Is television reinforcing ignorance and intolerance of remarkable animals?

Chris Packham makes a plea to the UK presenters Ant and Dec to harness the power of their enormous audiences to instil respect for animals. Photo: www.chrispackham.co.uk/If the way we treat animals is a reflection on how civilised we are, then television provides us with a snapshot of human society at its best and at its worst. 

At its best television programmes offer us insights into the lives of other species that leave us astonished by the beauty, delicacy, intricacy, intelligence and sheer perseverance of millions of animals representing the thousands of species with whom we share this Earth.

We see through their eyes, hear through their ears, and feel through their senses as we get vicarious pleasure watching eagles soar, dolphins dive and cheetahs run. We empathise with penguins huddling together in the biting Antarctic winds, feel sorrow as an elephant runs its trunk over the lifeless body of its calf and delight in the clamour of the dawn chorus.

Nature history films that give us insights into the secret lives of other species rank, in television terms, amongst the best of the best.

But what about the rest?

Amongst the list of TV shows that do nothing to promote, and indeed appear to undermine, respect for living things is the UK show “I’m a Celebrity …… Get me out of here”.

In this program participants sometimes take part in stunts that use animals and which have included killing, butchering and eating animals.

The show has been threatened with prosecution for animal cruelty and criticised for harming animals as well as for portraying them as fearsome when, in reality, they have been ‘doctored’.

This apparently includes animals’ fangs being sealed and their jaws being bound up.

Most of the criticism has come from animal welfare groups but this week UK naturalist Chris Packham weighed into the debate in an open letter in the Radio Times.

Chris makes a plea to the UK presenters Ant and Dec to harness the power of their enormous audiences (on average 10 million in 2013) to instil respect for “animals such as snakes, spiders, crocodiles, rats and many invertebrates (that) are already misunderstood and thus unfortunately vilified”.

Chris points out

“You’re reinforcing a terrible ignorance and intolerance of these remarkable animals …. all your younger viewers, those who are set up to inherit a hugely impoverished planet probably without wild tigers, rhinos, elephants, are being taught that killing things for plain exploitative ‘entertainment’ is acceptable.”

 

The show’s presenters declined to comment and its producers have responded that they take animal welfare very seriously.

In which case let’s hope they take heed of Chris Packham’s urgent and heartfelt message to “put an end to this inhumane, embarrassing and destructive aspect of an otherwise great show”.

Let’s applaud Chris Packham for the stand he has taken and wish him every support on this issue.

--CM

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