Real farmers' voices need to be heard in the media - Countryfile director tells NPA
20th Apr 2018 / By Alistair Driver
More ‘real farmers’ need to make their voices heard in the media as the future of UK farming in a post-Brexit world is debated, according a Countryfile director.
Anna Jones, who grew up on a farm in Wales and has done a Nuffield scholarship exploring how farmers are portrayed in the media, addressed the NPA’s South Central Regional meeting on Tuesday.
Ms Jones, who has also recently received grant funding to help farmers tell their stories in the media, launched a passionate defence of features that have appeared on Countryfile over the past two weeks.
The first covered the increasing impact of veganism on the meat industry, including an interview with a vegan activist. Sunday’s feature explored different systems on pig farms and the ‘paradox between what consumers say and what they actually buy in the supermarket’ when it comes to pork products.
The programmes have received criticism from both sides of the divide over farm animal welfare but Ms Jones said the producers had gone to great lengths to ensure the features were balanced and fair. “I will stand by those features and their impartiality,” she said, in response to questions from farmers in the audience who questioned the decision to give publicity to the vegan activist and suggested the line of questioning was not robust enough.
In the latest feature, for example, they had gone to great lengths to find a farmer, speaking anonymously, willing to defend the use of slatted rearing systems. Ms Jones described the farmer as ‘a star’ and ‘the bravest woman in Britain’.
She explained how her Nuffield research confirmed that, globally, there is a ‘real disconnect’ between the farming industry and the media, adding that, in her view, both sides are to blame.
The media is predominantly urban and generally lacking in specialist knowledge and understanding of the countryside. “Combine that with a severe lack of time and resource and you are seeing a very shallow covering of agricultural issues,” she said.
“But the industry is not really meeting them half way. On the farmers’ side, I believe there has been a real lack of transparency,” she said.
"I think the industry is over-defensive. Every industry is being challenged and scrutinised and rightly so, especially at this time as we prepare for Brexit, but farmers often feel very personal about it when they are challenged as they are so proud in what they do.
“I believe the industry voice is a little too dominant and those individual on-farm voices sometimes don’t come through to the mainstream media. Most stories need a case study where you have a non-political unbiased farmer speaking from the heart with passion.”
However, as shown by the difficulty in getting farmers to speak openly on controversial issues on programmes like Countryfile, there are currently many barriers to this, including the media’s inability to find these farmers and farmers’ mistrust of the media.
Ms Jones has received £20,000 of grant funding from the Frank Parkinson Trust to set up an organisation that will train farmers from across the sectors and the systems of production to tell their stories in the media. It will also help journalists find these farmers and the various farming organisations out there beyond the obvious ones that journalists tend not to have heard of.
“The situation has got to change for the wellbeing of my profession as much as the wellbeing of yours,” she said.