Not many of you, Dear Readers, likely care much for circuses. Circuses have become unfashionable. Public opinion tends to go along the lines of: “creatures are better off in their own habitats rather than locked away in zoos or made to perform in circuses.”
However – whatever you think of them – circuses are a useful historical example for where the BBC has completely lost the plot. An organisation that was set up to be impartial has behaved in a partisan way, to the detriment of those deriving legal employment from heavily regulated circuses. The BBC has engaged in the persecution of a certain group of licence fee payers, while siding with others. Not once have the positive studies about circus animals been mentioned. How can an impartial broadcaster take such a position?
Recent articles in this magazine relating to the tiger fundraising shenanigans of BBC Presenter Chris Packham (so much more to follow in coming weeks, Dear Readers) contained one detail that was perhaps easy to miss – referring to one episode of the BBC documentary Inside out. This documentary was blatantly manipulated to make the owner of ‘rescued’ tigers seem cruel when in fact, as was shown through video evidence and legal testimony, he and his staff were adored by his tigers and never once put a foot wrong in relation to their care. These were the tigers which Packham’s partner Charlotte Corney – eventually, after a lot of crowdfunding backed by Packham’s BBC reputation – had moved to her Isle of Wight zoo.
According to its own agreed rules, the BBC should be impartial about circuses. Yet the truth is that the BBC has been anti-circus for a long while. The evidence has only recently been coming to light that the late Mary Chipperfield from the famous eponymous circus family was stitched up. A major part of Mary’s downfall was a BBC documentary in the nineties called Here & Now. A relative wrote afterwards:
The Chipperfield documentary was so obviously propaganda that the Chipperfields complained to the then BSC (Broadcasting Standards Commission). The BSC rapidly sided with the Chipperfields. In May 1997 the BBC were forced to make an announcement at some obscure hour when nobody was tuned in stating that the videos used by Here & Now were inaccurate and misleading.
Of course, the damage had been done. The BBC’s editorial line – both on Here & Now and then later on Inside Out – killed off two circus businesses, rendered staff unemployed and caused huge personal pain to circus families. Editorial manipulation was to blame. The national broadcaster was complicit in targeting a way of life and business that it had decided was outmoded. But what right did they have to do so? Did they for one moment think of the human implications?
The experience of the Chipperfields was brutal:
David, an animal trainer at the Chipperfield Circus, told Country Squire Magazine that the jar of jam laced with arsenic was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Mary turned to him one morning and said “I can’t go on like this”. David was Mary’s key witness in court and on standby to appear. He worked with Mary and was to tell the court Mary was being set up. His voice can even be heard on one of the videos shown in court by the extremists, he had a completely different story to tell. He was never called, the unfair trial by media had damaged Mary too much and finally she gave up. Mary died in 2014.
The upcoming Chairman of the BBC, Richard Sharp, alongside the BBC Director General, Tim Davie, need to decide whether the BBC has the right to push so-called progressive values, or whether the BBC should, as its guidance states, be impartial. Their decision, if sound, will shape a new BBC that might just survive – shorn of its partisan staff and contractors. The example of the Chipperfields and, more recently, the lies and manipulations surrounding the Packham-rescued tigers episode are a useful example that these two pragmatic characters can draw upon to manifest lasting, positive change. National broadcasters should not be in the business of wrecking the lives of innocents.