Right to Reply

In response to Christopher Booker Daily Mail 24 February 2015
Countryfile betrays the countryside
Christopher Booker is right that Countryfile is a very popular programme, regularly watched by around seven million people. But given his apparent ignorance of the show’s content, I find it hard to believe that he is one of them.
The broad charge is that Countryfile is “relentlessly positive and upbeat” sanitising and sentimentalising what goes on there.
 A few months ago I was filming in a halal slaughter house at the time and place where the sheep’s throats were slit. I did a piece to camera while the soundman was being kicked by the nerve triggered death throes of the passing animals. The investigation into Halal and kosher slaughter was watched by XX million (check). We have done films about the livestock disease blue tongue, the inability of the poultry industry to stamp out campylobacter which kills people, the desperate plight of many dairy farmers,  dog theft, poaching, heritage crime, floods, eating horses and, of course, the badger cull.
The list goes on and totally discredits the idea that Countryfile ignores the tough issues in rural Britain.
Within the broader fiction of his column is another error from Mr Booker: “Countryfile is simply lining up with ‘environmentalists’ and animal rights campaigners who run our powerful green lobby groups including the RSPB”.
Once again, let me list some of our investigations proving the range of our approach: Analysing the large contribution of shooting to the rural economy and it’s role in wildlife habitat conservation, asking whether the booming buzzard population has a down side, grilling the RSPB about their attitude to the Hen Harrier recovery project which some see as obstructive. On pesticides, we revealed research suggesting the legislation coming from Europe and the lobbying from green NGO’s could cut crop yields, threaten food security and put up prices. And, memorably, we broadcast the Princess Royal asking if gassing them might be a more humane badger culling method.
All of these were balanced films looking at both sides of the argument, but their selection by the Countryfile production team reveals the absurdity of claiming our story choice is biased.
The most jaw-droppingly inaccurate allegation is that the recent film on wind turbines “shows BBC bias in favour of windfarms” and their intermittent power generation creates “technical difficulties the BBC never wants to mention”.
Mr Booker must have dozed off or taken an important phone call during this most of this film ( broadcast in XXX) as he missed the whole point. It was about constraint payments : the fact we now pay one million pounds a week to turn windfarms off due to difficulties handling their varying supply. We filmed in the National Grid HQ talking about this problem. We interviewed not only the local Cornish objector but also John Constable, from the REF and scourge of wind energy subsidy. We were questioning whether new turbines should be built while we seem to have a growing problem handling their output. I have never been fortunate enough to witness a Daily Mail editorial meeting but I suspect this question has been heard in many of them, it certainly appears in your paper: it is a key argument in the wind power sceptics arsenal.
Now tell me how this shows a “refusal to mention the real problems with wind energy”.
 Countryfile does not betray the Countryside but portrays it warts, beauty and all. Christopher Booker should, for once, see beyond his dislike of the BBC and congratulate Countryfile on having the bravery and craft skill to present such a broad range of rural issues to millions of people every Sunday night.