Where’s the evidence?
Field & Game Australia has lodged a formal complaint with Ad Standards over a regional television campaign making outlandish and unsubstantiated claims about duck hunting, but while we wait for action the damage is already being done.
Both commercials are anti-hunting with the intent of shifting public sentiment in regional Victoria against duck hunting, a legal practice supported by legislation engaged in by 25 646 people who hold appropriate accreditation (Game Management Authority licence data 2016).
Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting and Animals Australia can hide behind the label of ‘political’ advertising where currently there is no requirement for it to be factual.
While the ads clearly lobby for a political outcome, the methodology is not just lacking in factually or evidentially, it risks reputational and economic damage to FGA and its 18 000 members.
The commercials vilify hunters, responsible and ethical hunting practice and deliberately mislead or deceive with statements like; • “You see the environment you live in get
degraded, it hurts, I feel it in the guts.” • “Shooting impacts every aspect of my business, I can’t really harvest comfortably the plants on my property without being shot at,” and • “Their guns can reach us and this is our land.” While the campaign is about stopping duck hunting, the ads are not about ducks, they are about hunters who they shamefully portray as a danger to the public (including scaring children) and the environment.
Despite the seriousness of these claims, they have been picked up and repeated in newspaper articles without any attempt to substantiate or verify the claims.
A Wimmera Mail Times article (May 8, 2018) on the advertising campaign ran five quotes from an “organisation spokesperson” without requiring they were identified and, typically, the claims were not challenged and no alternative view was sought.
The spokesperson gave a hint as to the need for anonymity. “It’s a huge thing for us to speak out in these ads — knowing the shooting lobby will inevitably target us — but we are sick of being the hidden victims of duck shooting.”
While FGA’S complaint is being determined, the commercials continue to be aired and the likely outcome is that by the time any action is taken, the campaign will have run its course.
The Ad Standards complaint process requires attention. Currently, there is no legal requirement for the content of political advertising to be factually correct.
This may work for politicians and political parties who’s claims are frequently tested because the participants are regularly available to be scrutinised by their opposition, their electorate, and the media but it doesn’t work for ideologically driven activists who will sink to any depth to get their way.
Politicians have to defend their position, but Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting can remain anonymous and the damaging and factually derelict claims they make face no scrutiny.
Equally concerning for FGA is the following line from the Pegasus Economics Assessment of the GMA’S compliance and enforcement function 2017 under the heading consultation; “In addition, Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting contacted the project team and provided useful insights on their experience of the regulator.”
As tennis great, John Mcenroe once said, “You cannot be serious?”