LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Daily Telegraph, 12 May 1979
SIR – I have just taken part in a nightmare. Not one of the usual kind from which one wakes to the comforting reassurance of familiar objects, but under the glaring lights of a television studio as a so-called panellist in the first of the new BBC-2 series, “Brass Tacks”.
The programme purported to be an examination of modern farming methods and, particularly, their effects on the various types of meat produced for the public to eat.
This is a perfectly proper question for consideration and as a farmer and consumer I willingly accepted the invitation to participate. Perfectly proper, too, for the BBC to be the medium through which such an important subject should receive and airing: the Corporation is, after all, our servant and our friend, and a neutral, reliable and unbiased source of information and opinion. Is it not?
But here is the rub. The programme was scheduled to run for 50 minutes and the first half-an-hour was taken up by a film which, in the many weeks of its making had been contrived to constitute a slashing attack on modern meat production from the farm to the shop-counter. It included, in most doubtful taste, harrowing scenes shot in abattoirs and unashamedly used dramatic music to heighten the emotional effect upon the viewer.
There was little attempt at balance, just an assembly of the worst that could be dragged up for the deadliest impact.
The remaining 20 minutes of the programme were given over to discussion between four people in the studio in Manchester and about nine people on a farm in Kent, the latter being representatives of a tiny minority of farming people who try to refuse any “unorganic” aid.
My nightmare started with the film and the realisation that we had been set up, without preview, to answer what came over as a deliberately loaded attack with almost no time to do so properly; to have to sit and watch the savaging of a first class industry in which so many people work most devotedly with unselfish and ill-rewarded dedication; to have to quell one’s anger and try to offer something quick and sensible when the subject called for quiet and thoughtful debate.
Perhaps, though, the worst part of the nightmare is the damage to the BBC itself: to its integrity and social usefulness. To its right to claim our respect and affection. If so it is a nightmare for us all. On Tuesday night Auntie Beeb showed us that the quest for those damned viewing figures can turn her into a sour, cantankerous and spiteful old woman – a dangerous creature of whom the strongest and most righteous should beware.
CHARLES JARVIS, Chairman British Farm Produce Council