Time, Diane James of UKIP claimed that a Bulgarian government survey showed that 56% of Bulgarians have said they want to move to the UK.
This instantly sounded fishy to me. Last month, the Sunday Express said that 54% of Bulgarians wanted to come to the UK after it took UKIP's Paul Nuttall to Bulgaria on a fact finding mission. The paper claimed the figures came from a survey by Bulgarian TV station bTV. The Daily Star on Sunday reported the figure at 55%, leaving out mention of any source. These are probably the same numbers Diane James was talking about, since her leaflet mentions 4 million Bulgarians like the Express article.
The thing is, the Sunday Express claiming a Bulgarian TV station said something is very different to the Bulgarian government actually saying it. Because of course, the Sunday Express interpreting survey results is quite smelly in itself. Especially when we're talking about foreigners.
The Express and stablemate the Star have a long and illustrious history of taking shoddy phone and website polls and claiming the results represent the whole of the UK. 98% of Britons want to ban the veil, you know. 99% of people say get us out of Europe. Blimey.
We know the last one is rubbish because recently the Express revealed that 75% is the actual number who want to get out of Europe NOW, according to YouGov.
Except no it isn't. The paper monkeyed around with the results to get a figure even that high. The real number was 28%, with another 47% saying they'd want to renegotiate membership terms. See, you can't really trust the Express, and when it hides its working you really have to be on your guard.
So when the Sunday Express first revealed that over half of Bulgaria's entire population wanted to come to the UK, it seemed pretty obvious that something would be up with the paper's figures. I dug around a little on the bTV website at the time to see what I could find, with the help of Google Translate. I did come across a short article referencing the Sunday Express story, but it didn't mention anything about the actual figures in it at all, even to say that bTV itself was supposed to be the source.
Plus, despite the UK press's love of churnalising content from other sources, no papers other than the Sunday Express and its stablemate the Daily Star on Sunday covered the story at all in the UK. MigrationWatch haven't even referenced it as far as I can tell. Weird.
I half-heartedly tweeted Marco Giannageli at the time to see if I could see the actual survey he got his 54% from, and didn't get an answer. I also emailed bTV to ask some questions about the figures and what they thought about the Express's coverage. I got no answer from there either, although that reference to the story I mentioned has since disappeared from their website (along with another one I found, based on how horrible some comments about Bulgarians on the Daily Mail website were).*
My hunch is that Giannegeli has taken one of the polls from the homepage of the bTV site and dressed it up to look more significant than it actually is, while doing some Express style mashing together of categories at the same time. Maybe the 54% represent the only people who said anything other than 'I will never visit any other EU country in my life, ever' or something. For all we know, he could have just made them up. Of course, it's just as likely that he's taken a much more representative poll and reported it honestly, but we'll only know that for sure if someone actually lets us see the proper figures.
With that in mind, I tweeted Diane James, UKIP, Marco Giannageli, and the Sunday Express today to ask to see the figures. Of course, I've had no reply so far and don't expect one. I've also emailed Marco Giannageli (who'se email bounced), UKIP and both the Sunday Express news desk and Political Editor with the following:
On February 10, the Sunday Express published the front page headline '4M MIGRANTS VOTE TO COME HERE', which claimed a survey by Bulgarian television company bTV had revealed that 'more than half the population of 7.5 million have their sights set on Britain'.
The same figure turned up in leaflets for Diane James' Eastleigh campaign, which said that '4 million Bulgarians have already said they would like to come to the UK'. On last night's BBC Question Time, Ms James claimed the figure came from a Bulgarian government survey. She also claimed that 56% of Bulgarians wanted to come to the UK, rather than the 54% claimed by the Sunday Express.
There seems to be a certain amount of confusion about this figure of 4 million Bulgarians and where it came from. I'm sure both the Sunday Express and UKIP would like people to know they are being above board and honest with their numbers, so I'd like to ask you all to let me have a copy of the survey or surveys you've taken them from including all the results and all questions that were asked. That way it would be possible to check your working and we can make sure there aren't any mishaps with the translation and everybody is reporting things properly and accurately.
I'll be reproducing this letter over at www.fivechinesecrackers.com and will be only too happy to publish the actual figures from the poll once I have them.
I'll also be tweeting them all with a link so they can see this (especially since Marco Giannegeli's email bounced). Now, of course I won't get a reply if there's anything amiss with the numbers but no reply doesn't have to mean there's anything shady going on.
The trouble is, there is probably nothing else that can be done to get to the bottom of these figures if I don't get a reply. The Sunday Express and the Daily Star on Sunday have pulled out of the PCC, so can't be pressured by anyone to produce anything. It might even have been difficult to make a PCC complaint on accuracy grounds anyway, since I have no counter evidence to argue the case with.
It seems there is no way to stop newspapers producing anything they like if they make their references difficult to check. It takes very little for these things to be taken up by political parties, mentioned unchallenged on national television and given the little boost of credibility that comes from changing the source from a low quality Sunday tabloid to an official government survey.
Of course, if anyone knows any different about where these figures can be found or what can be done, do let me know in the comments, on twitter or at fivechinesecrackers at gmail dot com.
*Unless someone with better Bulgarian than me can find them anywhere.