Quite funny really

I don’t quite know what to make of the report concerning the BBC’s impartiality in reporting on rural affairs.  Maybe you should read it for yourself and see how many times it makes you laugh.  It made me chuckle quite a lot.

Apparently the RSPB get a lot of air time because they are good at it – and that is seen as unfair by some.  The RSPB can cover more ground than most organisations because it is good at land-owning, good at campaigning, good at science, good at education, good at dealing with media people and, to some extent, represents over a million people, and can talk about rural and urban things with equal facility. It’s so unfair that they are so good at everything. Whereas the Countryside Alliance isn’t good at very much and sulks.

Clearly in the race for media coverage the RSPB should be handicapped – perhaps they should have to exchange some staff with the Countryside Alliance – that would change things a bit.

Have you noticed we are seeing a lot of Brazilians on TV these days?  It’s so unfair – they seem to be good at playing the game. We want more Hackney Marshes kick-around teams on our TV screens.

We also have to think of what is the typical listener to the Today programme or the Archers, or watcher of Countryfile or Springwatch. Do they resemble Robin Page or Barney White-Spunner or do they resemble Mike Clarke or Martin Harper?  You decide. The RSPB, being a bit staid and sensible and dull, represents quite a lot of people. The Countryside Alliance doesn’t.

It helps if you know some of the people quoted, I guess. I know a few of them and I can hear Robin Page spluttering about the lack of people like him in the media – Robin is a one-off, and generally that is a good thing.

There is quite a lot made of the fact that there’s not much about people and quite a lot about the environment (speaking in very general terms) in BBC coverage of rural issues.  Well, it’s really not clear that that is actually true but if it is, perhaps the answer lies in the figures near the beginning of the report: 80% of the UK land mass is rural but only 20% of the population live in those areas.  What makes rural special and different? Maybe it’s all those trees, and lakes, and mountains, and badgers, and skylarks and pheasants and cows and wheat-fields?  I’d like more coverage of livestock issues in urban news – duh!

I think the report is a bit odd. It seems to be one person’s reflections after chatting to a rather short list of slightly odd people. We are all experts on the media because we all watch TV and listen to the radio. It was written by Heather Hancock, whom I know a little as she was Head of the BBC Rural Affairs Committee when I was a member of it. The report is only Heather’s views and whilst I am sure she took every care to be balanced and fair, as would we all, if anyone else had been given the job then their report would have been rather different. So why should we take any notice of it at all? I’m not sure we should – except it is quite funny.

Here are my ‘findings’ on the subject:

  1. BBC coverage of rural issues does not take anything like enough account of the fact that we are all paying for much of what happens in the countryside through grants and government spending and that therefore, particularly in a time of austerity,  the status quo needs to be questioned.
  2. Farming Today needs a wider range of presenters who will ask challenging questions of farmers’ representatives on behalf of us all.  The programme is about farming not an advert for it. Here’s an example.
  3. The Today programme needs to cover rural issues more and take a similarly hard-edged approach to them as it often does to education, the economy and foreign affairs.  Rural issues are not light entertainment.
  4. The BBC should stage a debate on English rural issues before the next general election involving the main party leaders or, at very least, their proposed Secretaries of State for Environment where their positions on biodiversity loss, fieldsports, climate change, the planning system, forestry, flooding, fisheries and agriculture policy should be explored.
  5. There should be an environmental ‘thought for the day’ broadcast every day on BBC Radio 4 which should feature the views of a wide range of rural organisations and nutters – Robin Page should often be given a slot.
  6. All people expressing any view on anything rural on BBC programmes should be wired up to a lie-detector throughout their interviews and the results posted on the BBC website.  Ideally their IQs and blood lead and alcohol levels would also be made public.





25 Replies to “Quite funny really”

  1. I read the piece where BBC staff admitted that reporting on the CAP subsidies (tithes?) to land-owners was ‘difficult’, ‘too slow’?! As you keep saying, this flow of our money into farming should demand a reasonable airing by our media. If that money benefits a few individuals and fuels profits it should be of interest to journalists, not ‘difficult’.

  2. More rural nutters please BBC – give them enough rope and they always hang themselves! Its also some great impromptu comedy material.

    My favourite nutter moments in the last year or so on the BBC have to go to:

    Rory Stewart – wind-blown, Cumbrian MP and Herdwick sheepwreck lover justifying bad practice and his love of the shagged Lakes fells on a Countryfile debate on the uplands.

    Martin Gillibrand (ex Moorland Association) in an off-piste rant about rape and pillage on a BBC story about the decline of hen harriers.

    I always find the use of Edwardian fancy dress adds a few extra nutter points and makes them even less relevant to 99.99% of the UK (rural and urban) population.

    I think the BBC should offer them a slot on Have I Got News for You, with a game of ‘this weeks guest rural nutter’, where panelists have to guess if their non-sensicle rantings are true or false. Im guessing Paul Whitehouse didn’t have far to look within the rural spokesmen sector as inspiration for the Fast Shows Rowley Birkin QC character!

  3. I must say as part of the group who were involved in making the “Inside Out” programme about Hen Harrier decline in general and Bowland Betty in particular ( thanks again Richard if you’re reading this). I too found Gillibrands ( predictable) outburst funny and critical as it made his arguments look what they were, nonsense.
    On a more serious note I agree with most of Marks points, the Beeb often bends over too far to give the “balanced view” IMO but often when doing this the other side — hunting shooting fishing types ( I have done two of these and might again) make a prat of themselves. But sometimes that detracts from the force of “our” argument. Viewers remember the idiot not the point of the item.
    I must admit that quite often certain folk and items on Countryfile make my blood boil—- facile crap often missing the important and the treating the countryside as an adventure play ground.
    The idea of a rural idiot of the week sounds fun, rather like Monty Python’s “ministry of silly walks” or “upper class twit of the year”, the ones who justify raptor persecution or the release of millions of pheasants is sustainable, anti predator rubbish or those who think the Lakes or the bowling green hills of mid Wales are good habitat.

  4. Interesting comment on p.45 about the lack of coverage of CAP Reform – point well made I think.

    What’s their actual evidence for allegedly ‘disproportionate’ coverage – analysis of number of times spokespeople from NGOs were quoted or just ‘views of stakeholders’?

  5. Winge Winge Winge Winge

    If you’re not winging you winge about not being able to

    Methinks some of you classist loooonies confuse ‘fly fishing’ with ‘fly tipping’!

    As I typre – BBC News BTO – cleverest bird 10:55 bird making a hook to fish with


    1. Trimbush – you burst onto the scene in your own irrepressible manner. Good typring, by the way.

      1. Mrs Cobb insists that pedants are fewer interesting. “Whinge” is normal usage, btw

  6. Paul V I has hit a nail on the head. BBC (at least the TV version)is more obsessed with personalities and “involving people” than the facts. The coverage of Chelsae flower show was as classic: 3 sec picture of the prize winning garden then talking heads and personalities. Interesting there is now an online channel with a gardener from the south west- must watch it and see what it is like. To the point with the advent of smart TVs that can source online channels how about the NGOs getting together and running some simple progs. Not as overkill as Springwatch but Springwatch was popular partly because Chris P gave factual info (and the over enthusiasm was not too bad). RSPB has all the competencies required. It could use some of its none bird re branding etc budget for this. It would reach more children than the Minsmere adventure center and maybe there is a similar EU fund they could tap.

  7. On point 5 (an environmental thought for the day) there is a problem in that if it mirrored the religious thought for the day then only farmers would be allowed to give their thoughts in the same way only religious representatives are allowed to give their thoughts on thought for the day. Obviously only religious people have thoughts and only farmers have any concern, interest in or expertise on the environment.

  8. If I’ve got nothing else to do I’ll watch Countryfile but usually only the Adam bits but what really hacks me off is the necessity for every presenter to “have a go” at some craft or skill that has taken someone years to develop as if the instant gratification illustrates that there’s nothing to it really so what’s special about these yokels and their funny occupations and I keep wondering when they are going to do a feature about dentistry or cardiothoracic surgery and whether they will have a go at that and get a Blue Peter Medal or something.

    1. BBC Radio 3 or 4 – Visiting Lambeth Palace – 15th C sheepskin ‘book’ (MS1) – the BBC female presenter “sheepskin? no good if your vegetarian!

      Mein Gott!

    2. Agree with the hacked off by bit, but Adam …. no he’s not compulsive viewing.

      & Andrew’s idea for a collaborative NGO channel – now that could be a opportunity to showcase all sorts, but then all too often they step back from reporting contentious issues?

      1. “no he’s not compulsive viewing”

        I agree – none of it is. I often dubbin my slippers while it’s on

    3. Spot-on Filbert!

      It’s as if the Countryfile producers assume that the programmes audience is so half-witted that they cannot possibly enjoy a rural craft/skill without an anodyne presenter “having a go”.

      I made the mistake of briefly tuning in last week and finding the spokesman for Sygenta, sorry I mean the NFU, arguing the case for neonics. I felt like putting my foot through the TV!

  9. Countryfile is not what it used to be, it is now pretty patronising in order to reach a wider audience and jumps about and then back again, people are capable of more than a two minute concentration span IF the subject matter is well presented.

    Maybe they should get the YFC or WI to organise a Rural X-Factor / ‘Rural Britain’s got talent’ or Big Brother in the wilderness somewhere …. (perhaps that’s not such a good idea as it might damage the area the BBC would expect red carpet treatment not real life?)

    The recommendation to widen rural (local) contacts can only be applauded, but perhaps also an opportunity for other organisations to ‘feed in’ stories. Where is investigative journalism? It seems as rare as an English fledged Hen Harrier I fear?

    Perhaps a current affairs programme for rural issue chaired by Dr Mark Avery? Now that would be compulsive viewing or listening ….

  10. I had quite a bit of involvement with BBC during my working life and also sat on the Regional Advisory Board.

    They have always been a huge frustration for me in the field of nature conservation. True they will run all the stories you want to give them on species and nature reserves and as long as you supply them with lots of these your profile can remain high but ask them to get involved in the real politics of conservation and then everybody has to be asked for an opinion the the subject gets watered down.

    Nothing seems to have changed. When did you last see a hard hitting issue on the environment on a BBC documentary? Even Question Time seems to prefer football thugs on the panel rather than an environmentalist. Have you tried to get on the panel Mark?

    True there are plenty of wildlife programmes but to me apart from some stunning photography and filming they are empty of the threats and problems that our wildlife face. Indeed they give more of an impression that all is well. Even popular current programmes like Springwatch deal with an almost childlike way of looking at wildlife without touching on the real issues that have to be addressed for the future of British Wildlife. Frankly I am bored by them and consider most useless in our cause.

    I can imagine how frustrating this is for people like Chris Packham because his efforts on the spring slaughter of birds in Malta is exactly what we want more of. This sort of work galvanised and motivated all conservationist here in UK.

    The BBC is not getting messages across in the way it thinks. Most people have no idea that their taxes are used to bolster farm businesses and therefore shaping THEIR countryside. Do they care? We do not know?

    Oh for Louis Theroux talks to revenue supported industrial Red Grouse shooters. What conversations they might be.

    Sadly it will never happen. It will be bloggers, tweeters and the likes of Chris Packham and more privately made films that will tell the truth. Oh and I wonder how long it will be before BBC put pressure on Chris to stop that.

    We all just need to keep on what we are doing and making life uncomfortable for those harming our wildlife.

    1. Re when did I last see a hard hitting documentary on the environment on the BBC…

      I thought “I bought a rainforest” was very good. Portrayed the depth and complexity of the problems faced by would be conservationists very well and didn’t try to simplify anything into meaningless soundbites.

      Would like to see similar honesty brought to bear on UK environmental problems though. “I bought a grouse moor” maybe?

  11. If I sold my wildlife haven tomorrow it would become 2 acres of manicured lawns with plush pond.
    That’s a fact!! No town person or even my old folks could stand what they see as a mess of wild grasses etc.
    Best keep kin like folks on side Mark.

  12. The best environmental programmes I have seen this year are undoubtedly Chris Packham’s reports from Malta on their bird migration massacre. The trouble is that they were not on BBC or ITV; they were on Youtube and so had a fraction of the audience that they deserved.

    The BBC could do this. Imagine a documentary on a contentious wildlife issue produced by an unchained team of, say, Stephen Moss, Chris Packham and Bill Oddie telling us what they really think. Of course there would have to be balance, with interviews from the anti-wildlife side as there was in Malta (mainly rants it must be said, but they had their chance).

    The main balance though would come from programmes like Farming Today and Countryfile, the ‘jewels in the crown’ – of the NFU & Countryside Alliance. Their underlying attitude seems to be that wildlife is OK on reserves, but outside reserves (and especially on farms ) it becomes vermin or weed.

    There are still occasional bright spots in the BBC though that might not feature in this report. It was a tough BBC Radio Somerset interview that put Owen Paterson on the spot and elicited the famous ‘badgers moved the goalposts’ quote. More recently Eddie Mair on the PM programme really pressed Owen Paterson on the badger culls (largely ignored by Today) and eventually got this somewhat confused quote out of him: “Out of 69 badgers, 68 died instantly but a number didn’t”.

    The potential is certainly there at the BBC but sadly the right-wing & anti-environmental lobby groups hold sway at the moment.

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