Last Sunday's Countryfile on BBC1 looked at the contribution of game shooting to the rural economy and the impact of Avian Flu (AI) on the sector. Interviews and content from the Rhug Estate in North Wales and from Wiltshire provided a fair and balanced overview of the positive benefits shooting can have for the rural community and the challenges presented by the current outbreak of AI.
I have often found myself in a minority defending the BBC's rural coverage, not that I would ever suggest that it's all good. In fact, I have probably run more complaints about individual BBC programs than anyone else in the rural sector and even managed to win on a few occasions. I also count the complaint about Chris Packham's abuse of rural people in BBC Wildlife Magazine as a victory even though the BBC Trust finally rejected it on the basis that he was a 'recurrent' not a 'regular' BBC presenter and that therefore the BBC's Editorial Guidelines did not apply. Any organisation stooping to such a desperate defence is clearly on the losing side.
Despite those bad examples, however, I would argue from long experience that the majority of BBC programming about rural issues is balanced and the majority of BBC journalists are perfectly fair. It is important to remember that most, if not all, of the programming the BBC puts out is about the countryside, rather than for the rural community. That means that it may well seem superficial or shallow to those of us who have intimate knowledge of rural issues, but that does not mean it is biased. Countryfile can quite often be criticised for this sort of light touch coverage of sometimes serious issues, but it is an enormously successful and long-running Sunday evening format with millions of loyal viewers. The producers clearly know their audience and whilst we might crave something with a bit more depth that does not mean that what is broadcast is not fair.
Equally, there can be a nervousness from those representing activities like game shooting in engaging with the media generally and the BBC in particular, but if we are not willing to make our case we should not be surprised if the media does not make our case for us. In relation to Countryfile's coverage of shooting on Sunday, special credit should go to our Aim to Sustain partners at the National Gamekeepers Organisation and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation who facilitated the filming and whose spokespeople put the case for game shooting so eloquently. Putting your head above the parapet on national media is a brave thing to do, but it is only by this sort of engagement with the media and collaborative working between rural organisations that we can generate the sort of media coverage that changes public attitudes. If you watched Countryfile and would like to say something positive about its depiction of game shooting's value to rural communities, then you can send comments and feedback to the BBC. It is well worth praising our national broadcaster when it gets things right, as well as challenging it when it does not.
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