I watch ‘Countryfile’ occasionally to reinforce my prejudices. Like most TV shows now it assumes that viewers have the attention span of a goldfish and cuts time and adds gimmicks accordingly.
It doesn’t bog down in the minutiae of farming, EU subsidy rules or chemical spray rates. But I don’t expect it to. If it did it wouldn’t attract several million regular viewers, including a few thousand disgruntled farmers who call it London-centric and ‘Towniefile.’
One farmer was quoted last week as saying that ‘Countryfile’ was not produced in their interests, but for those living in towns and cities. It was more concerned, he said, with ‘cuddly badgers’ and ‘fluffy’ issues than farming’s economic difficulties and problems for arable farmers such as the weed blackgrass.
Got it in one and welcome to the real world.
The realities of any industry for those at the sharp end will never coincide with what goes out on a TV programme intended to appeal to a general audience. Only by selecting the lighter and ‘fluffier’ bits or over-emphasising the drama – think of any medical, police or emergency services ‘documentary’ you’ve ever seen – do programme makers get an audience.
‘Countryfile’ obviously does that well, as a spokesman for the National Farmers’ Union accepted. Yes, he said, we get complaints from members that farmers are sometimes treated unfairly or the presenter has not gone into a subject in depth, but the clue is in the name. It’s not ‘Farmingfile’ for the benefit of farmers. Farmers might like that, but they’d be the only ones watching. Not to mention that it’s difficult for anyone, as Robert Burns said, to see ourselves as others see us.
One of the many serious subjects affecting farming that a TV programme could tackle, if the makers intended viewer paralysis, would be TTIP. That stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a potential trade agreement being negotiated between the European Union and the USA. If ever agreed it could be worth – copyright, I suspect, the Department of Guesswork - £10 billion a year to the UK economy. Within that, Scottish exports of food and drink could increase by a total of about £9 billion over 15 years.
To reach that happy state many conditions must be agreed on either side, such as imports/exports being produced to equivalent standards. For starters, will the EU accept American beef produced with the aid of hormones banned here? Genetically modified crops must be an issue, accepted in the USA, in a state of ban and confusion in the EU.
A dairy farmer in Australia has allegedly been reported to animal welfare organisations and the police for verbal abuse of a cow, as has a sheep farmer for swearing at some of his flock. Hands up any stockman or woman in this country who could plead not guilty?