Countryside Alliance lodges official complaint about BBC Inside Out London episode

The Countryside Alliance has lodged a formal complaint about the BBC following an episode of BBC Inside Out London that it featured in on 31st October: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0816ygn

The Head of Shooting at the Countryside Alliance, Liam Stokes, was interviewed during an episode of BBC Inside Out London about the welfare of birds on game bird farms. Following the episode being broadcast the Countryside Alliance sent a strongly worded letter of complaint to the BBC Complaints Department arguing that the BBC had failed to follow its own editorial guidelines.

In their letter of complaint the Countryside Alliance argue that the BBC failed to follow its own guidelines in relation to its duty to provide balanced and impartial coverage on an important and controversial rural issue. The Alliance also argue that the BBC failed to follow its own guidelines in relation to the decision to trespass on private land and property without prior permission.

During its investigations BBC reporters trespassed on four different game bird farms without the permission of the owners. In correspondence exchanged between Alliance Chief Executive, Tim Bonner, and the editor of the episode, Dippy Chaudhary, the BBC denied that an undercover investigation had taken place and argued that their filming had been “quite open”. This was despite Alliance staff being informed that undercover footage had been obtained and that the permission of the owners of the game bird farms had not been either sought or secured. A clip published by the BBC to publicise the episode shows a BBC reporter running away from a tractor to avoid detection and an Evening Standard news report on the day of the episode being broadcast refers to: “an undercover investigation.” : http://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/exposed-the-appalling-conditions-in-factory-farms-breeding-game-birds-for-the-table-a3382666.html

Concerns have also been raised regarding the close working relationship that appears to have been established between BBC reporters and two animal rights organisations in the making of the episode, Animal Aid and the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS). LACS have been sanctioned by the Charities Commission on multiple occasions for political campaigning and Animal Aid are currently running campaigns against all meat consumption.

During the episode BBC reporters failed to pay reference to a high profile Government backed report that was published last year stating that the egg-laying methods looked into during the Inside Out episode were “a valid part of modern-day game production.” : http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&Completed=0&ProjectID=17541 . The Government backed report in question was subject to stinging criticism from LACS: https://www.league.org.uk/news-and-opinion/blogs/2015/august/league-slams-defra-report-on-game-bird-breeding . The Countryside Alliance argue that footage obtained by the  BBC fails to substantiate allegations of bad practice and that as a result there was no public interest justifying the decision to transmit the “evidence” obtained as a result of trespassing.

In the letter of complaint, Tim Bonner, states:

“The decision to trespass on someone else’s land and to enter their property is a serious decision to take and one that should not be taken lightly. There needs to be an extremely strong public interest case.”

The Countryside Alliance claim that social media posts by the Director of LACS allow the perception to form that it was a joint BBC/LACS investigation and one of the titles of a BBC news story used to publicise the episode was named after an Animal Aid report: Killing Fields: http://www.animalaid.org.uk/h/n/CAMPAIGNS/wildlife/ALL/332/ .

Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, Tim Bonner, said:

“We were extremely disappointed by the episode. Following it being broadcast we felt that we had no choice but to lodge a formal complaint.

“The fact that the BBC appear to have made no attempt to follow their own editorial guidelines is extremely worrying. The BBC have acted in an extremely evasive and disingenuous way and have again failed to provide balanced and impartial coverage of an important rural issue. Far from being an attempt to present a balanced and truthful view of the welfare of birds at game farms, this episode was driven by a desire to smear all those involved in shooting.

“Sadly this is not the first time that BBC reporters have worked hand in glove with politically motivated animal rights organisations to attack shooting.”