ABC Four Corners’ recent exposé of live baiting cruelty in the greyhound racing industry contained some distinct similarities to its reporting of mistreatment of Australian animals in Indonesia four years ago.
Both programs left viewers in no doubt that cruel practices were being allowed to occur in both industries, and that people at some of the highest levels were either involved or turning a blind eye.
But another similarity was that in both cases, ABC’s flagship current affairs program appeared to make little effort to explain to viewers how prevalent these practices were likely to be in either industry.
In the absence of that context, viewers with no first-hand experience of either industry could easily come away with the impression that cruel practices are not only happening in either industry, but are also the norm, rather than the exception.
In the wake of “A Bloody Business” four years ago, Senators conducting an inquiry into animal welfare standards in the livestock export industry questioned why Four Corners aired only 35 seconds of footage showing cattle being handled in modern, professional abattoirs in Indonesia, which were known to handle large numbers of Australian cattle exported to Indonesia, but devoted more than 15 minutes of footage of Australian cattle to smaller abattoirs where traditional slaughter methods were used, which they argued were not representative of the broader trade.
Four Corners’ recent program about greyhound industry cruelty, “Making a Killing”, showed damning evidence of cruelty from three privately owned greyhound racing trial tracks, and included footage which implicated several senior identities in the industry.
But absent was explanatory information providing context against the wider industry. How many private greyhound trial tracks are there in Australia? Are the three that were shown three of 10, three of 100 or three of 1000? How many trainers are there? What percentage of the total did those that were captured on video represent?
When a program focuses only on the bad and fails to report on the good, otherwise uninformed viewers can only be left with one impression: the entire industry is cruel and, by association, so is everyone who works in it.
Comments made by former racing steward Amanda Hill, one of the ‘whistleblowers’ who spoke out against live baiting in the Four Corners program, in a recent Australian Greyhound Racing News article made interesting reading. Ms Hill said that in her interview with Four Corners she explained that she did not believe live baiting was “systemic” or widespread in the industry. However, she said, a lot of those balancing comments “ended up on the cutting room floor” and were not shown in the final program.
Four years after “A Bloody Business”, many people whose livelihoods depend on the livestock export trade remain angry about the fallout created by Four Corners’ portrayal of their industry.
They feel that the Walkley Award winning program resulted in many hard working people running legitimate businesses, and with no direct knowledge of the cruel practices that were occuring in some foreign abattoirs, being vilified in the media and in public as little more than animal hating criminals.
The main concern with this is that Four Corners’ decision not to provide important context fits very neatly with the goals of the animal rights groups which provided the program with exclusive access to their hard-hitting footage.
Whose interests does the taxpayer funded broadcaster serve when it accepts footage from special interest groups with clear agendas, and then makes little clear effort to provide perspective that is needed to ensure viewers are not left with an unbalanced and one-sided perspective?
Animals Australia which provided the footage for “A Bloody Business” describes itself as an animal protection organisation but also openly promotes a clear vegetarian agenda as well, as its own website shows.
Animals Australia actively campaigns for the entire livestock export trade to be banned, and is currently branding livestock exports as “criminal” in a billboard advertising campaign..
Animal Liberation Queensland, the group which gave Four Corners undercover footage of live baiting on greyhound tracks, says its vision is for a world where “all nonhuman animals live free from abuse, exploitation and suffering… and veganism is accepted as the norm”. It has a policy that the entire greyhound racing industry should be banned.
A recent article in the Guardian questioned whether Animal Liberation Queensland gave Four Corners exlcusive footage without any conditions attached, and whether it had any involvement in the program’s final production process. The Guardian article also questioned why the Four Corners broadcast did not address the group’s relationship with the ABC.
Animal rights groups have played an important role in exposing cruel practices in both industries. Without their investigations, it is difficult to believe these practices would ever been exposed or stopped.
As a result of their work and the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System introduced in the wake of a “A Bloody Business”, Australian livestock exporters now operate in a far more stringent regulatory environment.
A recent Government review found that since the introduction of ESCAS, which requires all exported animals to be continuously tracked 24 hours a day upon arrival in foreign markets through to the eventual point of slaughter, more than 99pc of 8 million livestock were successfully exported from approved supply chains without leakage or report of animal welfare incident.
Exporters have invested heavily on animal welfare improvements in every supply chain and every market they supply.
But as more news this week has shown, the system is not perfect.
Despite efforts made by exporters to improve welfare standards, and their self-reporting of problems when they occur, welfare groups are offering no let up in their public campaigns to shut down the trade.
In response to the reported supply chain leakages in Vietnam, the RSPCA said the only way exporters can be seen to be acting responsibly is to halt all exports to the market until they can be sure that all the facilities are meeting OIE guidelines.
The live export industry is still paying the price for turning a blind eye to animal cruelty prior to “A Bloody Business” and faces a monumental task to prove that its commitment to addressing animal welfare issues right along the supply chain is genuine.
These figures have not been confirmed, but trade sources have stated that all of the cattle being exported from Australia to Indonesia and Vietnam are currently moving through just seven exporters.
When you consider how much the live export trade contributes to competition and bottom lines right across the entire Australian cattle industry, you get the picture of just how much responsibility those exporters are now carrying to get it right.