Only two weeks ago I was writing of an improvement in BBC coverage of rural issues which was probably creating a hostage to fortune. On Monday BBC Radio 4’s PM programme produced one of the most ridiculous and biased reports from the corporation in recent memory. Reporter Adam Bomford went ‘undercover’ with the Devon and Somerset Staghounds (DSSH) and managed to allege any amount of illegal hunting without actually describing a single dog chasing a single mammal on his long day on Exmoor. Not content with this he gave ample airtime for paid animal rights activists to make serious allegations that they could not substantiate either, and claimed that DSSH Master David Greenwood had tried to assault him despite several witnesses being very clear this was a fiction. All of this without the basic journalistic courtesy of informing the DSSH that he was going to be recording them, or giving them a reasonable right to reply.
If Mr Bomford had intended to present a balanced piece he could have had the sort of clear and persuasive interview DSSH Chairman Guy Thomas Everard later gave to BBC Somerset but it’s fairly obvious that a balanced piece was never on his agenda.
Sadly, our extensive experience of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines and complaints process suggest that they were designed primarily to suck the life out of anyone seeking to advance even the most obvious complaint about a BBC programme. Not only that, but we have uncovered a ludicrous situation where the Government claims to have made Ofcom the ultimate regulator of BBC output, but has not given it the power to adjudicate complaints about breaches of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines. So the BBC regulates its own guidelines with no right of appeal.
The alternative is for Mr Greenwood and the DSSH to complain directly to Ofcom under its code about the blatant unfairness of the PM report. We will certainly facilitate that complaint and it will be interesting to watch the BBC desperately scrabbling for a leg to stand on, although I am afraid there is little chance it will do the decent thing and admit that it is in the wrong.
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