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Farming

Media’s relationship with farming examined

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Driven by ideology and stereotypes: Media attitudes to agriculture

A NEW report has been published by 2016 Nuffield Scholar, Anna Jones. In it she questions whether the mainstream media helps or hinders the public’s perception of farming.

Ms Jones’ key findings were:

  • The urban/rural disconnect is real, more so in Western and urbanised societies, and both the media and farming industry are contributing to it
  • Some mainstream media coverage is clouded by urban bias, knee-jerk distrust of agribusiness, failing to differentiate between campaigners and informers and an over-reliance on too few sources with an overt political agenda. There is a severe lack of agricultural specialism among general news journalists
  • Farmers and industry are fuelling the disconnect through a lack of openness and transparency, disproportionate defensiveness in the face of legitimate challenge, disunity among farming sectors and a sense of ‘exceptionalism’ or entitlement to positive coverage
  • The public debate and narrative around agriculture is being dominated by farming unions and lobbyists. Politics at an industry level is drowning out individuals at a farm level, contributing to more distrust

Ms Jones’ report ​said​: ‘The world’s media has never been more powerful – or less trusted. Its role in shaping the outcomes of the EU referendum and US presidential election of 2016 cannot be overestimated. The spread of ‘fake news’, an unfamiliar phenomenon at the beginning of this study two years ago, has been deemed a threat to democracy.

‘Yet British farming, with an uncertain future post-Brexit, arguably needs the media more than ever before. It has some convincing to do – that agriculture is worthy of public money; that consumers should shun foreign labels and choose British instead; that the environment is safe in farmers’ hands’.

Exploring how the mainstream media can ‘help or hinder’ that mission – and what lessons can be learned from around the world – forms the basis of Anna Jones’ report.

She continue​d​: ‘Farmers often complain of a ‘disconnect’ between themselves and urban people and blame negative or simply non-existent media coverage. But traditional media, in the face of shrinking resources and shortening attention spans, is fighting for survival in a ruthlessly competitive digital landscape. It must target audiences with content that is relevant to their everyday lives. The vast majority of that audience – more than 80% of the UK population – live in towns and cities’.

Her research confirms that the ‘disconnect’ is real, more so in Western and urbanised societies, and both the industry and media have a role to play in it.

Ms Jones found that urban bias is endemic within the mainstream media. This can spill over into bias against intensive and large-scale farming systems, driven, at times, more by stereotypes and ideology than informed understanding of the subject. However, she found no evidence of urban bias leading to deliberate falsehoods, but it can influence story selection and the way in which a story is told (i.e. the angle).

Anna Jones said: ​”​There is deep-rooted suspicion of the mainstream media among farmers. Many believe journalists attack them unfairly on issues like the environment and animal welfare, but some farmers struggle to separate criticism from legitimate challenge. Knee-jerk defensiveness and a lack of transparency are key barriers to a constructive relationship with the media.

​”​These challenges are not insurmountable. The case studies shared in this report prove that effective agricultural communication and rigorous, balanced journalism are not mutually exclusive. My findings should motivate farmers to engage with the media; and encourage journalists to take a constructive and open-minded approach to agricultural stories.

​”​This is not a quantitative study of media content, but a qualitative analysis of perceptions and personal experience. ‘Agriculture’ in this context refers mainly to conventional production and the term ‘mainstream media’ to national press and news broadcasters, with some regional and specialist contributions​.”​

The full report can be read here http://nuffieldinternational.org/live/

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Farming

Devolution must be respected

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IN RESPONSE to a UK Government white paper on internal markets, the Farmers’ Union of Wales has stressed the importance of protecting Welsh farmers against unfair competition from other parts of the UK and countries across the globe, and that Welsh devolution must be respected.

In his introduction to the UK Internal Market White Paper, Alok Sharma MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, highlights how increasing differences between rules and standards applied by different Governments in the UK’s four nations after Brexit could cause market distortion, discrimination and unfair competition for businesses in a way not seen for hundreds of years.

The White Paper, therefore, proposes measures to prevent such impacts based on the principles of ‘non-discrimination’ and ‘mutual recognition’

FUW Head of Policy, Dr Nick Fenwick said: “We are glad the UK Government has woken up to the need to take this issue seriously as it has previously been kicked into the long grass because it is so politically contentious.”
Dr Fenwick said that the FUW had been highlighting the need to address this issue since the EU Referendum in 2016, and in July 2018 the FUW had published a detailed paper considering the matter entitled ‘Filling the Void – Steps towards a post-Brexit UK policy framework’.

“While we welcome the UK Government’s recognition of this issue, we are extremely concerned at the suggestion that rules could simply be dictated by London, rather than there being a means by which to reach agreement between UK Governments.”

Dr Fenwick said such a move could undermine devolution and work to the disadvantage of Welsh farmers.
“The consideration of such matters in a White Paper within months of the end of the Withdrawal Agreement period gives us very little time to hold proper detailed discussions and introduce the type of structures and bodies we truly need to make recommendations, enforce regulations, arbitrate on matters etc. in a way that is fair.”
“It also gives us very little time to sort out what are huge constitutional issues which also happen to be crucial to the running of Welsh businesses,” he added.

In response to the White Paper, the Union further stressed that while the UK Government is right to recognise the dangers of direct and indirect discrimination, unfair competition, market distortion and other issues that could arise within the GB/UK internal market, it should also recognise that the same issue exists across international borders.

“Given the current trade negotiations with the EU and USA, for example, the UK Government should also recognise the likelihood of such adverse impacts occurring as a result of inappropriate or ill-considered trade deals which expose us to different standards or unfair competition,” said Dr Fenwick.

“This is a particular concern with regard to agricultural produce produced to environmental, health and welfare, social and other standards that do not meet those required of UK producers, and subsidy and support regimes that differ significantly to those introduced in future in the UK’s four nations.”

At present, while significant differences between the UK and the EU is allowed under Single Market, Common Agricultural Policy and related rules, these are within strict boundaries aimed at minimising market distortion and unfair competition while recognising regional and national needs.

If a trade deal with the EU is reached, there is potential for market distortion and unfair competition for UK producers as a result of the fact that the EU will continue to pay farmers direct support, but Wales and England want to move over to environmental ‘public goods’ style payments – with many lobbying for farm payments to be cut altogether.

“The EU’s reaffirmed commitment to maintaining direct support for active farmers through CAP payments, coupled with a move in Wales and other parts of the UK to get rid of direct farm support in favour of environmental payments, would clearly introduce the kind of unfair competition the UK Government refers to in this paper.
“This danger is no different in principle to the dangers recognised in the Internal Markets White Paper, so also should be recognised by our Governments – not only in the context of unfair competition from the EU, our most important trading partner in terms of food, but also countries like the USA if we are to strike a deal with them.
“We need a trade deal with the EU to avoid massive damage to farms and other businesses, but we also need our governments to recognise the self inflicted damage that could be done by radically changing our own farm support systems while our main competitors twenty or thirty miles away over the sea continue with direct farm support,” he added.

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Farming

Wales can lead on net-zero farming

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NFU CYMRU hosted a farm visit for the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma MP, to demonstrate that Welsh farmers are well-placed to deliver on the industry’s net zero ambitions.

The event saw NFU Cymru launch its new document, which sets out that Welsh farmers are part of the solution to climate change.

NFU Cymru President John Davies presented the report to the Secretary of State, who also holds the role of nominated President for COP26, as part of the on farm meeting.

The visit was hosted by NFU Cymru Next Generation Group member Llŷr Jones, whose 1,600-acre sheep, beef and egg farm near Corwen also produces renewable energy to satisfy the farm’s energy needs, exporting the surplus power to the grid.

As part of his visit to Derwydd Farm, Mr Sharma was also able to learn about the scale of work carried out on the farm as part of Welsh Government’s Glastir agri-environment scheme, including creating habitats for wildlife, tree planting, protecting some 30 acres of peatland, hedgerow management and soil and grassland management.

During his visit, the BEIS Secretary planted an apple tree as an example of the environmental work the agricultural sector carries out to sequester carbon, while also providing food and aiding biodiversity.

Speaking after the visit, NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “By focussing on improving farming’s productive efficiency; improving land management and enhancing land use to capture more carbon; and boosting renewable energy and the wider bio-economy, Wales’ farmers will be able to play their part in addressing the issues brought about by climate change. By reducing carbon emissions in these ways farmers are in a strong position to achieve the industry’s goal of achieving net zero by 2040.

“I am thrilled that we were able to welcome the BEIS Secretary, Alok Sharma MP, on farm today to see Llŷr Jones’ exciting and impressive farming enterprise, which has carbon capture and renewable energy at its heart. Llŷr’s farm is just one of a wide network of farms across Wales who are harnessing innovation to reduce emissions and produce climate friendly food. These businesses are net zero leaders not just in the respect of farming, but in a wider business context.”

Alok Sharma, COP26 President and Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “I was very pleased to visit Llŷr Jones’ farm and see first-hand the actions being taken to mitigate climate change and support nature on their land.

“I welcome the NFU’s ambitious commitment to reach net zero by 2040, and I look forward to working across governments, business and civil society in the run up to COP26 to raise global commitments to reduce carbon emissions.”

NFU Cymru Next Generation Group member Llŷr Jones added: “I take great pride in the work we do to maintain and enhance the environment, encourage biodiversity and support the local community alongside my core role as a food producer.

“I was pleased to be able welcome the Secretary of State on farm today to show him how we’re always striving to positively influence the carbon impact of our business. I hope Mr Sharma enjoyed his visit to my north Wales hill farm and that what he has seen shows him that our industry has a vital role to play in the climate change challenge now and in the future.”

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Farming

Broadband must reach rural communities

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THE FUW has responded positively to news that there are plans to bring full fibre broadband to an additional three million homes and businesses in some of the UK’s most isolated rural communities, but stresses it must really reach them.

The connection to 3.2 million UK premises, which was given the go-ahead after an Ofcom consultation, is reported to be part of a £12bn investment by Openreach to build full fibre infrastructure to 20 million premises throughout the UK by the end of this decade.

Places set to benefit include Aberystwyth in west Wales, Millom in Cumbria, Thurso in north-east Scotland, and Ballycastle in County Antrim. Openreach is due to publish the full list of the 251 locations, referred to as Area 3, where it will build the new network. Ofcom has estimated there are 9.6 million homes and businesses situated in this final third of the UK.

Responding to the announcement, FUW Ceredigion county chairman Morys Ioan said: “The last few months have served as a stark example of how vital connectivity is. Our own Union staff, many of whom live in rural areas, have been working from home and we have continued to assist members with digital paperwork for their farm businesses. Without an internet connection this would not have been possible.

“It is really good news that this extra funding is being directed at rural communities but we must make sure that it really does go to those premises who currently are not benefitting from full fibre broadband.

“Our rural towns and villages have been left behind in the race for better and faster connectivity and it is critical for the competitiveness and viability of rural businesses, and the economy, that tangible improvements are made now.

“The FUW has stressed on many occasions that those without a connection cannot diversify their businesses, that they cannot support their children’s education and that they cannot connect readily with Government programmes for advice and support payments as they are mandated to do.”

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