Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:

On Monday morning cricketing legend Sir Ian Botham was invited onto BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast to talk about his support for the Country Food Trust which had been highlighted in the previous day’s Sunday Times. Sir Ian is donating 10,000 pheasants and £40,000 in aid of the Country Food Trust’s efforts to feed people living in poverty and the BBC asked him to appear on their programme to discuss the project.

What happened next was quite extraordinary. It was an indictment of the BBC’s integrity and it raises significant questions about the BBC’s engagement with the animal rights agenda as promoted by its own presenter Chris Packham amongst others.

Sir Ian was asked one, solitary question about the Country Food Trust, with a quick follow-up to clarify whether it was a commercial operation. From there every question presenter Rachel Burden asked got further and further away from the subject Sir Ian had been asked on the programme to talk about. The questions fixated on “killing animals for sport”, raised vague allegations of “appalling” treatment and unspecified diseases, before bringing up the hunting of entirely unrelated species such as grouse and even elephants and lions.

It was an ambush. Sir Ian had been asked to appear on the BBC to discuss the work of a charity and instead found himself having to answer a barrage of entirely unrelated questions for which he had no opportunity to prepare. What can possibly have happened to BBC editorial rigor to allow such a blunder (and such a breach of BBC Editorial Guidelines) to occur?

There is a clue to be found in the line of questioning put to Sir Ian. Every issue raised was unrelated to the work of the Country Food Trust but was directly related to the very public animal rights campaigning of Burden’s fellow BBC presenter Chris Packham.

The BBC have told us time and again that Chris Packham is not a BBC presenter, that the BBC’s guidelines do not apply to him and his influence has nothing to do with the BBC’s current affairs broadcasting. Yet here we have an obvious example of BBC current affairs broadcasting being used to promote the full anti-shooting agenda as promoted by Chris Packham.

Since the ludicrous ruling by the BBC Trust that Chris Packham is not a BBC presenter and is therefore not subject to its editorial guidelines it seems to have lost any semblance of control over his actions. His recent attack on Ilkley Moor, a grouse moor that has won a Purdey Award for conservation excellence and has hosted a Countryside Alliance walk for ramblers to show off its conservation successes, was echoed across four different media outlets only because of the platform the BBC provide him.

On the Glorious 12th Chris Packham will take his animal rights activism to new heights as he leads a march on Westminster seeking to ban everything from badger culls to grouse shooting to legal hunting. The impact of this protest, which would otherwise go almost unnoticed, will be amplified across the media by his presence. By continuing to hire him to front its shows, the BBC is taking sides against the working countryside.

We will not let this lie. Our previous complaints over the continued hiring of Chris Packham have been met with mealy-mouthed excuses from the BBC Trust, but the dreadful interview with Sir Ian Botham and Chris Packham’s ever-intensifying campaigns against the hunting, shooting and farming communities are clear evidence of an institutional prejudice against rural people in some parts of the corporation. If the BBC refuses to regulate itself then its reputation will be dragged down just like those of other once great institutions that have become overly influenced by the animal rights agenda.

Tim Bonner

Chief Executive

Follow Tim @CA_TimB