BBC Radio 4 will no longer be required to broadcast farming programmes under plans drawn up by Ofcom, it has been revealed.
The broadcasting regulator has agreed to cut down the number of rules the BBC must follow on the contents of its programming.
After being petitioned by the BBC to reduce the number of rules designed to ensure it meets public service obligations, Ofcom plans to cut radio programming requirements across its schedules from more than 200 to only 20, The Telegraph has revealed.
The rules were introduced in 2007 as part of a drive to ensure the BBC catered for the widest audience, with programmes focusing on health, education, consumer affairs and more.
An Ofcom spokesman said: “The BBC must deliver to the high standards outlined in its new charter. We will soon publish the BBC’s licence requirements, explaining how we will hold it to account.”
The plans have been opposed by listener groups with critics worried the less stringent rules could lead to “dumbing down”.
A BBC spokesman said: “We have set out clear plans to be even more distinctive across our services.
“It’s important that regulation strikes the right balance between accountability and giving us the creative freedom to produce the highest quality and distinctive programmes and services for audiences.
“In the longer-term, the BBC’s performance should be judged more on assessing audience outcomes and impacts than on prescribing inputs and outputs.”
Welsh dairy farmer Abi Reader told Farmers Guardian: "I think most likely the BBC wouldn’t drop stories on farming and rural issues even if this regulation has been dropped.
"When I think of the popularity of Radio 4’s Farming Today, The Archers, Countryfile and other country documentaries made on both BBC and other channels they are hugely popular with the public.
"I think farming has a fantastic story to tell - perhaps the one lesson I might take away from this is I feel it now challenges our industry to make sure we continue to tell our story and tell it better so we can maintain and increase demand for what we have to say."
Guy Smith, NFU Vice President, said: “Farming, food production and the countryside are topics which have proven time and time again to be hugely popular with BBC audiences.
"The farming community reveals wonderful human stories and helps to create fantastic scenery and landscapes, making this an attractive subject area for viewers.
"Countryfile is currently the most watched factual programme on the BBC and Farming Today is one of Radio 4’s longest running programmes.
"However, farming should also be reported on as a business story due to the strategic importance of food production, the employment farming generates and the economic delivery back to Britain.
"We hope to see more coverage of farming issues which will become ever more important as Brexit gets closer."
"We take great care, and pride, in creating world class distinctive radio programmes and moments, tailored to the different audiences we serve.
"Radio 4 does not broadcast a rich mix of distinctive programmes from drama to history, arts, comedy, religion and science because it has been told to do so in a regulatory document. We do so as because that is why the BBC exists.
"There are no plans to change the balance or range of content we feature on Radio 4, regardless of what Ofcom decides.
"We are completely committed to achieving the goals set by the BBC’s new Charter.
"But judge us through the quality and distinctiveness of the programmes and services we produce – rather than inputs and regulatory frameworks. That way we’ll safeguard the jewel in the crown."