The BBC’s The Archers is not rooted in reality, say rural listeners

Country file

Country file

Even The Archers doesn’t represent our lives properly, rural listeners have complained as they questioned whether the BBC was value for money.

The company has been accused of lacking impartiality in a poll which found two-thirds believed the license fee should be scrapped altogether.

It led rural campaigners to call on the BBC to make “rural programming for the countryside, not just about the countryside”.

In the poll of 3,400 Countryside Alliance members, Chris Packham’s Springwatch and Autumnwatch were rated as among the worst programs for representing rural issues, with more than 90 per cent of respondents saying they did not do enough.

BBC not covering ‘issues that matter’

The BBC’s national news was also found by 92 per cent of respondents to fail to represent rural issues. It was closely followed by Countryfile, which 89 per cent of viewers polled did not feel “adequately” covered the issues that mattered to them.

However, even Radio 4’s The Archers, seen as the jewel in the crown of rural programming by many, was deemed not to reflect rural life properly by 79 per cent of respondents.

Farming Today fared slightly better, with just under half believing it properly covered issues that mattered to them.

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, told The Telegraph: “The BBC needs to understand that minority rural audiences do not feel fully represented.

“There is a desire for rural programming for the countryside, not just for the countryside. In short, rural programming should not only take into account what urban viewers may find of interest, and it must showcase the value of important rural activities such as farming, shooting, hunting and fishing”.

The integrity of Countryfile is already under scrutiny as part of a BBC review of editorial standards. The show has received complaints about its stance on Brexit, farming, fox hunting and environmental issues.

But Mr Bonner called on Saturday for the company to go a step further and extend a crackdown on outspoken stars – announced last year as part of director-general Tim Davies’ drive to improve impartiality – to be extended to all BBC staff.

Mr Packham, whose show has been singled out for criticism, is a staunch opponent of rural sports and regularly uses his social media presence to orchestrate campaigns.

Chris Packham

Chris Packham

“The public does not distinguish between BBC presenters on the basis of their contracts,” Bonner said.

“This may lead to difficult internal discussions, but ultimately, if the BBC is to enjoy the support of rural viewers, it needs to make robust decisions about whether to employ controversial presenters with an open and aggressive campaign agenda.”

Strong opposition to license fees

Almost 77 per cent of respondents said the license fee was not value for money, while 68 per cent thought it should be scrapped altogether.

It comes after both candidates to become the next prime minister questioned the current arrangements around the license fee.

Liz Truss has suggested she would face legal penalties for not paying the £159 fee, while Rishi Sunak has suggested he would consider scrapping it all together.

The survey also found that viewers would like to see more farming on TV, voted for by almost 80 per cent of respondents, closely followed by rural sports including hunting, shooting and fishing, and in third place came issues around conservation and land management.

Almost half of those who responded, who came from rural areas across the UK, were aged over 65. The largest proportion – 80 per cent – ​​still largely watched the BBC on television.

The Countryside Alliance will submit its findings to the BBC as part of a “countryside impartiality case”.

A BBC spokesman said: “We always welcome feedback and we are very proud of the range of programming we offer. Programs such as Countryfile and Farming Today cover a range of topics and viewpoints when reporting on farming and rural life across the UK, as well as within our news coverage.

“As part of ongoing efforts to ensure the highest editorial standards across all our output, Countryfile is one of many programs to be reviewed – it has not been chosen for particular eligibility reasons.”

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