Sunday, 4 September 2016


Chris Packham - knowledgeable and he strikes a chord with young viewers

An announcement is expected this month - possibly later this week - on whether any sanctions will be imposed by the BBC on  its star wildlife presenter, Chris Packham.

Over summer, members of the BBC Trust have been considering a complaint that  Packham has breached impartiality rules by taking a leading role in the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting on Britain’s moorlands.

Along with fellow-campaigner Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s former conservation director, he maintains that such a ban would enhance the survival  prospects of the hen harrier, a raptor perilous close to breeding extinction in England following many years of  persecution by gamekeepers for its tendency to predate young grouse. .

But the vociferous and high-profile involvement of  Packham, lead presenter of BBC-2’s Springwatch, Autumnwatch and other wildlife-related documentaries, has sparked outrage among such bodies as the Countryside Alliance,  the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the British Association of Shooting and Conservation.

Such has been their fury that, in July, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart, who is chairman of the Alliance,  was prompted to lodge a formal complaint.

He believes  that  Packham (55) has used his special status as TV personality to advance his cause. “Celebrity bullying” is a term that has been used.

In his letter, the MP stated:  "We cannot stand by and continue to allow Mr Packham to use the status the BBC has given him to spread propaganda which has a direct impact on the lives of our supporters."

Meanwhile, the shooting fraternity has found its own champion in cricketing legend Sir Ian Botham, himself now a broadcaster (for Sky Sports) who debated the grouse/harrier issue with  Packham on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

(Several years ago  former Test all-rounder was also featured in a successful TV campaign to promote Shredded Wheat as a cereal which helps to maintain a healthy heart.)

The complaint against Packham is a tricky one for the 12 members of the BBC Trust who have been considering it over summer.

Packham may have restrained his campaigning instincts while broadcasting on behalf of the BBC, but there is no doubt the high profile lent to him by his TV work has helped his campaign.

Who, after all,  would have given a second thought to his utterances if her had not been familiar on our TV screens?

Could the presenter be ditched? Probably not - at least not in any overt way.

The BBC is not not notorious for acting swiftly and decisively - witness the protracted wrangling before another of its stars, Jeremy Clarkson, parted company with its flagship  motoring show, Top Gear.

Clarkson had assaulted a colleague, an act of gross misconduct, while Packham has merely been expressing his personal views - albeit not with any notable measure of diplomacy or discretion.

Furthermore, the BBC would be reluctant to lose the latter who is a accomplished naturalist-broadcaster who also has the common touch - his youthful enthusiasm  has a particular  inspirational  appeal to young audiences.       
The BBC may choose to administer a reprimand, but the presenter is unlikely to be “dropped” or cut loose in the same way as his predecessor, Bill Oddie, whose inflexibility and  irascibility finally became too much for his colleagues and bosses.

However, there may still be darkness in the tunnel. A question mark hangs over the future of both Springwatch and Autumnwatch because the format seems to  have lost some of its sparkle.

There is  something slightly sexist and old-fashioned about a show  being presented by a male expert with support from a well-intentioned but not well-informed female colleague.

First it was Bill Oddie and Kate Humble. Now it is Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan. But for how much longer?

The BBC is committed to extending its coverage of wildlife and rural related subjects, but different styles of broadcasting and new shows - with fresh faces - may be in the offing.

If Packham were to leave, there would be no shortage of offers from other TV companies, probably including ITV. He could also set up his own broadcasting company.

The 12 members of the BBC Trust who have been deliberating the complaint are:

  • Rona Fairhead (chairman) 
  • Sir Roger Carr
  • Sonita Alleyne
  • Richard Ayre
  • Mark Damazer
  • Mark Florman
  • Aideen McGinley
  • Nicholas Prettejohn
  • Elan Closs Stephens
  • Suzanna Taverne
  • Lord Williams of Baglan

Their verdict is awaited with interest. 

*  Photo credit: Graham Racher/ Wikimedia Commons

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