BBC ‘too 
sqeamish’ 
in covering 
rural life 
says study

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The BBC has been accused of being too “squeamish” and “simplistic” in its coverage of rural life.

An independent review, carried out by Heather Hancock who formally chaired the BBC’s rural affairs committee, said its coverage was “generally impartial” and praised flagship shows including Countryfile.

But the BBC Trust, the corporation’s governing body which commissioned the review, found some people thought coverage had “a metropolitan bias”.

It said: “Audiences feel network news coverage can be simplistic and, on contentious stories, too often focuses on protest rather than the underlying issues.”

BBC coverage of the trial badger cull was praised but it was criticised for “the predominant use of images of healthy badgers to open or conclude a report”.

The report stated: “People asked where were the pictures of sick badgers with TB, or infected cows being shot, or a distraught farming family coming to terms with the loss of their animals.”

One witness, Country Life editor Mark Hedges, said coverage was often sanitised and did “ the countryside a real disservice in the process”.

He said: “You’ve got to show how food comes about – what the realities of life are... The BBC is incredibly squeamish about the countryside.”

Ms Hancock said: “Overall, the BBC does a good job in reporting accurate, balanced and impartial rural stories. However, there is room for improvement. In England particularly, rural stories and rural lives could be more fully represented in nationwide output.

“I found that the BBC relied disproportionately on a small number of external bodies for input and comment. A wider range of voices would broaden the opinions offered to audiences.”

A BBC spokeswoman 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.”