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Princess Anne Badger Gassing Interview

Badger Trust Requests Right Of Reply From BBC The following letter has been sent via email and recorded delivery hard copy to the Director General of the BBC today:

9th April 2014

8th April 2014

For Immediate Release

Badger Trust Requests Right Of Reply From BBC

The following letter has been sent via email and recorded delivery hard copy to the Director General of the BBC today:

Dear Lord Hill

BBC Countryfile Interview Princess Anne : Badger Gassing

I am writing to you in my capacity as CEO of Badger Trust, the charity which promotes the conservation and welfare of badgers, and Policy Advisor to Care for the Wild International, a leading UK and International wildlife protection charity.

The Badger Trust and Care for the Wild International are extremely concerned by the editorial decisions which led to the Countryfile interview with Princess Anne broadcast on BBC 1 on Sunday 6 April.

Our key concerns are as follows:

Advance research by BBC Countryfile on badger gassing 

A BBC researcher for the Countryfile programme contacted me three weeks ago to seek the views of the Badger Trust on the issue of badger gassing. Following our discussion I was informed that Countryfile would be back in contact for an interview, if they decided to film an article on this issue.

The Badger Trust has not been contacted by the BBC since this discussion, despite the fact that Countryfile filmed an in depth interview with Princess Anne which included a key focus on badger gassing.

Advance publicity for the Princess Anne Interview

I was contacted by the Sunday Times on Wednesday 2 April to confirm that the BBC had undertaken an interview with Princess Anne for Countryfile and that the BBC were providing the print and broadcast media with a transcript and video footage of key parts of the interview, with a focus on Princess Anne's comments on badger gassing.

However, the BBC did not provide this material to the Badger Trust or allow us to record a response to the issues raised by Princess Anne in the interview, to be included in the Countryfile broadcast.

The key aim of the BBC in putting out advance publicity on the interview appears to have been to increase ratings, rather than to ensure a balance of opinion on a highly controversial political issue. 

Timing of the interview and accuracy and impartiality 

On Thursday 3 April the Government after much delay published its strategy for TB eradication and the future of the highly controversial badger cull policy. A key part of this strategy was a commitment to undertake further research on the issue of gassing as a possible future badger culling method.

As you appreciate, gassing badgers remains hugely controversial, yet the BBC chose to run an interview with a senior member of the Royal Family within days of the Government’s announcement, which was a clear endorsement of badger gassing, without any opposing view being included in the broadcast.

The Editor of Countryfile has countered claims that the programme was one-sided by saying both sides of the argument were covered. We recognise that a brief mention was made of the anti-badger cull protest movement, but Tom Heap allowed Princess Anne to make a number of statements during the interview which have no scientific basis. This included claims that TB rates in cattle are entirely dependent on badgers and that falling numbers of hedgehogs and bees is due to predation by badgers.

Princess Anne has a longstanding and genuine interest in farming and rural life and has every right to express her opinions on these issues.

However, if the BBC is to provide a platform for her views particularly on highly controversial issues such as badger gassing, it must ensure it provides a balance of opinion for its viewers

The many editorial failures over the Princess Anne interview call into question the BBC's obligations under section 1.3.2 of its charter which state that the BBC will do all it can "to ensure that controversial subjects are treated with due accuracy and impartiality".

Public reaction and right of response

Not surprisingly it appears that the BBC has now received more complaints on this interview, than for any episode of Countryfile throughout its 26 year history. In view of the serious concerns we have raised and the huge public anger over the BBC's handling of this interview, we would like the BBC to grant an in depth interview to me as CEO of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor to Care for the Wild in the next few weeks on Countryfile

This interview should serve as an opportunity for Tom Heap to seek a response on all the key issues raised by Princess Anne. This should include the effectiveness and humaneness of badger gassing, role of cattle in the spread of bovine TB, badger population numbers and the impact of badgers on species such as hedgehogs and bees.

By taking this action the BBC will restore confidence in its commitment to accuracy and impartiality as a state funded broadcaster.

I look forward to hearing from you shortly and would be happy to meet with you or your senior colleagues to discuss the issues raised in this letter in more detail.

I confirm that both the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild will be releasing this letter to their members and supporters

Yours sincerely

Dominic Dyer