BBC rural coverage has 'urban bias'

The BBC is to change its rural affairs coverage after a review found it tackled too many issues from an urban perspective.

Commissioned by the BBC Trust, the independent review was led by Heather Hancock, a former managing partner at Deloitte and ex-chair of the BBC's Rural Affairs Committee.

The review examined the impartiality of the BBC's coverage of rural areas in the UK, across TV, radio and online.

Taken as a whole, it found no evidence of party political bias in the BBC's coverage of rural affairs, with generally impartial coverage of controversial issues.

Flagship programmes, particularly Countryfile and Farming Today, were highly appreciated by audiences, and included a wide range of voices and opinions.

News and current affairs reporting in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also had an "impressive depth" of understanding of the issues and a breadth of voices.

But the range of voices found on specialist programmes and output in the devolved nations was not generally found on network programming for the whole UK.

News and current affairs output from rural England did not appear to be reaching the UK network programmes, said the review.

The review also found that the BBC was giving undue weight to a small number of organisations on rural issues in its news coverage.

There was a tendency to focus on conflict or protests, it said.

The review also found that the extent to which the news agenda was driven by Westminster had an impact on how stories were covered.

Audiences felt that on occasion there was an "unintentional urban bias" in network news coverage from England.

Mrs 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.

"There was a tendency to focus on the environmental aspects of rural UK: this should be balanced by the economic and social dimensions.

"I have made some suggestions that could help the BBC address these points, rebuilding its rural expertise particularly in network news and current affairs."

Mrs Hancock said the BBC should identify an individual to take on an editorial oversight role, championing rural affairs across the whole of the BBC's output.

It should Increase the measures already taken to make it easier for local and regional BBC journalists to get stories on the BBC's UK network news;

At the same time, it should re-establish the post of BBC Rural Affairs Correspondent.

In response, the BBC Executive pledged to identify three correspondents in regional and local newsrooms across the country to report for network news on rural issues.

It also agreed to appoint a senior editorial figure to take on editorial oversight of rural issues and champion them across output.

The BBC Executive will report back to the Trust in six months and then in a year with an update on how the action they have agreed to take is progressing.

Details of the review and the full findings can be downloaded here.


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