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BBC: Bumpkins, hobbits need fairer coverage

Middle Earth dwellers are licence-fee payers too, report discovers

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The strange Hobbit-like creatures rumoured to populate the barren wasteland between Islington and the Cotswolds must be reported better by the BBC, a report for the BBC Trust has concluded.

The report recommends the restoration of the post of a Rural Affairs Editor to find and interview the creatures, to discover how on earth they get by without gluten-free wheatgrass machines, or fibre broadband.

Around 12 million licence fee payers are rumoured to live in “the countryside”, the report suggests, but the rest of the UK often gets a skewed view of them from network BBC news coverage, a report into the impartiality of rural coverage by the BBC suggests. Gaia-obsessed news producers need to broaden their coverage of rural affairs, according to Heather Hancock, the author of the report:

“The BBC must serve all audiences… I found that the BBC relied disproportionately on a small number of external bodies for input and comment. A wider range of voices would broaden the opinions offered to audiences. There was a tendency to focus on the environmental aspects of rural UK: this should be balanced by the economic and social dimensions.”

She added: “The qualitative research carried out among urban audiences found there was scant interest in rural matters,” she notes, despite the commended flagship shows Countryfile, Farming Today and The Archers. The expertise of Farming Today didn’t feed into the BBC TV’s output. “I am unconvinced that this gem of a programme is sufficiently loved and understood in the BBC.”

Many rural licence-fee payers gave the thumbs down to the BBC’s reporting of the badger cull, arguing they invariably pictured healthy or “fluffy” badgers and failed to represent the farmer’s point of view, and the arguments for the cull. By contrast the urban cull protesters (who were pictured in 25 per cent of the stories on the subject) always got their point across. Funny that.

In coverage of the anti-fracking protests at Balcombe in Sussex last summer, rural viewers and listeners felt there was too much attention to drop-by celebrities. A group of licence-fee payers that watched the Newsnight report on the anti-fracking protest had some fascinating comments, we learn from the audience research conducted by Oxygen and published separately in a lengthy appendix:

“The story was seen as very much about the protest. The protesters, though able to put their views at length, were not seen to put convincing scientific arguments about the likely effects of the drilling on the water or land stability to match Cuadrilla’s, but rather to express opinions and fears.” [our emphasis]

What a pity Oxygen didn’t quiz the audience on whether they believed fracking would take place, or was even planned, for Balcombe. The application was for a conventional oil drill rig, and entailed no fracking at all. As a litmus test of how well a rural issue is reported, that would have been quite illuminating.

You can download the report from here: BBC coverage of rural affairs in the UK - and if you're in the countryside, very slowly. ®

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