The BBC is to scrutinise the impartiality of Countryfile as part of a review into editorial standards.
The BBC One show has been at the centre of impartiality rows over farming, fox hunting and environmental issues.
In its review, to be conducted in-house, the corporation will assess the programme’s impartiality, freedom of expression, diversity of voices, accuracy, fairness and trust.
BBC Breakfast News and morning radio news programmes will also be subject to review at the same time.
The BBC said other programmes would follow and insisted that Countryfile had not been selected “because of particular impartiality concerns”.
However, sources acknowledged that it was a show which regularly prompted complaints.
“Countryfile has to deal with some contentious issues that bring out differing views. This is the first of many programmes we’ll be looking at as part of our review process, but the kinds of issues Countryfile covers make it a good barometer for impartiality,” an insider said.
Accused of pro-Remainer bias
The show has been accused of pro-Remainer bias over warnings that restrictions on seasonal migrant workers from the EU would have a detrimental effect on Britain’s fruit growing business.
Its coverage of issues from hedgehog decline to badger culls and fox hunting have also drawn complaints, with some viewers believing that the show scapegoats farmers, and others claiming that it prioritises the voices of farmers over environmental and wildlife concerns.
The programme has also earned the nickname “Towniefile” amongst some farmers who think the show is aimed at urbanites who go on day trips to the countryside, rather than the people who live there.
Rebanks said farmers had been “frankly p— off with Countryfile for about 30 years because the whole logic of Countryfile is that you can’t make a mainstream, prime-time TV programme about farming”.
Plan to ‘enhance standards’
The review of Countryfile, BBC Breakfast and local news is part of a wider plan to “enhance standards”, the corporation said.
In an update, the BBC said questions about impartiality had been included in the annual employee survey for the first time and that 94 per cent of staff who took part said they understood why impartiality is important.
“There is now clearer promotion of the editorial guidelines on the BBC’s internal website to further understanding of them, and there is ongoing work with content teams to support more open discussion around editorial issues,” the BBC said.
The corporation has also published details of its whistleblowing policy, providing staff and freelancers with a “confidential mechanism” to raise concerns.
Earlier this week, the BBC agreed to pay “significant” damages to Mark Killick, the former Panorama journalist who first raised concerns about Bashir’s methods.
Mr Killick first alerted the BBC to the existence of forged bank statements used to entice the Princess into sitting down with Bashir. Mr Killick said he was sacked for “disloyalty” as a result and then smeared by the broadcaster.