The British media, in general, does a horrible job of covering the animal rights movement. Is it really asking too much, for example, for reporters to actually know a bit of background on the groups and individuals they are covering?
On November 18, for example, the BBC ran a bland profile of SHAC headlined “How animal rights took on the world.” The profile contains numerous quotes from Greg Avery saying SHAC has focused on companies because,
“Businessmen don’t care about ethics; all they care about is profit. They don’t make ethical decisions; they make financial ones. So we turn it into a financial decision — we will hit you where it hurts and that’s hitting you in the pocket.”
The BBC profile incredibly continues claiming that,
For all of the sophistication of the movement [??] they are well aware that if arguments and legal pressure fail there is always illegal intimidation. The SHAC campaign says it is against all such tactics but some nasty things have happened to companies it has named and shamed on its website.
Would it have reporters Simon Cox and Richard Vadon to note that SHAC’s three primary organizers, Avery, his ex-wife Heather James, and current wife Natasha Avery, were all sentenced to six months in jail in 2001 after they plead guilty to conspiring to incite a public nuisance. The three published newsletters that published personal details of various individuals associated with Huntingdon Life Sciences and urged readers to commit a number of illegal acts, such as order goods on behalf of the individuals in an effort to harm their credit ratings.
Nor is it true that SHAC has simply named companies and individuals. It has a long history of posting personal information along with clear threats such as “smash them.”
One thing those of us opposed to the animal rights movement must do is make these links clear. Every time Neal Barnard or someone else from Physicians Committee for Medical Research pops up with a press release, for example, the Center for Consumer Freedom quickly responds with a press release noting that PCRM is simply a PETA front. This is clearly annoying Barnard and company, but more importantly it typically leads to followups (as it did recently over PCRM’s airport food ratings) in which reporters and newspapers admit they were had and concede that PCRM is simply another name for PETA. That sort of sustained effort will eventually suck the oxygen out of media efforts of groups like PCRM.
There are two other interesting quotes from the BBC profile. First, Avery admits to what is widely believed in anti-animal rights circles. If SHAC should succeed in closing down Huntingdon Life Sciences, it would simply be the first salvo in an all out war against animal enterprises. The BBC quotes Avery as saying,
We won’t just go on to another company [after HLS falls]. We will go on to a whole area of animal abuse. And look to knock out big chunks — puppy farming, factory farming, circuses and zoos. All these could be finished. We’re becoming bigger, even more intelligent and even more determined not just to take companies down but to finish whole areas of animal abuse.
Finally, the BBC quotes National Animal Interest Alliance chief Patti Strand as giving the UK a tongue lashing for allowing a viable animal rights extremist movement to gather steam and take hold. The BBC quotes Strand as saying,
We view the United Kingdom as the Afghanistan for the growth of animal rights extremism throughout the world. The animal rights movement that we are dealing with in the United States is a direct import from the United Kingdom.
How animal rights took on the world. Simon Cox and Richard Vadon, The BBC, November 18, 2004.