What Happened to British Press Standards?


Dear Editor,

The British press has a vast global audience. Media giants like The Times, The Financial Times, The Guardian, and BBC are highly regarded as credible sources of information around the globe. Rigorous British press standards surely helped to build such a stellar reputation.

Unfortunately, I feel that these once high standards seem to be on a slippery slope of political correctness leading straight into the abyss of “fake news.” I have come to realize this over the last few years when following British media coverage of hunting tourism, also known as “trophy hunting.”

I work for a hunting organization, and I have an in-depth knowledge of this contentious subject which puts me in a position to spot erroneous claims. I believe that because the debate is so extremely emotional, this subject is one of the best imaginable tests of adherence to press standards. I also believe that rigorous research and fact-checks become more and more important the more controversial the topics covered are.

It is no secret that the driving force behind the substantial media coverage of “trophy hunting” is The Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting (CBTH), led by campaigner Eduardo Goncalves and supported by British celebrities like Dr. Jane Goodall and Sir Ranulph Fiennes. The campaign is largely based on material published in four books authored by Goncalves.

A few months ago, I went through one of the books – “Killing Game – the extinction industry” – and found scores of dubious and outright outrageous claims. When scrutinized, they all turned out to be false.

This means that contrary to Goncalves’s insistence, there are no breeding farms in Zambia breeding monkeys for trophy hunting. Hunters are not allowed to hunt chimpanzees. Canada is not allowing captive-bred bear hunting. Giraffes are not threatened by “trophy hunting”. British “trophy hunters” did not drive any species to extinction.

The book is filled with such claims and accusations, and there are many more. I found more than 60 falsehoods in that book alone, and I took the time to go in-depth with 13. What I did was nothing more than an essential fact check—journalism 101. I have been in touch with relevant authorities, organizations, and individuals worldwide to get to the bottom of this. It was neither complicated nor very time-consuming. Based on my little investigation, I would go as far as to brand the entire CBTH offering as “fake news” – simply because it is not statistically possible to make so many “honest mistakes” that all happen to support the same narrative. Rather than simply taking my word for it, I invite anyone to go through the documentation posted on Facebook using the hashtag #debunkingcbth.

What puzzles me is that many remarkable claims from this material have made their way into British press stories – apparently without being even lightly fact-checked. I was also quite astonished to find out that Nada Farhoud – Environment Editor on The Mirror – was celebrated by a joint British press in 2019 specifically for her coverage of “trophy hunting” primarily based on input from CBTH. She won both the “Science Journalism Award 2019” (Press Gazette – British Journalism Awards) and “Environment Journalist of the year 2019” (Society of Editors). I am sure that nobody bothered to do a thorough check-up on her sources.

I have repeatedly sought both Nada Farhoud and Eduardo Goncalves for comment. Neither of them replied.

It seems to me that British Press has not only lowered its standards considerably by allowing “fake news” to seep through to readers. It has apparently come to the point where the press leaders are celebrating sloppy journalism and making it the new gold standard.

I am not trying to fuel another debate on “trophy hunting,” but it happens to be one of a few topics that I have in-depth knowledge about. I guess we all have our own areas of expertise that we are more than usually familiar with. I cannot help but wonder if the UK media coverage of all the topics I know very little about is equally sloppy or deceitful?

Yours sincerely,

Jens Ulrik Høgh

Nordic Safari Club