If the BBC is serious about tackling bias, Packham must be first to go
It’s been well reported that the incoming Director General of the BBC, Tim Davie, would like his journalists to leave their political views at the door. In a bid to repair the broadcaster’s reputation for impartiality – something that has been increasingly questioned over the last few years – Davie is expected to tell his new team that “Impartiality is our bedrock. If you are a journalist who isn’t interested in balance, if you can’t leave your politics at the newsroom door, you have no place here.”
Twitter is expected to be a focus of his attention, with new guidelines regarding its usage for BBC journalists who can’t help but reveal their personal political views on the social media site.
Interestingly, another of Davie’s bugbears is staff who moonlight on the side, with some journalists charging up to £25,000 a day to host private events. His plan is, apparently, to introduce a public register of commercial gigs with fees, with the aim of shaming staff into accepting fewer outside jobs – or at least ones for which they demand fat pay packets.
So where does this leave Chris Packham, the BBC’s blatantly biased Springwatch presenter who enjoys lecturing viewers about climate change before charging them through the nose to holiday with him to Antarctica? Just last week, the Telegraph’s Charles Moore commented on Packham’s behaviour, after he posted a video of himself holding up a picture of a golden eagle whose satellite tag had stopped working and asking his followers to complain to MPs about grouse shooting. “He is perpetrating an avian blood libel against identifiable moors”, wrote Mr Moore. “His are not the words of an impartial BBC television presenter accommodating the views of all involved in the natural world.” Well, indeed.
As we all know, this is far from the first time that Packham has used his BBC platform to broadcast his own views. Packham has almost singlehandedly led a crusade against rural communities, particularly gamekeepers and moorland managers, culminating in a petition to MPs to have the sport of grouse shooting banned in September 2019. As one of the trio leading Wild Justice, Mr Packham continues to campaign against the rural population, regularly writing to MPs, most recently Nicola Sturgeon, and encouraging others to do so to. His latest e-petition has led to over 100,000 individuals writing to MPs on the basis of widespread falsehoods.
The question here isn’t about Packham’s views – of course, everyone has the right to think whatever they like. But how he can get away with broadcasting and promoting such obviously biased and even libellous messages while using his BBC platform to collect followers and supporters, as well as promoting his own aims.
Back in 2019, the BBC’s Farming Today programme featured Packham’s Wild Justice group. The programme interviewed Packham, and allowed him to make unsubstantiated and inaccurate claims about wildlife crime law. If he were an independent spokesperson for Wild Justice, Packham could of course say what he liked. But one would expect the BBC to feature an alternative voice, or a different view on the topic, as a news organisation normally would when allowing a politicised organisation to express their thoughts. Of course, nothing came. Packham was allowed to speak unchallenged, and the BBC even decided that Wild Justice – a blatantly activitist organisation – was not “controversial” and that the BBC was therefore not required to air alternative views. This is far from the only time that Packham has upset rural communities; in 2017 he used his Autumnwatch platform to call for a ban on glyphosate, while in a BBC wildlife magazine he referred to those who hunt or shoot as “the nasty brigade.”
Packham has, in fact, been given one warning from the BBC in the past – when promoting a brand of allegedly bio-degradable plastic bags on the BBC’s One Show, while being paid by the brand to do so. None of this was revealed to the viewer. He has done this before, when promoting the ‘Big Tick Project’, while at the same time being paid by a veterinary company to promote their dog tick products.
But the BBC’s Packham problem runs deeper than all of this. Because by giving him the freedom to express his views, unchallenged, across the BBC’s output, from Farming Today to the One Show and everything in between, Packham brings the BBC down with him. The organisation does have some “rural” programming and try to cover rural issues. But by letting Packham run riot both on social media and his other paid work, as well as on BBC output, he alienates many rural communities – and with that, rural licence-fee payers. Packham and his Wild Justice group want to destroy rural economies and moorland communities with their campaigns. How will that sit with the rural viewers that the BBC wants – and needs – to engage with?
If Mr Davie is serious about acting on addressing the impartiality at the BBC he could send few stronger signals than replacing Packham with a less toxic and divisive presenter.