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Opinion: Time for the BBC to make a real countryside connection

This week, from Abi Kay...

 

When the BBC is at its best, it provides art, entertainment and, yes, top-class news that is almost unparalleled.

Even when it comes to coverage of the countryside, it beats most of its competitors, with dedicated regular shows such as Farming Today or Countryfile, and coverage of rural issues including sheep worrying or late agri-environment payments on prime-time programmes such as BBC Breakfast.

 

There are also individual BBC reporters in local teams across the country doing their best to tell rural stories in their areas.

 

But there is no denying all this good work is being undone by some of the Beeb’s big beasts.

 

If presenter Chris Packham is not telling Autumnwatch viewers about the dangers of glyphosate, he is launching legal action against farmers who need to control pests with his new outfit Wild Justice.

 

Environment analyst Roger Harrabin has also failed to endear himself to the farming community after repeatedly calling for people to eat less meat, referring to ‘industrial’ agriculture and openly supporting the metaldehyde ban.

 

Then there is the more general erroneous BBC coverage of farming matters, around agricultural emissions or the ‘dark side’ of dairy production, which has had to be corrected by industry bodies, or the lack of balance when reporting on the badger cull.


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And of course, how can we forget the extraordinary comments on UK welfare standards from Evan Davis on BBC PM last week, which were enough to shock even NFU president Minette Batters – a hardened media veteran?

 

It is easy to see how all of this can build up over time and create a picture in farmers’ minds of a broadcaster which does not understand agriculture, and more than that, lacks the basic journalistic curiosity to learn more about it.

 

I have absolutely no doubt that much of the perceived bias is down to reporters being based in big cities, with little or no connection to the countryside.

 

Surely now is the time for the BBC to implement the recommendations of its own 2015 review of rural coverage? It could start by hiring a rural correspondent.

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