Stephen Jardine: Why are BBC promoting KFC?

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THERE was a time when advertising on the BBC was as forbidden as punching a producer because he didn’t fetch your dinner.

The ban went a long way. Branded products had to be clumsily covered up and generations of Blue Peter presenters had to talk about sticky tape rather than Sellotape. What a long way we’ve come.

Next Wednesday a new series Billion Dollar Chicken Shop starts on BBC One. The three-part observational documentary promises to “lift the bucket” on the world of KFC.

You may have seen the trailer promoting the show. I caught it twice in just one evening, featuring the following interview clips.

“I’ve never tasted anything like it”, “You just want to keep eating chicken until there is no chicken left” and inside a giant shed packed with poultry, “I wouldn’t mind being a chicken in here”.

This begs the question, why on earth is our national public service broadcaster giving three hours of prime time exposure to a fast food brand to peddle their wares?.

The BBC will claim Billion Dollar Chicken Shop is a warts and all documentary that shows the brand for good and bad. However even if that is the case, it’s not the flavour we get from the promo that has been plugging the KFC brand on the BBC virtually every night this week.

The BBC’s own editorial guidelines are very clear on the subject. Section 4:3 on product prominence says the following: “We need to be able to reflect the real world and this will involve referring to commercial products, organisations and services in our output.

“However, we must avoid any undue prominence of products or services. To achieve this we must ensure that references are not unduly prominent and are editorially justified and we must take particular care to minimise product references in output designed to appeal to children”.

The production notes for the series claim cameras were given “unique top to bottom access”. From my own 20 years working in television I can confirm that means they went exactly where KFC wanted them to go.

All of this is nice window dressing for the KFC brand which down the years has been in trouble for everything from animal welfare to the damage done to the Indonesian rain forest by the packaging they use. And that’s before we think about the health implications of the 1,270 calories in a KFC Mighty Bucket for one.

If a corporation wants to make and sell such food, that’s just business. If people want to buy and eat such food, that’s just life.

But if our public service broadcaster thinks the best use of prime time is to give a platform to a fast food brand, then they have more to worry about than just the future of Jeremy Clarkson.

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