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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Lead Systems Developer / Software Developer

COMPETITIVE + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Lead Systems Developer / Sof...

Recruitment Genius: Social Media & Engagement Manager - French or German Speaker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The world's leading financial services careers...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive - 6 Months Contract

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Digital Marketing Executive...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Senior Account Manager

40-45K DOE + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Manager / Senior Account Manag...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

Berlusconi's world of sleaze

The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

Could gaming arcades be revived?

The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

Heard the one about menstruation?

Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage