Broadcaster John Sergeant has said he was aware of an “immigration taboo” when he worked at the BBC and ITV.
The former BBC and ITN political correspondent said avoiding the subject meant there was less serious debate on immigration.
He told Radio Times magazine: “In my years as a political correspondent, with the BBC and ITV, I was fully aware of the immigration taboo.
“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.”
Sergeant, 74, said with all serious political issues, brushing it under the carpet can lead to “widespread misunderstandings that we fail to address at our peril”.
The journalist also told the magazine that leaving the EU “will involve putting in place an immigration system that is detailed, fair and generally accepted by the public”.
“To do this will require open and sensible debate.
“It will not be possible to hide behind the evasions that have blighted discussion over the past 50 years,” he said.
Sergeant said some controversy would be “inevitable”.
He went on: “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.”
This week’s Radio Times is out on Tuesday.