Words are important

Just a minor quibble.

I did several radio interviews last week and I noticed that I kept being introduced with the same words – later I discovered that they came, basically from this BBC news story by Claire Marshall.

The introduction on a series of BBC local radio stations often started by saying that animal rights activists were saying one thing and countryside groups were saying something different.

This is misleading, but is just the type of thing that shooters say, because those opposing driven grouse shooting or at least wanting change are not all animal rights activists (see Chris Packham saying so a week earlier at Rainham Marshes Hen Harrier Day).  The term ‘animal rights activist’ does not apply to me – and I started the petition!  I know a few animal rights activists who wouldn’t welcome me being counted in their number.

And countryside groups? The Caravan Club? The Ramblers? The RSPB?

What was done here, I’m not saying deliberately, was to define one side of the argument as a small group of agitators and the other side of the debate as a broad church of different interests. Whereas I think we can argue about whether it is the opposite way around.

I think the RSPB and Green Party, and the rest of us deserve to be called conservationists and/or environmentalists or something which encompasses our much broader concerns. Whereas the countryside groups are actually ‘killing things in the countryside groups’ in the main. It was wrong, and it gave a false impression of the truth.

I winced once or twice when I heard this but time on the radio is precious and you can’t spend all your time correcting the BBC’s errors, but when Radio Leeds described the Hebden Bridge protestors as animal rights activists (they did!) I did say ‘Hang on – these people are protesting against their homes and businesses being flooded because of unsustainable grouse moor management. That’s not an animal right issue’ (or something like that) and the presenter, who would just have been reading out the script, took it very well and we had an excellent chat about the issues after that.

Words are important as they frame the discussion and the thoughts we have. The BBC did a poor job of choosing the right words for this issue at the end of last week – they used the words favoured by the Countryside Alliance rather than the ones that would have been accurate.

We still have an e-petition that is open to animal rights activists to sign, and anyone else – there are over 108,000 of us – that’s pretty active!


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28 Replies to “Words are important”

  1. You're absolutely right. Words can be critical in a campaign like this. The pro shooting lobby want to portray this as a minority movement, supported by eccentric activists whom neutrals would struggle to identify with.

    Wider support for this campaign means attracting large numbers of 'ordinary people who care about wildlife and the countryside'. Not least all those people who enjoy days out in national parks and on nature reserves. Many of these would not label themselves as conservationists or environmentalists.

    I'd be wary of using labels that may exclude a large constituency of natural sympathisers.

  2. Long ago I had death threats from animal rights activists, so I don't take kindly to being called one. "Countryside groups" vs terrorists is not in anyway a fair characterisation of the Hen Harrier issue, and the way the BBC have called us "Animal Rights" (the softer nauseating version that gets used instead of conservationists is "animal lovers") is downright objectionable. Incidentally we also shouldn't allow the shooters to corner the countryside brand - I'm country born and bred, not a townie, so don't allow the BBC to dismiss my (our) views by doing what the London PR agents want and labelling me (us) as one. They're pro-shooting groups, or perhaps if generous "Country Sports" enthusiasts.

    Mark, your response has been very measured but given the professionalism of the shooter's PR machine (YFTB etc) please don't allow the BBC to get away with this again, and please demand that they correct the offending source article on their website. At best they're showing their ignorance, at worst they're being used, either way their duty to be impartial requires that they do better. As you say, how the debate is framed matters very much indeed, and we'll lose if we continue to allow the London PR consultants to set the terms of media engagement.

  3. Yes, the framing of the debate like that, and the words used are very important. Like we use pet, livestock, wild animal, vermin, songbird etc as words just for animals, but they imply very different things. cf 'would you eat an alien?'.

  4. I wondered, as I watched the Countryfile package, how much editing had been done and how the message had been shaped. The BBC are real masters at weasel(no insult meant to real weasels intended) words. I might be an old conspiracy theorist but I imagine the words in any BBC report are chosen with care. Over time a pattern tends to emerge. I would keep on recording your side of any debate Mark if I were you.

  5. Words are extremely important. No doubt the shooters are (or very soon will be!) employing PR consultants who understand this very well and take it very seriously. I have spent whole days in meetings discussing the wording of one single sentence! Often, expensive market research is done just to find out which word or phrase evokes the most positive response.
    You should think carefully about how you want to describe your supporters in different situations, and work out beforehand what you are going to use. Then it just takes a second to say 'We are countryside lovers/users/enthusiasts...' or whatever it may be, and it can set the tone for the rest of the interview or article.

  6. I wonder whether the BBC is coming under indue influence ? They know better than his, so why are they doing it ?

  7. Since you're on it Mark Avery, I've noticed that you regularly use the word 'shooters' (above and elsewhere) when referring to perfectly law abiding shooting people - the same word the US media uses when describing atrocious mass killings. It might help for both sides to be referred to as 'conservationists', as is by the way the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust - another body you try to undermine.

    1. M Bebby - I'll certainly consider other terms but conservationists won't be one of them.

      Try again.

      The commonest definition of 'shooter' appears to be 'one who shoots' - that's hardly surprising is it?

      1. oh but i think 'shooter' is a deliberate attempt on your to smear law abiding people who disagree with you. I shall continue to call you an activist then.

        1. M Bebby....I'd love to find a shooting estate which supports good populations of hen harriers, peregrines etc, and will accept lower yields of red grouse as a trade-off. Shooting folk themselves use the term 'shooter' to describe themselves and their friends. So even if Mark is using the work 'shooter' to somehow smear shooters I doubt it would have much effect.

          Those engaged in illegal killing of legally protected wildlife are acting illegally, you know, breaking the law, although you may not agree with me. Those who conduct grouse moor management which leads to increased downstream flood risk may well not be breaking anything other than European and domestic wildlife law, but they're destroying lives and businesses downstream. You may disagree.

    2. Not so fast Mark, I think M Bebby may be on to something. I notice that both the US & UK media constantly refer to any gun massacre as a "shooting" - a clear attempt to slur the 'Shooting Times' and its readers.

    3. How about 'perfectly law abiding shooting people'? Would that do? I'm willing to write that every time I consider using the word 'shooter' for people who shoot.

      1. In action; http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4ntd6e_bbc-radio-sheffield-howard-pressman-8aug16-grouse-shooting-is-destroying-wildlife-habitat-flooding-t_animals

        Don't mention Paul 'And, Err, Um' Dunn, maybe?

        1. Works for me, Edward, glad I have engaged your curiosity. He seem's to be doing well for himself, studying hard at university, always good to see someone turn their life around. If only we could entice all those convicted gamekeepers to do something more productive with the rest of their lives; I for one will wholeheartedly support any rehabilitation schemes offered once driven grouse shooting is banned.

  8. A textbook example of moving the Overton Window...


  9. so they're countryside groups, rather than shooting target manufacturers, and the people who require them to actually work within the law are animal rights activists then.
    demonstrates a somewhat twisted view of the facts

  10. I notice that the pro-shooting organisations always neglect to include the word "driven" in their press releases and other missives about the e-petition. It appears to be a deliberate ploy to scaremonger and up the ante (ha!) among their followers.

  11. This cunning plan by the Countryside alliance to have its words used is clearly working brilliantly. Petition now past 109,100 for real this time just 24 hours after the bot incident.

  12. I accept this criticism as entirely valid. Late and lax editing - but in the end it is my piece. In my defence here is my radio 4 bulletin script from that same day:

    (Today is the 'Glorious Twelfth' - the official start of the grouse shooting season. However more than 80 thousand people have signed an online petition to call for a ban on the pursuit.
    Conservationists say moorland gamekeepers kill critically endangered hen harriers to preserve their grouse stocks.
    Countryside groups and the government argue that the sport is a legitimate activity that benefits the rural economy and boosts other bird numbers.)


    This debate inspires as much vitriol among rural affairs watchers as fox hunting. How should the vast moorland estates of northern England and Scotland be managed?

    The RSPB and other conservation groups say gamekeepers act solely for the benefit of one species: people can pay thousands of pounds for the opportunity to shoot grouse.

    Any threats like raptors and foxes are killed. This, they say is why there are only three breeding pairs of hen harriers left in England.

    More than 80 thousand people agree and have signed the online petition to ban the pursuit.

    However the government and countryside groups such as the Countryside Alliance say it is a legitimate sport that benefits the rural economy.

    They claim it also helps other birds: keeping fox numbers down means that lapwings, curlews and golden plovers can flourish.

      1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-37049675 - the article now says 'conservationists' not 'animal rights activists'. Yay! Claire if that was you then good job - although it may be a few days old and already have been seen by many people, I imagine it is still the most recent article on the subject on the BBC news website.

  13. It would be nice if the shooters (oops! sorry. Recreational degraders of our natural heritage) refrained from spouting the subjective "vermin" when describing any species that doesn't happen to fit in with their particular distorted ecological viewpoint. The word has no scientific definition, and is indicative of a baseless argument. Pretty much on a par with the rest of their guff!


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