The National Trust, which boasts 4.5million members, is battling a proposal to ban hunting — put forward by a tiny minority of activists
The headline on a recent story in the Observer reads “National Trust to fight membership over resolution to ban hunting”. Well, that’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it? No room for misunderstanding. The National Trust is at loggerheads with its membership, who want to ban hunting. The Observer — which is effectively the Sunday version of the Guardian — is much respected in certain circles, notably those that decry the naked bias of what they sneeringly term the “right-wing press”.
The first hint that all might not be what it seems comes in the Observer story’s “standfirst”. For those who don’t know, that’s the bit at the top of the story, a brief introduction. In this instance, it reads “Trustees are acting cynically, say activists who want to revoke all licences on National Trust land”.
Hmm. So it’s not the “membership” that the Trust is fighting, but an unspecified number of activists. That’s not exactly the same thing, is it?
The first sentence of the actual story states: “The board of the National Trust is to urge its members to vote against a landmark resolution at its forthcoming annual conference that would effectively ban all hunting with hounds on Trust land if passed.” A few sentences later, we get more context: “Dozens of Trust members, including the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, have endorsed a motion that will be debated at the annual meeting next month, that would revoke all licences allocated to hunts using Trust land.”
So there we have it. A few dozen activists — a tiny fraction of the National Trust’s 4.5million membership — are trying to push through a motion banning hunting. But the Trust’s board doesn’t think a ban is justified and is advising the membership against it. Instead, it is proposing a variety of new licensing measures, which are themselves unwelcome to hunters. Yet the Observer’s headline gives the impression that the Trust’s membership has risen in revolt against hunting.
I’m not blaming the journalist who wrote the story. The headline would have been the work of a sub-editor. We are allowed to speculate whether the Observer’s corporate mindset played a role in sanctioning a headline which, by any objective measure, gives the casual reader a distorted impression of the facts. I mean, regardless of how Trust members eventually vote at the AGM in October, the motion in question is the handiwork of a miniscule group of activists.
Further down the story, one of them is quoted as saying: “I don’t doubt that the majority of members would support this resolution, if they are only made aware.” That’s the nub of the matter. If only the Trust’s membership knew more about this motion, you see, they’d vote the right way. This is how a reputable broadsheet is used to recruit its readers to a righteous cause. There is nothing quite so illiberal as liberals on a mission to restrict freedom.
Of course, the left-wing media doesn’t have a monopoly on bias. It’s just that some media organisations are more open about it than others. The Observer is part of the Guardian Media Group, which makes much of the fact that it is owned by the Scott Trust Limited, which doesn’t interfere in editorial policy. This is true. Yet it is also beside the point. The bias of the Guardian Media Group isn’t imposed from outside. It springs from within.
“There is nothing quite so illiberal as liberals on a mission to restrict freedom”