Wednesday 13 January 2021

Country people are sick of the woke BBC, says Ian Botham

For those who thought that Telegraph standards were slipping, you were wrong. They're plummeting, and Baron Botham of Ravensworth in the County of North Yorkshire is doing his best to kick them while they're down.

The noble Beefy, a huntin', shootin', fishin' man (sidebar: why does Priti Patel drop her gs?) manages to cram 90% of Telegraph dogwhistles into one short column.

I, like many, have thought "the BBC doesn't represent me, what can I do? I know, I'll drop a line to Baron Botham" and he doesn't let us down. If you like your guff bluff, read on in this saga of local programmes for local folk.

Since I joined the House of Lords, a lot of people have been writing to me about the BBC. They say that it is turning against them - that it doesn't see them, let alone listen to them. But is my inbox representative?

According to a new YouGov poll, the answer is clearly yes. It found that only 4 per cent of the public thought that the BBC had improved at representing their values during 2020. A staggering 33 per cent said it had become worse. This is an organisation in big trouble. Any business facing numbers like those would take drastic action.

The BBC was doing particularly badly in the countryside, from where many people write to me. They dislike how the corporation increasingly uses its programmes to promote the narrow "woke" views of its senior staff. They say it abuses its power to push these "urban progressive" ideas as if they were mainstream.

They are anything but.

My correspondents are encouraging me to speak out on their behalf. So here goes. I direct this message to the BBC's new Director-General, Tim Davie, who is a principled guy. He spends his holidays in the countryside, so I hope this strikes a chord.

The top item on the agenda is the BBC licence fee, which people over 75 are being forced to pay. Many of this vulnerable age group live in remote areas and rely on the BBC - especially now that we are back in lockdown. Yet millions are having to dig into their pockets as the licence is now only free through means testing. This is causing no end of worry.

The BBC promised that it would offer a free licence to over-75s. I urge Mr Davie to ensure it keeps its word. Our senior citizens do not deserve to be impoverished or frightened by demands from BBC tax collectors.

Next is the small army of presenters who use their BBC profiles to push their political and social views. Mr Davie pledged to put an end to this abuse, but it hasn't totally stopped.

The most obvious example is Chris Packham, the BBC's main countryside presenter. Correspondents say that it appears that he forgets instructions and keeps using "his BBC platform to promote his views". Mr Packham even has his own lobbying company, Wild Justice, which regularly attacks the well-thought-through ways the countryside has been traditionally managed.

His vitriol is extraordinary. He has called those who work on grouse moors "satanic", "evil" and "psychotic", and yet he claims that he "would never voice an anti-shooting agenda".

His BBC influence allows him to push his extreme anti-countryside agenda, and he has forced farmers and gamekeepers to change how they look after nature. One gentleman told me that Mr Packham "is the greatest threat to song birds and ground nesting birds that the UK has ever seen".

Mr Packham has more impact on rural policy than any government minister. He is a very effective politician dressed up as a presenter. His power comes not from being elected, but largely from his BBC role. This is wrong, and is costing the BBC its reputation. Without its patronage, he would not have anything like the influence he has today.

Mr Packham is not the only one. James Wong, who has presented the BBC's Countryfile, recently wrote on Twitter: "UK gardening culture has racism baked into its DNA". Surely this is exactly the sort of self-promoting gibberish that Mr Davie promised to stamp out. Who runs the BBC? Is it Mr Davie, or the presenters?

Country people have long been tired of this. Yet the BBC just mouths empty platitudes. It appears too big to reform.

There is another unaccountable institution that Britain got fed up with. The European Union and its officials in Brussels made the mistake of thinking that we would always grin and bear it. How wrong they were.

The BBC dominates our culture and political debate. But those I hear from feel it has lost its legitimacy and despair of it. Mr Davie must move radically and quickly if they are not to feel even more alienated from his urban woke-run corporation.

Reform of the BBC is a key issue for 2021. I want to help more country folk to get their voices heard on this. I look forward to Telegraph readers' online comments on the subject. And for those over 75 who are concerned about the BBC's broken promise on the licence fee, drop me an email at


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