BBC confirms plans for farming news

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John Harrison/Harrison Photography
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BBC Northern Ireland has confirmed that it is to continue with dedicated daily farming slots on Radio Ulster.

Last week Farming Life reported on widespread concerns following speculation on the future of the popular ‘Farm Gate’ programme.

BBC Northern Ireland has now released details of plans to ‘refresh and enhance its coverage of agriculture’.

These include: continuing dedicated farming news slots in Good Morning Ulster at 6.40am and Evening Extra at 6.15pm; a five-day farming weather forecast; a refreshed Saturday morning farming programme; new online farming content; and the appointment of a specialist agriculture and environmental affairs correspondent, helping to provide additional, expert coverage of farming, agri-business, rural development and the environment.

From Tuesday 7 April BBC News NI will produce:

r A new agricultural and rural affairs package, Farming News. This will be broadcast every Monday-Thursday at 6.40am on Good Morning Ulster and will feature the latest farming news, issues and mart prices.

r In-depth coverage of the week’s farming news and developments every Friday at 06.40am with BBC NI’s new Agriculture and Environment Correspondent or farming report.

r A five-day weather forecast for farmers, Monday-Friday at 6.44am.

r A Farming News summary on Evening Extra Mon-Thursday at 6.15pm.

r A new 15-minute weekend programme Inside Farming on Saturday mornings at 6.45am.

r Local mart prices published every Friday on BBC News NI online.

r Enhanced coverage and analysis of agriculture and environmental affairs across radio, television and online with the appointment of the new specialist correspondent.

Kathleen Carragher, head of BBC News NI, says: “Agriculture plays a big and important role within the local economy. We want to ensure that farming, rural issues and development are more fully reflected within the BBC’s news programmes. These changes will enhance and improve the service that we currently provide. They build on a long tradition and will seek to make the most of new technology and ideas.

“We know the value that BBC audiences attach to our coverage of rural affairs. Our ambition is to serve them even better than before.”

Diane Dodds MEP said she cautiously welcomed the announcement from the BBC that local agriculture will continue to hold a prominent position within news programming in Northern Ireland.

She added: “Over the past number of weeks, we have raised at a most senior level within the BBC the need for continued programming featuring agriculture and rural issues on BBC NI, as this is the largest sector of the Northern Ireland economy.

“In the coming days, we will have further discussions with the BBC to ensure that they give farming sufficient coverage in their output, so as to ensure that information granted to this section of our society does not face dilution of any kind.”

Earlier this week Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson had described ‘Farm Gate’ as a prime example of excellent public service broadcasting, the programme is hugely popular with the farming community and wider audience alike.

“This is of course due in no small part to the expertise of the show’s presenter Richard Wright. Discontinuing Farm Gate would result in a major reduction in the BBC’s agricultural content locally. Such a decision disregards the needs and views of many of the Corporation’s licence fee payers. The importance of farming in all its forms to the Northern Ireland economy and our rural communities means that it must not be overlooked and I have written to the controller of the BBC Northern Ireland to urge a re-think and reversal of this decision – agricultural issues must not be sidelined by the BBC,” he said.

Farmers For Action’s UK NI co-ordinator William Taylor had also contacted the BBC on the issue.

In a statement FFA pointed out that in an increasingly dominated corporate world there would seem to be little room left for small businesses to have voice such as those of farming families.

However, FFA have pointed out to the BBC that if UTV’s farming stories are seeing ratings soar and thus the connection for rural Northern Ireland and its largest industry with town and country audiences then they need to seriously re-look at keeping Farm Gate or a replacement of it or otherwise seriously question their own management and purpose.

Meanwhile, David Dobbin, chairman of the Northern Ireland Food & Drink Association has written to Peter Johnston, controller of BBC NI, on behalf of the entire NI food and drink sector to express concern at the speculation around ‘Farm Gate’.