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Peter Hill

Reporting on BBC's performance on rural affairs

Published on 30th June 2014

BBC News compositeGuild members reporting the BBC Trust's review of rural broadcasting have highlighted the things that the report's author believes the BBC gets right and those it does not.

In Farmers Guardian, news editor Ben Briggs reported the review author's finding that the BBC gives undue weight to a small number of organisations on rural issues in its news coverage, and that while news and current affairs reporting in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has an impressive depth of understanding of rural issues, it is not generally found on network programming for the whole UK.

Philip Case, news reporter at Farmers Weekly, identified 10 key findings in the report on the impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of rural areas in the UK, across TV, radio and online. Among them, he highlights a tendency to use “too many fluffy badgers” in its coverage of bovine TB, which was felt to skew the argument in favour of the anti-cull lobby; running stories “too often viewed through the lens of environmentalism”; and that audiences felt on occasion there is a metropolitan and London bias in network news coverage of rural England.

Overall, though, the BBC Trust review found the BBC's coverage of rural affairs to be, on the whole, impartial with a broad and comprehensive range of voices.

The reports author Heather Hancock is a former chair of the BBC's rural affairs committee. She has made a number of recommendations, including:

Heather Hancock has made a number of recommendations, including:

  • Identifying an individual to take on an editorial oversight role, championing rural affairs across the whole of the BBC's output and monitoring progress;
  • Increasing the measures already taken to make it easier for local and regional BBC journalists to get stories on the BBC's UK network news;
  • Re-establishing the post of BBC Rural Affairs Correspondent;
  • Bringing together BBC journalists and programme makers who cover rural affairs at least once a year to share ideas, experiences, contacts and collaboration opportunities;
  • Broadening the BBC's rural contacts list across a wide range of expertise.

In its reponse, the BBC Executive has committed to a range of steps, which include identifying three correspondents in regional and local newsrooms across the country to report for network news on rural issues; widening and deepening the range of contacts on rural issues; and holding annual meetings with all BBC journalists/programme-makers covering rural affairs.

The Executive says it will also appoint a senior editorial figure to take on oversight of rural issues and champion them across the BBC's output.

The full report, plus audience research and an analysis of rural news content, is available on the BBC Trust website here.

Peter Hill

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