The National Rural Crime Network (NRCN) has asked media regulator Ofcom to look into whether the Channel 4 programme, How to Steal Pigs and Influence People, breached broadcasting guidelines.
The documentary, broadcast on Tuesday evening, included footage of activists stealing pigs from farms on multiple occasions, as well as mass protests involving up to 200 activists arriving at pig farms unannounced and entering pig buildings for hours on end, while livestreaming the whole thing.
NRCN has written to Ofcom asking it to investigate whether the programme breached Rule 3.1 of the Broadcasting Code by broadcasting material ‘likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or to lead to disorder’.
In her letter to Ofcom Interim chief executive Jonathan Oxley, NRCN chair Julia Mulligan said:“The National Pig Association and the four UK farming unions, including the NFU – who are NRCN members – are among those who expressed their worries to Channel 4 ahead of broadcast that the programme glamorised and condoned crime and violence in rural areas. The broadcaster insisted ‘the programme did not glamorise or condone illegal activity’.
“We do not agree. We believe the programme itself, and particularly the title and promotion ahead of broadcast, explicitly glamorises illegal activity and, therefore, we would be grateful if Ofcom would consider whether it has breached Rule 3.1 of the Broadcasting Code.
“We understand that broadcasters often give titles to programmes which are intended to create debate, but we believe this goes beyond that.”
NRCN’s most recent National Rural Crime Survey found over two-thirds of farmers and rural-specific business owners have been a victim of crime over the past 12 months and nearly half (48 per cent) saying their quality of life is being moderately or greatly affected by crime.
“Rural crime is not a joke. Offences must not be trivialised. Victims do not deserve to be belittled,” she added.
Cheshire Police has also had its say. Commenting on Twitter, Sergeant Rob Simpson said: “We support peoples varied lifestyle choices, but stealing livestock is a crime. Committing crime for social media likes and then risking the biosecurity of the farm, could result in all the livestock being destroyed. #RuralCrime #howtostealpigs #BioSecurity #Cheshire.”
The NPA is taking legal advice on its next steps. The association said the programme showcased blatant criminal activity on farms and described the footage as ‘irresponsible’.
However, it said the documentary did the animal rights activist movement ‘few favours’.
NPA policy services officer Lizzie Wilson said: “We remain concerned about how Channel 4 thought it was acceptable to showcase this sort of activity that can place an unacceptable burden on farming families, cause significant pig welfare problems and present massive biosecurity risks at a time when the industry is on high alert for African swine fever. Much of the activity shown was blatantly criminal and we continue to explore our options.
“But the programme also did us a favour, showcasing what this industry has been putting up with for many years from people whose motivation is questionable and who are largely ignorant in the realities of animal rearing.
“The general consensus on Twitter was abject shock at the criminal acts depicted and that many of the activist influencers are more concerned about raising their profile to make money, rather than the animals’ welfare.
“This was perfectly demonstrated by the MTV protest and the assumed demise of Hugo the piglet, taken from the sow at just a few days old. There was a lot of support for the farmers involved, which was welcome and a reminder that vegan activists really do not hold much sway among the wider public, who generally believe in and trust what we do.”
You can read the full NPA response here
The NPA has advised members and supporters who feel strongly about the programme how they can complain to Channel 4, Ofcom or even their MP. Click here to view