Celebrity protesters distorting the BBC’s coverage of rural affairs, report finds

 

Media Editor

Celebrity protesters, from anti-fracking crusader Bianca Jagger to badger champion Brian May, are distorting the BBC’s coverage of rural affairs, a major study commissioned by the BBC Trust has found.

Use of celebrity commentators on rural issues was “irritating and perplexing” to viewers and listeners, found the wide-ranging report into BBC Coverage of Rural Areas in the UK. “Audiences simply couldn’t understand why a celebrity should be treated as an authority, and if not an authority, why their voice was being given weight,” it said.

The study found that in the BBC’s coverage of both the badger cull and the fracking protests at the Sussex village of Balcombe "a disproportionate amount of time was given to the views of celebrities".

Rural experts and audiences in country areas told the study that BBC News coverage portrayed the British countryside as a “place of conflict and polarisation”.

But there were also complaints that the BBC’s rural coverage gave undue prominence to “cute” pictures of animals, particularly in the badger cull story. The report’s author Heather Hancock, said audiences had complained that the use of images of “fluffy badgers” was “never going to result in an impartial impression”. One respondent told the study: “It seems like again the farmer was nearly the villain because he was wanting to cull the badgers.”

Although celebrities such as Brian May featured in only four per cent of BBC items on the badger cull, they were given a disproportionate 12 per cent of total quotation time in all BBC coverage of the subject, the report said. “This testifies to the small number yet relatively lengthy appearances by a select number of famous people,” it said.

On the fracking coverage only one per cent of BBC items featured celebrities but their quotation time amounted to five per cent. The report said: “Respondents… disliked the use of protesters, particularly celebrities, to put across arguments, as in their minds these people had little credibility and had ‘opinions’ rather than impartial scientific evidence.”

The report found that the BBC’s coverage of rural matters was “impartial” and there was praise for the authority of specialist programmes Countryfile, on BBC2, and Farming Today on BBC Radio 4.

But the broadcaster’s wider coverage could present a “simplistic” image of “charming thatched lives”. Programmes such as Springwatch and Autumnwatch shied away from showing “nature red in tooth and claw”, the report said. “The BBC is incredibly squeamish about the countryside,” commented Mark Hedges, editor of Country Life, to the researchers. “There is not one programme which has addressed the question of predators in an honest way,” said Robin Page, farmer and Chairman of the Countryside Restoration Trust.

Even Countryfile was guilty of “periodic slips into anthropomorphism”, the report warned. “Every so often, the presenters of location stories give too strong an impression of visiting the countryside, not being of the countryside. This does matter to country people, who don’t wish to be treated as a living zoo.”

The BBC was also criticised for being overly reliant for commentary on certain rural pressure groups – notably the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the National Union of Farmers.

Although Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show and BBC1’s Breakfast were credited for giving context to big rural stories, the report said the BBC should reestablish the position of Rural Affairs Correspondent, a role which was scrapped in 2012, in order that country issues should have a champion in the newsroom.

Responding to the report, the BBC said: “We take our commitment to the reporting of rural affairs very seriously and welcome the report’s endorsement of our programming and overall impartiality. Whilst the report finds overall we do a good job reflecting and reporting rural affairs there are areas where we can do better and we have committed to a range of steps to help improve the coverage further.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
News
(David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: System Administrator / Sys Admin

£23 - 30K (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a System Ad...

Guru Careers: Graduate Sales Executive

£18 - 24k OTE + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Executive ...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor