BBC presenter should mind his language on badger cull
Presenting a show on the BBC that attracts millions of viewers, a great many of them children, comes with responsibilities. It doesn't mean every presenter has to avoid controversy of any kind or must keep their views on difficult subjects to themselves. It does mean they should weigh their words carefully and ensure they can back up their statements with factual evidence. Chris Packham, presenter of Springwatch and Autumnwatch is a hugely popular TV naturalist who knows how much clout he wields, especially among youngsters keen to learn about wildlife and the countryside. Much of his work, popularising the countryside and exploring the great outdoors, is surely having a positive effect on a nation of young people too often seduced by computer games and staring at the internet. He will have opened the eyes of a generation to the delights of the natural world.
So why does he think it okay to join the debate on the badger cull by describing it as a "shameful slaughter" carried out by "brutalist thugs, liars and frauds?" There is absolutely nothing wrong with his criticism of the cull, his questioning the science or even his description of the first night of culling as the "darkest night" for British wildlife in his lifetime. But it is quite wrong for him to attack the integrity of those who have approved this cull – the ministers at Defra and the scientists and veterinary surgeons who did the painstaking work to find a solution to the bovine TB. And it is unforgivable that he should characterise as 'thugs' those who must carry it out, including the farmers affected by TB – all of whom have suffered a great deal more anguish than Mr Packham as a result of this disease.
Chris Packham has 73,292 followers on Twitter. Springwatch and Autumnwatch, the shows he helps to present, bring in an audience for the BBC measured in the millions. The programmes are the most popular outside broadcasts the Corporation makes. Yet when farmers complained about Packham's comments – and those from Simon King, another BBC regular and himself a former member of the Springwatch team – they were brushed off with the catch-all response that the views were those of the presenters, not those of the BBC.
How sustainable is it for a public service broadcaster with its content and its presenters' wages paid for by the licence fee, to allow such invective to go out from one of its most influential presenters, particularly to a younger audience? Of course there are differing views on the badger cull and, undeniably, killing mammals like the badger is emotive and upsetting for some people. But those who are doing this difficult work are not 'thugs'. The experts, including the Government's chief scientific adviser, who backs the cull, is not a 'fraud' or a 'liar'. There is room for views other than that of the Government, the NFU and many scientists on this issue. Descending to insults, however, helps no one. The BBC should act.
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