COUNTRYSIDE ALLIANCE COMMENT
The BBC Trust has released its ‘findings’ after an investigation into Chris Packham’s potential breach of editorial guidelines. Tim discusses the disappointing but laughably predictable result
Over a year ago I wrote about an article Chris Packham wrote for BBC Wildlife magazine in which, amongst other things, he branded everyone involved in hunting, shooting and wildlife management ‘the nasty brigade’. He had a record for this sort of behaviour, having previously described farmers involved in the government’s badger cull trials as “brutalist thugs, liars and frauds”. In the article, I argued that Chris Packham, described by himself and everyone else as a ‘BBC presenter’, was abusing the position given to him by the state broadcaster and was clearly in breach of the BBC editorial guidelines.
However, I also warned that once we had filed the complaint to the BBC, there would be the usual excuses about contracted employees, and how Chris Packham was not presenting ‘at the moment’.
The BBC went one step further by rejecting the complaint before it was even made by stating in the media that Mr Packham was “entitled” to express views outside of his employment on BBC natural history programmes. After both the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and ourselves lodged appeals on the BBC’s rejection, it was left to the BBC Trust to issue a response, which they diligently did at the end of September.
The BBC Trust’s ‘finding’ is extraordinary only in that it is such a blatant whitewash as to be risible. It ruled that “the amount of time contracted and the amount of time on air did not make Mr Packham a ‘regular’ BBC Presenter”, even though he worked on BBC programmes for a registered 119 days, or well over half the working year, in 2015. This, apparently, means he is a ‘recurrent’ BBC Presenter not a ‘regular’ one.
Furthermore, the Trust decided that Mr Packham was not “associated with public policy broadcasting” anyway because an interview with campaigner George Monbiot about the future of farming in the uplands and rewilding, for example, was an “academic”, not a “policy” discussion. So it seems that, as Mr Packham is not a BBC Presenter at all, let alone one associated with public policy, he is free to take the BBC’s money and use their publicity, while abusing whoever he likes, which mostly seems to be the shooting community.
I have often mentioned the fact that we are lucky to live in a liberal democracy where people are able to hold any number of bizarre views. There is no issue with people voicing such opinions, but using the position granted by a public service broadcaster to promote an ever more extreme agenda is a different thing entirely. Either the BBC has rules and applies them, or has
‘So it seems that, as Mr Packham is not a BBC presenter at all, he is free to use the BBC’s publicity while abusing whoever he likes’
no rules at all. What is entirely unacceptable is a perverse interpretation of those rules to protect its ‘talent’.
The Countryside Alliance (CA) feels strongly that the BBC should provide a fair and impartial service for all its customers, for we understand it is an issue close to the heart of many of our members. For this reason we held a debate on the fairness of the BBC at the recent Conservative Conference in Birmingham. It was a heavily attended debate with strong views being pressed by the panel, which included the MP for North Devon, Peter Heaton-Jones, and Mark Hedges, editor of Country Life magazine. Throughout the debate it was judged that the BBC is overly “squeamish” about nature and is “underserving” the countryside. Throughout the event there was a continual urge for the BBC to properly represent the rural community, something that the CA continues to lobby for.
Sadly, the findings from the debate, and the Chris Packham debacle, shows that the BBC Trust has comprehensively failed to address the concerns raised two years ago in its own review into rural coverage, which found that the BBC has a “metropolitan bias”. The government has now announced plans, which we welcome, to abolish the BBC Trust and move its regulatory role to Ofcom, and last week in a debate about the renewal of the BBC Charter, culture minister Matthew Hancock also said the government’s plans “made it clear that impartiality and accuracy are absolutely central to the future role of the BBC”. We will hold him, and the BBC, to that commitment.
Farmers involved in the government’s badger cull trials were described as “brutalist thugs, liars and frauds” by Chris Packham