Farming News - Countryside Alliance says: "The BBC must take care not to incite online abuse"

Countryside Alliance says: "The BBC must take care not to incite online abuse"

31 Aug 2018

Days after a High Court judge told the BBC that individuals subject to investigation have a "reasonable expectation of privacy", the BBC chose to publicise the name of a person accused of criminal activity by an animal rights group. Now the police have confirmed that there is no evidence that any crime even occurred, criticising the activists in the process, the Countryside Alliance is asking whether the BBC will take responsibility for the abuse that was heaped on an innocent man as a result of their reporting.

This week's Daily Telegraph (30th August) exposed the abuse that Chris White has received since animal rights activists calling themselves the "Hunt Investigation Team" (HIT) circulated a heavily edited video of him running a cage trap. The video was posted and shared across various social media channels on the 19th July 2018, overlaid with a commentary claiming that Mr White was trying to catch badgers.

The video showed Christopher White at a trap 

Since then Mr White has received dreadful abuse, both online and around his home. Mr White told the Telegraph he has received death threats, had trackers placed on his car and seen drones filming around his home. He said: "There never was a crime. You cannot imagine how frightened you can be going out of your own house when you live in the middle of nowhere.

"You don't want to go out of your house, you don't want to walk your dog, you don't want to do anything.

"It has been trial by social media."

While it is true that this story was spread on social media, there was another culprit. The BBC accepted the footage from HIT and turned their accusation into a headline. Seemingly without speaking to the police to ascertain the credibility of the accusations, the BBC posted a version of the video on their news website under the headline: "Derbyshire hunt master filmed setting badger trap", uncritically accepting the activists' version of events.

More remarkably still, the BBC shared Mr White's name and his role as the Joint Master of the Barlow Hunt in their coverage, making him instantly identifiable. The BBC posted this story on the 20th July, just two days after High Court judge Justice Mann ruled in the Cliff Richard privacy case.

The BBC coverage and uncritical repeating of HIT's allegations increased the reach and the apparent credibility of the story, but in a stunning twist the police have this week publicly rubbished the video and criticised the activists who made it.

In an online statement, Derbyshire Police's Rural Crime Team said: "A video can be edited to show what the editors want it to show. It can distort the truth and lead to conclusions being drawn that may not reflect the reality of what has happened."

Most damningly of all, the police state: "The evidence available does not prove that any criminal activity has occurred."

The Countryside Alliance has now submitted a formal complaint with the BBC to ask why this video was published, given its complete lack of credibility, and why Mr White's name was made public. The BBC shared the video on their social media feeds, inciting vile abuse in the social media comments which the BBC have further failed to have removed. Examples of this abuse have been circulated to the press. Other activist groups have shared the BBC's link to the video, attracting further abuse and comments suggesting Mr White should be harmed or killed.

The BBC has previously been asked to take down this video, but simply responded that Mr White was offered the opportunity to respond, effectively inviting him to add further fuel to a story that has made his life a misery. The Alliance hopes that now Derbyshire Police have so comprehensively undermined the credibility of this video and the "Hunt Investigation Team" that provided it, the BBC will now respond to our complaint by finally removing the video from their website.

Countryside Alliance Head of Campaigns Liam Stokes said: "In the past few weeks, Countryside Alliance research has shown that online abuse against the rural community is a growing problem. It is unthinkable that our publicly-funded broadcaster should be fuelling that abuse, but that is what they are doing by uncritically sharing videos and allegations they are sent by fringe animal rights groups.

"We are grateful that Derbyshire Police have stepped in to let the world know that this collection of individuals calling itself the ‘Hunt Investigation Team’ is not interested in the truth. These activists are only interested in making their opponent's lives miserable. The BBC must now respond to our complaint by telling us if that is something they intend to help these activists do. If not, they must take the offending video down and start taking their responsibilities seriously to prevent online abuse.

"We hope this sorry sequence of events will give news editors pause for thought when they receive dubious accusations from groups of vigilantes in the future."