COUN­TRY­SIDE AL­LIANCE

De­spite qual­i­fy­ing for Ein­stein’s def­i­ni­tion of in­san­ity, the Coun­try­side Al­liance will con­tinue to lobby Of­com and the BBC for fair, im­par­tial ru­ral cover­age un­til it gets the re­sult we want

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

When Ein­stein said, “the def­i­ni­tion of in­san­ity is do­ing the same thing over and over again but ex­pect­ing dif­fer­ent re­sults,” he may well have been talk­ing about the BBC com­plaint pro­ce­dure and the Coun­try­side Al­liance’s in­volve­ment with it.

The Coun­try­side Al­liance have sub­mit­ted sev­eral for­mal com­plaints to the BBC over the past half of a decade and sup­plied ev­i­dence to the BBC char­ter re­view in 2016, a process that re­sulted in the com­plaints process mov­ing to Of­com as an in­de­pen­dent ar­bi­tra­tor. Our work to date has, un­for­tu­nately, made lit­tle head­way, but that has not stopped us stand­ing up for our mem­bers, sup­port­ers and the ru­ral way of life and with the new Of­com sys­tem in place, progress is pos­si­ble.

The lat­est com­plaint, sub­mit­ted in May, was based on bi­ased cover­age on BBC Ra­dio 4’s Farm­ing To­day pro­gramme. Farm­ing To­day broad­casted an in­ter­view with the manag­ing direc­tor of the Bri­tish Game Al­liance (BGA), the new or­gan­i­sa­tion aimed at stim­u­lat­ing the game meat mar­ket and in­tro­duc­ing en­force­able stan­dards into game shooting to give the con­sumer peace of mind that the game they are buy­ing is sus­tain­ably sourced. De­spite this be­ing a good news story for the coun­try­side and the ru­ral econ­omy, the in­ter­view was im­me­di­ately fol­lowed by a re­sponse from an anti-shooting ac­tivist from the League Against Cruel Sports.

Within the com­plaint, the CA high­lighted two se­ri­ous con­cerns about this pro­gramme. Firstly, the seg­ment on the BGA was the only one in which an op­pos­ing voice was heard. The other sub­jects cov­ered in the pro­gramme were pig tail dock­ing and neon­i­coti­noid pes­ti­cides, both of which can be classed as more con­tro­ver­sial than im­proved mar­ket­ing and stan­dards for game meat. Both of those sub­jects were ad­dressed by one speaker, with no in­put from ei­ther an­i­mal rights ac­tivists or anti-pes­ti­cide cam­paign­ers.

Fur­ther­more, hav­ing de­cided to find a dis­sent­ing voice to talk about the BGA, Farm­ing To­day chose to in­vite com­ment from an ac­tivist from an or­gan­i­sa­tion that is fun­da­men­tally op­posed to the ex­is­tence of game shooting.

Our com­plaint high­lighted the con­tin­ued prob­lems with ru­ral cover­age, the clear bias when deal­ing with shooting is­sues and, more gen­er­ally, the widen­ing dis­con­nect be­tween the BBC and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

The 2014 BBC Trust ru­ral re­view found a “gulf in un­der­stand­ing be­tween the BBC and a sig­nif­i­cant sec­tion of the ru­ral com­mu­nity” and it ap­pears the sit­u­a­tion has only got worse in the last four years. The is­sue of the BBC is one that our mem­bers raise with us most of­ten and with the most pas­sion. The BBC’s char­ter re­quired the cor­po­ra­tion to rep­re­sent all the com­mu­ni­ties of the United King­dom, and yet it is very clear that a large pro­por­tion of the peo­ple in the coun­try­side do not feel that the BBC re­flects their lives.

Fol­low­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of the new BBC Com­plaints Frame­work, the es­ca­la­tion of a for­mal com­plaint makes its way through var­i­ous de­part­ments of the BBC be­fore a com­plainant can take it to Of­com for the fi­nal de­ci­sion. In the 15 months it has been run­ning, and fol­low­ing a cou­ple of com­plaints, the Coun­try­side Al­liance has al­ready seen holes in this pro­ce­dure. We have raised th­ese flaws at a meet­ing with Of­com and we are cur­rently sub­mit­ting ev­i­dence into their re­view of the process.

The BBC needs to re­mem­ber that it is both big­ger and more im­por­tant than the pre­sen­ters and jour­nal­ists it em­ploys. It has a lengthy set of guide­lines that al­lows it to main­tain its im­par­tial­ity, but it needs to en­sure that those work­ing for the com­pany up­hold th­ese guide­lines.

The guide­lines should not be stretched for cer­tain pre­sen­ters be­cause they have a higher pres­ence on so­cial me­dia or have been work­ing at the BBC for a long time. It does not mat­ter if they are pro- or anti-shooting out­side of their work, they can­not be al­lowed to use the BBC or their plat­form within the BBC to ex­tol their per­sonal views.

Ein­stein may call us in­sane for re­peat­edly sub­mit­ting com­plaints, but the work by the Coun­try­side Al­liance is mak­ing in­roads. It is nec­es­sary that the BBC and Of­com are aware that the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion is not con­tent with their con­tin­ual mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the coun­try­side and the lack of high qual­ity pro­grammes on ru­ral is­sues.

And we will con­tinue to bang the drum in call­ing for the BBC to live up to their own poli­cies and guide­lines and por­tray our coun­try­side in an ad­e­quate man­ner for the mil­lions that live, work

and en­joy this green and pleas­ant land.

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