BBC's The Archers not grounded in reality, say rural listeners

The Countryside Alliance will submit the findings of a poll to the broadcaster as part of a ‘rural impartiality dossier’

The impartiality of Countryfile is under scrutiny as part of a BBC review into editorial standards

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

The corporation has been accused of lacking impartiality in a poll that found two thirds believed that the licence fee should be scrapped entirely.

It led rural campaigners to call for the BBC to create “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 judged to be among the worst shows for representing rural issues, with more than 90 per cent of respondents saying that they did not do so adequately.

BBC doesn’t cover ‘issues that matter’ 

The BBC’s national news was also found by 92 per cent of respondents to be failing to represent rural issues. It was closely followed by Countryfile, which 89 per cent of viewers surveyed 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 country 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 must appreciate that the minority rural audience does not feel fully represented.

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

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

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

Mr Packham, whose shows have been singled out for criticism, is a fierce opponent of countryside sports and regularly uses his social media presence to orchestrate campaigns.

Chris Packham's BBC shows have been singled out for criticism, with the poll finding them among the worst for representing rural issues

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

“This might make for difficult internal discussions, but ultimately, if the BBC are to enjoy the support of rural viewers it needs to make robust decisions about whether to employ controversial presenters with an overt and aggressive campaigning agenda.”

Strong opposition to licence fee

Almost 77 per cent of those surveyed said that the licence fee was not value for money, while 68 per cent felt that it should be scrapped altogether.

It comes after both candidates to be the next prime minister questioned the current arrangements surrounding the licence fee.

Liz Truss has suggested that she would review legal punishments for failing to pay the £159 fee, while Rishi Sunak has hinted he would consider scrapping it all together.

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

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

The Countryside Alliance will be submitting its findings to the BBC as part of a “rural impartiality dossier”.

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

“As part of ongoing work to ensure the highest editorial standards across all our output, Countryfile is one of many programmes to be reviewed - it has not been selected because of any particular impartiality concerns.”