The BBC and ITV were too scared to tackle the 'taboo' subject of immigration in news bulletins, John Sergeant has claimed.
The former political correspondent, who has worked on both channels, said TV news tended to avoid the issue as it is too 'controversial'.
This led to a lack of serious debate on the topic as 'sensible discussion' was shelved for fear of provoking outcry.
Former political correspondent John Sergeant, pictured, said discussing the 'extremely emotive' topic can lead to attacks 'by decent, well-meaning people'. Sergeant was the BBC's chief political correspondent for eight years from 1992 before moving to ITN to become its political editor for two years
'In my years [at] the BBC and ITV, I was fully aware of the immigration taboo,' he wrote in Radio Times. 'There is an old journalistic rule that says 'if in doubt, leave it out' and, looking back, we were guilty of not encouraging more serious debate on this subject.'
The veteran journalist, 74, warned that British democracy will suffer for years to come unless the topic is discussed openly.
He said of introducing a new immigration system: 'I am not suggesting that this can be done without a high level of controversy. That is inevitable.
'But at least we could try to reduce personal attacks on the integrity of those who put forward the case for a proper system of immigration control. It is not racist to talk openly about this subject.
'It is yet another difficult issue that we have to grapple with. And if we fail to do so, this country and our democracy will suffer for many years to come. But as with all serious political issues, brushing it under the carpet is also dangerous and it leads to widespread misunderstandings that we fail to address at our peril.'
'I blame Enoch Powell (pictured above),' John Sergeant added. 'It's 51 years since he gave his notorious 'Rivers of Blood' speech as a Conservative MP, warning of the dangers of mass immigration [File photo]
Sergeant, pictured, said discussing the 'extremely emotive' topic can lead to attacks 'by decent, well-meaning people'.
'I blame Enoch Powell,' he added. 'It's 51 years since he gave his notorious 'Rivers of Blood' speech as a Conservative MP, warning of the dangers of mass immigration.
'He intended to open up discussion about the issue, but he did so in a deliberately provocative way that had precisely the opposite effect. There was such an angry reaction from supporters of all the main political parties that sensible discussion about immigration has been held back, even up to the present day.'
Sergeant was the BBC's chief political correspondent for eight years from 1992 before moving to ITN to become its political editor for two years. He later returned to the BBC ... for Strictly Come Dancing.