MPs and Peers question BBC on how the Corporation sees and covers rugby league
Three of the most senior people involved in BBC sport visited the Palace of Westminster to discuss rugby league. BBC Trust Chairman Rona Fairhead OBE, Head of BBC Head of Sport Barbara Slater OBE, and BBC TV Sport Editor Alastair McIntyre spoke to the Parliamentary Rugby League Group about the role and strategy the organisation takes in covering rugby league, and how the corporation views the sport.
The meeting looked at the coverage of rugby league by the BBC across all media. A short video was shown to provide an overview of BBC coverage, which seeks to engage as wide an audience as possible with the game. In particular, the discussion focused on the BBC’s innovative approach, including the use of player mics, which has allowed the game to reach a far greater audience across a variety of media platforms.
As well as praising the work of the BBC Rugby League team and BBC Sport’s clear commitment to rugby league, it was also raised how much correspondence the Group receives on the BBC’s coverage of the game across all its platforms, noting that it is far more than any other single subject.
The Trust, led by Cumbrian-born Fairhead, is the governing body of the BBC, charged with ensuring the BBC delivers its mission to inform, educate and entertain. It is the final arbiter on complaints made to the BBC. Specific complaints were raised during the meeting which focused on missing coverage of major national rugby league events in news broadcasts across the corporation, the use of “rugby” when they mean rugby union and the attitude of presenters on flagship radio programme Today. The Group will ensure those complaints, and others, are passed to Fairhead’s office.
The Group welcomed news that a dedicated rugby league correspondent will be employed by the BBC from 2017 and it is hoped that with the new position, omissions on news programmes and online will ensure the game receives the recognition it deserves and both codes of rugby are referred to appropriately.
Thanking the speakers after what was a passionate meeting, Greg Mulholland said:
“On behalf of the Group, I was very pleased Rona Fairhead and Barbara Slater agreed to speak to us; rugby league and the BBC have been synonymous over the years and we thank Barbara and her team for their ongoing work. The BBC rugby league team do a fantastic job and are hugely passionate about what they do. It was great to hear from Alastair in more detail about the way they cover rugby league and the innovations that have introduced in coverage.
“However, as Members made clear in the meeting, we cannot help but be disappointed in some ways the game is treated within the corporation outside of BBC Sport, particular across BBC news and online. Amongst London based news editors there is clearly an institutional blind eye to rugby league which is one of the most popular team sports in the country. On one particularly stark example the recent England victory over New Zealand was not even mentioned in a news bulletin, which is both bizarre and disgraceful.
The meeting was therefore a very useful opportunity for this and specific issues to be raised before the Chairman of the BBC Trust to understand the depth of feeling across the game and how this might be addressed.”
“We recognise there are challenges in the broadcast and news market, but when you consider the scale of rugby league in the UK all we ask is for our sport to get an appropriate level of coverage. We are very grateful to Rona, Barbara and Alastair for their time and we look forward to working with them and the BBC to the benefit of rugby league”.