The Countryside Alliance wants to stand up for freedom of speech when it’s their freedom to promote hunting that is at risk of being curtailed. But it is very happy to try and close down debate that it doesn’t like. I wrote about these double standards yesterday .
Previously The Countryside Alliance also sought to punish a newspaper which had published a letter it didn’t like, by complaining to the Press Complaints Commission. The PCC werent overly impressed by the CA’s complaint and the newspaper editor complained that he had been bullied by the CA. Tim Bonner, now CEO of the Countryside Alliance, was the complainant then, back in 2004.
The CA’s position today is that Packham has transgressed the BBC Editorial guidelines, but they then go on to be highly selective in the sections they choose to apply, or quote in their publicity.
The guidelines state explicitly how the BBC values personal views on controversial subjects. What the CA has fastened onto is the statement
“It is not normally appropriate for BBC staff or for regular BBC presenters or reporters associated with news or public policy related programmes to present personal view programmes on controversial subjects.”
This raises a number of questions:
Is Chris Packham BBC staff? No, I don’t think so – I would imagine he is contracted in to present shows such as Springwatch.
This has been confirmed today by the BBC quoted in the Mirror: “Chris Packham is a scientist and author in his own right and is not solely employed by the BBC.”
Even if Packham was regarded as BBC staff, does writing in BBC Wildlife Magazine equate to being “associated with news or public policy-related programmes” ? I suppose if you squinted and looked through a small crack between your fingers you might relate Springwatch to public policy – but actually it’s a farcical notion. Springwatch is entertainment and education of the mildest most apolitical form. Perhaps there are hidden revolutionary cyphers in World’s weirdest events.
Is writing a personal opinion column in BBC Wildlife Magazine the same as presenting a “personal view programme” – again I don’t see how the two can be compared.
Again, this has been confirmed by the BBC today, who stated:
“If Chris Packham wishes to express his personal views outside of his employment on BBC Natural History programmes, he is entitled to do so.”
Evidently the CA’s complaint fails to pass the tests set out in the BBC’s own guidelines – and they must know that. Which leaves only one possibility – as Nick Milton has pointed out, CA has seen an opportunity to attack the BBC and smear Packham, in the hope they can put enough pressure on for someone at the Beeb to cave in.
Tim Bonner, new CEO at the Alliance is politically well-connected – he was a former Tory Councillor and parliamentary candidate and has worked closely with several current of former Tory MPs and ministers.
No doubt lunches will be being held with Defra and DCMS spads this week.