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Countryside Alliance outlines plan to correct BBC bias on rural matters

The Countryside Alliance has written to the Culture Secretary to set out a three-point plan to correct BBC bias on rural issues.

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Countryside Alliance outlines plan to correct BBC bias on rural matters

The Alliance has made several official complaints about the BBC in recent years, most notably over Autumwatch presenter Chris Packham’s on-air comments about glyphosate, which were not countered.

 

Mr Packham had previously used his sizeable social media platform to call for a ban on the chemical.

 

The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines include rules on impartiality which cover presenters’ off-air activity, as well as their on-air behaviour, but broadcasting regulator Ofcom is unable to take these regulations into account when ruling on potential breaches.


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Instead, decisions are made on the basis of the Broadcasting Code, which the Alliance has described as ‘far more lenient’ than the Editorial Guidelines.

 

Countryside Alliance head of campaigns Liam Stokes said: “Ofcom is unable to rule on huge swathes of the Editorial Guidelines which are vital in ensuring a neutral BBC.

 

“We know how important it is that BBC presenters do not abuse their licence fee-funded platforms to promote their own agendas, or to allow their own beliefs to colour their work for the BBC, yet there is no one checking whether the BBC is effectively policing these conflicts of interest.

“As a result, we end up with an entirely random and arbitrary application of the BBC Editorial Guidelines.

 

“In our letter to the Culture Secretary we have set out some achievable solutions to this problem, and we look forward to working with MPs from all parties to take these ideas forward.”

A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC has already said it is committed to providing comprehensive and impartial rural affairs coverage across TV, radio and online, and took on board the recommendations from the review of our rural coverage in 2015, implementing a range of changes that were approved by the BBC Trust, including the appointment of a dedicated rural affairs editor.

 

"As well as a wealth of highly popular rural affairs programming such as Countryfile, Farming Today, On Your Farm and Open Country, BBC News reports on a range of stories from around the country and also makes use of our network of regional journalists with a specialist understanding of the local issues.

 

"The BBC has a robust complaints framework in place, as required by our Royal Charter, which ensures we meet our obligations to licence fee payers and complainants."

The Countryside Alliance has proposed that:

  • Ofcom should be allowed to offer an opinion, rather than a judgement, on complaints which fall outside the Broadcasting Code but within the Editorial Guidelines – a power it already has over BBC online content.
  • Ofcom should be empowered to consider off-air activity when judging a complaint relating to bias.
  • Ofcom should be instructed to undertake an assessment of progress being made on the recommendations made in the 2014 BBC Trust review of BBC coverage of rural areas in the UK. The Alliance has already presented Ofcom with evidence which it claims shows a failure to implement the recommendations.

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