The Countryside Alliance was surprised to see reports in the media last month that the BBC was to have an impartiality review of a number of programmes including Countryfile, due to it being at the centre of ‘rows over farming and fox hunting’. We found this particularly strange given that Countryfile had not covered hunting since 2015. However, in light of this discussion, we thought it would be timely to ask those who live in the countryside their views on the BBC and its rural programming so that we could represent to them to the review on impartiality.
To be frank, the results make for some very difficult reading for the BBC.
Out of over 3,400 respondents, an astounding 94% reject the claim that the BBC covers rural issues fairly and impartially. Despite the BBC providing a plethora of content that focuses on the countryside, from Springwatch to The Archers, those that reside there believe that these representations are at odds with the lived rural experience.
Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance said: “The Director General Tim Davie’s original tough stance on impartiality must be extended to all those that are employed by the BBC. The public does not differentiate between BBC presenters on the basis of their contracts. This might make for difficult internal discussions, but ultimately, if the BBC are to enjoy the support of rural viewers, it needs to make robust decisions about whether to employ controversial presenters with an overt and aggressive campaigning agenda.”
"The BBC must also appreciate that the minority rural audience does not feel fully represented. There is a desire for rural programming for the countryside, not just about the countryside. In short, rural programming should not only take into account what urban viewers may find of interest, it must also showcase the value of important rural activities like farming, shooting, hunting and angling."
When it comes to individual TV programmes, nature-focused content such as Springwatch and Countryfile, came particularly under fire with over 90% of respondents saying that rural issues were inadequately represented;
- 89% felt Countryfile failed to represent the countryside.
- 79% said BBC Radio 4’s The Archers also missed the mark.
Participants expressed that this content offers a ‘sanitised’ perspective on rural life, steering away from realistic portrayals of farming, whilst avoiding dialogue on hunting and shooting altogether. Numerous viewers have commented that the presenters of BBC programmes negatively impact their experiences, with Chris Packham heavily criticised for his political bias. Farming Today is viewed most positively amongst those who consume BBC content, yet still less than half of the respondents believe that it accurately represents the countryside, with Amazon Prime’s 'Clarkson’s Farm' noted as a favoured alternative by many.
BBC News’ depiction of rural issues is also heavily criticised by countryside residents, with 80% of respondents dissatisfied with the coverage of rural content in BBC regional news, and over 90% for BBC national news.
Those that live in the countryside are calling for an increase in material covering farming, land management, hunting, shooting and fishing across all BBC media, as well as a spotlight on the difficult realities of rural living, from the absence of infrastructure and affordable housing to loneliness.
Participants were also asked their opinions on the BBC licence fee. In response, 76% said it was not good value for money, with 67% advocating for it to be scrapped. Finally, almost 9% of those questioned indicated that they did not engage with BBC content, many citing its metropolitan bias and misinformed representation of rural issues as motivations for switching to alternative media outlets.
The Countryside Alliance's research was extensively covered in the media and made headlines in the Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Star.
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