The BBC has been strongly criticised by farming leaders for “biased, inaccurate and misleading” coverage of badger culling set to take place in the South West.
National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Peter Kendall has written a letter of complaint to new BBC director general George Entwistle urging him to review its reporting of the controversial Government plan to combat tuberculosis (TB) in cattle.
In a furious attack, prompted by a lengthy feature on the planned culls on BBC2’s Newsnight on Tuesday, he said the corporation’s coverage was “clearly pitched against the cull” and is helping to “ramp up the hysteria” over the policy.
Last week, Natural England licensed a badger cull in west Gloucestershire, with a start date expected within weeks.
A second in west Somerset likely to be given the go-ahead shortly.
If deemed safe, ten cull zones could be given the go-ahead each year for four years in bovine TB hotspots, with some likely to be further down the Westcountry peninsula.
In his letter, Mr Kendall points to a litany of complaints about the feature, and said the decision to grant anonymity to an anti-cull protester threatening direct action against the cull was “disgraceful”.
He said it suggested anti-cull protesters were being intimidated by farmers when, actually, farmers were feeling “harassed and intimidated”.
“This suggestion is disgusting and clearly biased,” he wrote. “The BBC’s clear partiality in protecting the identity of someone whose clear intent is to disrupt a lawful process by himself taking illegal action goes against your own editorial guidelines and is shameful for an organisation which purports to be impartial, accurate and trusted.”
Mr Kendall also accused the programme of giving a misleading impression that a farmer who spoke of the “intimidation and harassment” she had been subjected to was pulling out of the cull.
Mr Kendall said this had subsequently proved to be “simply not true”.
He criticised the suggestion that the cull involved the “mass slaughter” of badgers, claiming the phrase was lifted from the anti-cull lobby and intended to “raise alarm and ramp up the hysteria”.
The NFU president said the Newsnight feature was “symptomatic of the BBC’s general biased coverage of the cull” across its formats.
A BBC spokesman said: “The information supplied in this piece came from respected organisations involved in both sides of this story.
“We will deal with any complaint as and when it is received, responding directly to the NFU.”
She said the BBC considers all requests for anonymity very carefully.
“Due to the emotive nature of this story, it would be a plausible concern for both sides. Newsnight would have afforded anonymity to the other contributors had they requested it.
“Hearing from this individual, although anonymously, meant we could challenge their position and plans for direct action,” she said.