Me­dia mine­field

Dar­ren Lin­ton says on open­ing week­end ev­ery Duck Sea­son there is a bat­tle played out, but it isn't the one you are prob­a­bly think­ing of.

Field and Game - - Media Minefield -

Sure, hunters and pro­test­ers min­gle in the water with the for­mer try­ing to legally hunt and the lat­ter do­ing what­ever they can to cause dis­rup­tion, but this isn't the main game.

The real bat­tle is for hearts and minds and, as you will see, money.

This year, the Coali­tion Against Duck Shoot­ing (CADS) be­came the mi­nor player on the wet­lands as Laurie Levy sat out the week­end cour­tesy of a court-im­posed ban. An­i­mals Aus­tralia, a much more nim­ble and savvy or­gan­i­sa­tion, took the lead, part­nered by the RSPCA.

Th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions have enor­mous reach, which is im­por­tant given that me­dia in­ter­est in the wet­land wars seems to be wan­ing. Fewer me­dia, par­tic­u­larly com­mer­cial tele­vi­sion, were present at Lake Bur­rum­beet near Bal­larat which, with the sud­den clo­sure of Lake El­iz­a­beth the evening be­fore, be­came the fo­cus for pro­test­ers and so called “res­cuers”.

The ab­sence of a large me­dia pres­ence cre­ated a vac­uum that was quickly filled by An­i­mals Aus­tralia, which en­gaged its own film crew. So­cial me­dia also played a big role and pro­vided a plat­form for op­po­nents of duck hunt­ing to post with­out re­straint.

I've worked in jour­nal­ism for more than 30 years and it is ev­i­dent that 2016 marked a low point for the me­dia in­dus­try.

Ma­te­rial put for­ward by An­i­mals Aus­tralia made it to news pages, web­sites and tele­vi­sion screens, un­fet­tered and un­chal­lenged. The role of the me­dia is al­ways to present both sides of the story with­out bias, yet the man­aged to run a story that con­tained two im­ages of hunters but no com­ment from Field & Game Aus­tralia or any other or­gan­i­sa­tion to chal­lenge the ac­cepted commentary of An­i­mals Aus­tralia and CADS. Across main­stream me­dia this was a fa­mil­iar pat­tern but equally dis­turb­ing was the gen­eral ac­cep­tance of claims made about “in­jured” or “res­cued” wildlife and “aban­doned” game birds. Di­min­ish­ing reach and rev­enue for legacy me­dia has re­sulted in sig­nif­i­cant >>

>> re­dun­dan­cies across the in­dus­try and the con­se­quence is that fewer re­sources are avail­able and jour­nal­ists have be­come time poor. Me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions are more in­clined than ever to take in “free” or spon­sored con­tent to fill the void.

Of­ten there is lit­tle time in the fran­tic 24/7 news cy­cle to cast a skep­ti­cal, ques­tion­ing eye over footage or to test the claims that are made.

Ac­tivists make the claim they res­cued in­jured or stressed wildlife from hunt­ing ar­eas: cue vi­sion of pro­test­ers car­ry­ing a swan from the water.

The case of the swan re­cov­ered from Lake Bur­rum­beet by CADS is one worth look­ing at more closely.

Swans are not a game bird and a hunter would have to be near blind to make the mis­take of pulling the trig­ger, yet here is a swan be­ing pa­raded as a ca­su­alty of hunt­ing.

This is where it gets tricky be­cause it is the ab­sence of a claim rather than the pres­ence of one that causes con­ster­na­tion.

Here's what RSPCA said about the swan on Face­book: “Last week­end, we vis­ited Lake Bur­rum­beet near Bal­larat where the 2016 duck shoot­ing sea­son com­menced. “We set up a mo­bile vet clinic to help treat the wa­ter­birds that were in­jured. “Not only were we treat­ing ducks who (sic) had been shot, but not killed, just left there in pain to suf­fer with bro­ken wings, bro­ken legs, chest wounds, ab­dom­i­nal wounds, head wounds, and more, we were treat­ing birds that were sup­posed to be pro­tected. Birds that were sup­posed to be safe.

“Even if a bird is not di­rectly shot, it can still fall vic­tim to duck shoot­ing sea­son. Did you know that swans are highly sus­cep­ti­ble to dy­ing of shock? The con­stant sound of gun­fire and stress on the water bat­tle­field is not a safe en­vi­ron­ment to a swan's health and well­be­ing.

They may not be shot, but they will still suf­fer. Not all will sur­vive.”

Was the swan shot? No; some­thing RSPCA cleared up in a later com­ment.

RSPCA Vic­to­ria: “We never said this swan was shot. Not once since we've been post­ing and tweet­ing since it was found have we said that.”

True, but they never said it wasn't ei­ther, es­pe­cially af­ter de­tail­ing the “bro­ken wings, bro­ken legs, chest wounds, ab­dom­i­nal wounds, head wounds, and more” they were see­ing at their mo­bile vet clinic. It's worth go­ing back to the birth of the “swan story” and the photo posted by CADS, which was la­belled clearly, “black swan falls vic­tim to duck shoot­ing cru­elty”. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing CADS post read: “Just hours into the duck shoot­ing sea­son, a swan was taken into the mo­bile vet clinic. Sadly, they did not sur­vive. And shoot­ers say they can be trusted not to in­jure pro­tected species. What a joke.”

That state­ment was ei­ther de­lib­er­ately de­cep­tive or CADS wrongly be­lieved the swan had been shot. Ei­ther way, in the real bat­tle for hearts and minds, it was a pow­er­ful im­age that suited the ul­ti­mate aim stated in bold cap­i­tals be­low.

TAKE AC­TION / DO­NATE / SIGN UP This is an im­por­tant point best il­lus­trated by the slick and mis­lead­ing video pro­duced by An­i­mals Aus­tralia.

It opens with a warn­ing that “this in­ves­ti­ga­tion footage con­tains some dis­tress­ing im­ages” and is ti­tled “Vic La­bor's 2016 duck slaugh­ter — open­ing week­end”.

There is no in­ves­ti­ga­tion; it is an at­tempt to shame politi­cians by as­so­ci­at­ing them with “dis­tress­ing im­ages”. The mu­sic is sad and heavy, the im­ages are pre­sented as dis­turb­ing but the most “shock­ing” it gets is show­ing hunters re­triev­ing and dis­patch­ing wounded birds, which con­tin­ued to twitch af­ter death.

The op­po­nents of duck hunt­ing can't have it both ways. They can't on the one hand ac­cuse hunters of fail­ing to col­lect shot game birds while at the same time mis­rep­re­sent­ing ev­i­dence of them do­ing so as fur­ther ev­i­dence of cru­elty.

While we're on the sub­ject of an­i­mal wel­fare, it is worth re­flect­ing on some of the many videos posted by protest groups.

The RSPCA pub­lished a num­ber of videos that were dis­tress­ing, par­tic­u­larly to hunters, of res­cued wounded game birds on the op­er­at­ing ta­ble in the mo­bile vet­eri­nary clinic set up a long way from the shores of Lake Bur­rum­beet.

An eth­i­cal hunter aims for a clean kill but will re­cover and quickly, and hu­manely, dis­patch any wounded bird.

A “res­cuer” will pluck a wounded bird from the water and wade to shore cradling their catch, pos­ing for pho­tos and think­ing of ways to de­scribe the crea­ture as “ter­ri­fied” or “brave”. The bird is suf­fer­ing through this process and the long walk to the vet clinic where it be­comes the sub­ject of more “dis­turb­ing” pho­tos and video to be fed out to so­cial me­dia.

The most dis­tress­ing video has the ac­com­pa­ny­ing words from RSPCA Vic­to­ria: “This poor duck was brought in from the lake with a bro­ken leg and sev­eral shrap­nel wounds around her head, wings and pelvis. She is in pain and the sever­ity of her wounds means that the most hu­mane thing to do is end her suf­fer­ing and put her to sleep.”

The fact that didn't oc­cur in the water by the “trained res­cuer” is shame­ful. RSPCA is an an­i­mal wel­fare or­gan­i­sa­tion yet it has al­lowed its obli­ga­tion for eth­i­cal and hu­mane treat­ment of an­i­mals to play se­cond fid­dle to its po­lit­i­cal agenda and thirst for pub­lic­ity.

The duck writhing on the ta­ble in ob­vi­ous dis­tress is one of the worst im­ages to emerge from the open­ing week­end. If a hunter had reached the duck first, its suf­fer­ing would have ended and it would have been paid the re­spect of be­ing utilised as food for the ta­ble.

Be­cause a res­cuer found the duck first its suf­fer­ing was pro­longed as it be­came a poster child for a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign and its car­cass prob­a­bly ended up be­ing dumped on the steps of the Vic­to­rian Par­lia­ment in an at­tempt to shame a Gov­ern­ment that sup­ports le­git­i­mate, eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able hunt­ing.

All this oc­curred while starv­ing horses, re­ported to au­thor­i­ties by concerned res­i­dents, con­tin­ued to die on a prop­erty on the out­skirts of Mel­bourne.

It's not the politi­cians or the hunters who should be ashamed.

Screen grabs from RSPCA videos posted to so­cial me­dia on open­ing week­end

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