The week before last there was copious coverage of driven grouse shooting before, on and after the inglorious 12th in the media – quite a lot of that was on BBC channels. This post is about how the BBC handled it and whether or not they were fair. I’d give the BBC only 5 out of 10 overall – but see what you think.
There is no doubt that the volume of coverage greatly aided the public awareness of the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and the importance of publicity cannot be underestimated.
Here is a broadly chronological, by time of broadcast, review of the BBC coverage of which I am aware and in some of which I took part.
Farming Today – early morning 11 August, BBC Radio 4
I have a low opinion of the integrity of Farming Today and that was further reduced by my experience of them in this case. Because of the possibility of being stitched up in the editing process I recorded all of the interview on my mobile phone as I sat in the BBC Radio Northampton studio talking to a far away interviewer and a far away Andrew Gilruth of GWCT. The transcript of what I said is reproduced here – I’m very glad I have the experience and the wit to have recorded the interview. Would you have thought to do the same?
The piece started with an incredibly sympathetic recording of a jolly visit to a grouse moor and then the edit of what I said allowed me c150 words to put the opposite case. I was shocked by the unfair and biased edit – and so glad I had recorded what was actually said.
I shall complain formally to the BBC over this and I will never again agree to do a recorded interview with Farming Today because I just do not trust them.
The World at One – didn’t happen, 11 August, BBC Radio 4
Andrew Gilruth and I were scheduled to do a rematch, live, on the Radio 4 flagship programme The World at One later that day. As I headed into London to get to the studio I got a phone call (c0930) from WatO (shouldn’t it be TWatO?) saying the piece had been dropped because we’d been on Farming Today. This was very irritating – I had already driven to Northampton, I’d already bought my train ticket, and I was looking forward to an unedited discussion in front of a large radio audience. I was told that WatO wouldn’t use us because the two us us had already been on. The BBC is not remotely joined up – no-one on Farming Today or on WatO had raised this possibility before – if they had I would have chosen WatO every time – a bigger audience, possibly a more sympathetic audience and a live unedited discussion! No contest!
The Today programme – 12 August, BBC Radio 4, Packham v Botham
This was prime time, prime audience stuff. The fact that Botham was halting and misleading can only have helped us get more signatures for our e-petition. Chris knows what he was talking about and got over a lot of good points – Botham attacked the RSPB and Chris Packham. Nick Robinson seemed overwhelmed by having two famous non-politicians at once on the programme and rather than let them slug it out, kept interrupting. Not great interview technique, particularly because he didn’t appear to know anything about the subject. And the BBC used the opportunity to air the whole business of Chris being outspoken about wildlife issues – this took up valuable time but will allow the BBC to tell the Countryside Alliance that these points were aired in front of a large audience (but it took time away from a debate on driven grouse shooting). But because Chris is a star, and Botham isn’t when it comes to wildlife (a former cricketing great of course), this was like gold dust for our e-petition.
BBC online news story – posted 12 August, corrected 15 August(?) and still there.
This is an online news story about the ructions over the Inglorious 12th – I wrote about it here because what appeared painted supporters of change as ‘animal rights activists’ (cf eco-zealots) and the shooting brigade (in whose number are wildlife criminals) as ‘countryside groups’.
All praise to Claire Marshall who commented on this blog and accepted responsibility (although it sounds that it wasn’t actually her fault) and got it changed online. But, as with Botham’s error over BTO surveys, the words once heard (or read) are rarely unheard (or unread) – the damage is done.
And the original words were used, as I wrote, to introduce me in several BBC local radio programmes – so they were probably used all over the place before being corrected and the corrected version was probably never uttered on air. As Claire commented ‘I accept this criticism as entirely valid. Late and lax editing‘.
BBC local radio programmes 11 and 12 August
I think I did five of these (York, Leeds, 3 Counties, Northampton and Cumbria). All were live, all were pretty easy really, although some had the unfortunate uncorrected words (see above) used to introduce the pieces. I don’t really have any complaints – the interviewer usually doesn’t know much about the subject (how could they?) and providing you sound interesting and keep talking you can get a lot of information out there. Radio York was the most challenging – and probably brought the best out of me. Radio Cumbria has quite a long interview with someone who makes money out of shooters, a short bit of me, and then a long piece of the Chair of the Moorland Association going on about money again which was a bit unbalanced, but hey! I’m not complaining. It was live and it wasn’t Farming Today.
Countryfile – 14 August – still on iplayer
Countryfile gave quite a lot of time to the issue of driven grouse shooting and covered it pretty well – again I have no complaints. Many at the Bird Fair said that they had enjoyed it and that it was a nice change to see Countryfile treating grouse shooting and moorland management as an issue rather than a stroll in a wildlife haven (see here and here for previous puff-jobs). And many said that it was good to be able to laugh whole-heartedly at Duncan Thomas and to see Andrew Gilruth looking a bit uncertain and shifty on TV. Well, at least they turned up for this unlike at the Bird Fair.
It’s difficult to know whether the long conversations I had with the researcher on the programme shifted the Countryfile position from what seemed to be ‘aren’t you a load of nutters attacking a traditional money earning country pursuit’ to its eventual neutral position of ‘there’s quite a lot to get your head round here’ – but I think it probably did. The fact that the said researcher had a copy of Inglorious and I could keep saying ‘look at page X’ didn’t do our case any harm either.
Hen Harrier tagging at Geltsdale on BBC Radio 4 PM and TV 6 o’clock news – 18 August
I didn’t see the TV piece and I only caught some of the radio piece so I can’t really say – although others have said that it couldn’t have been better, so maybe the moorland shooting community are moaning like hell about it – haven’t noticed that though.
So, things got better and better as the coverage went on – if it had stopped at that awful Farming Today programme then I would still be livid.
The BBC got a grouse moor owner’s wife to review their countryside coverage a few years ago (what she wrote, who she is) and I think that review has coloured BBC coverage of shooting ever since. In addition, the BBC has very few journalists who know much about the issues of nature conservation and the environment. Their idea of balance is letting everyone have the same amount of time – there is little challenge of falsehoods or errors. That is hardly balance in the real world – letting one side tell the truth and giving the other side the same amount of time to lie (I exaggerate to make the point and I hope you get the point). It is not the job of programme makers to make everyone look good, whether what they say is correct or incorrect. That’s why the more live programmes there are, particularly with feisty speakers like Chris Packham (and I guess myself) the better.
The BBC needs to raise its game generally on environmental matters – it isn’t doing well enough and it should do much better. Overall, on the coverage discussed above, I would have to give the BBC 10 out of 10 for the amount of coverage – but then that’s because our e-petition was making the news (and that wasn’t an accident). But I would only give the BBC 5 out of 10 for the way they covered the issues – Farming Today was the lowest point and Countryfile was the highest.