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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.