Managing the Message

Posted on Tuesday, November 17, 2020
In: Editorial
Written by: The Editor

There is little doubt that protests, and by extension protestors, are becoming increasingly disruptive, driven by a very narrow and often fake message. They will loudly attack anyone off-line or online who dares to question their dogmatic stance or their emotional investment in their ‘cause’ completely ignoring the fact that large corporations with online interests can generate huge incomes through their carefully targeted ‘promotion’ of such causes whether that cause is real or more often than not completely fake.
Recently a  French Stag Hunt was deliberately targeted by anti-hunt media elements when it emerged that they happened to be vaguely in the same area as a dog walker. The unfortunate dog walker was fatally attacked by a dog that her boyfriend had bought illegally and trained to fight. Without waiting for facts, elements of the media, encouraged by vocal anti-hunt elements were quick to accuse and ‘convict’  the hounds of the attack and no amount of reasoned logic would dissuade them from declaring that the hunt was guilty. However, in the last few days, it seems the DNA evidence taken from the hounds exonerated the hunt from any involvement and demonstrated the culprit was closer to home. Despite this, the allegations and vilification of the hunt continue and there are attempts to fundraise to ‘prove’ the DNA evidence was wrong – completely ignoring the scientific finding- “the hunt were there, I hate people who hunt, therefore it’s their fault”  appears to be the thought process.

From a UK perspective as we read and watch the latest round of protests, be that Extinction Rebellion, anti-lockdown, or whatever fad is currently in vogue a reasonable person might wonder whether the participants have been influenced by the anti-hunt activities of the late 20th century and successive Government’s laissez-faire attitude to such antics.
Unfortunately, there is a historic, and deep-rooted, but totally misguided notion that anti-hunt activists should be treated like a swarm of annoying insects and  ‘if you ignore them they will go away’?  This is a strategy that is familiar to anyone involved with country sports but particularly hunting people, who have been living with the physical attacks, print and online media attacks, and defamation from our opponents for some time.

Disruptive, and violent behaviours at protests are not a new phenomenon. Anyone with even a basic interest in history will be able to point at examples of those behaviours. But where those historic protests differ from the modern era of activism is in the percentage of the public participating. These are not mass protests, but, through a good grasp of the concepts that underpin the medium of social media they give the impression that they are much bigger and popular than just a small group held together solely by a common thread, which is that they are ‘against’ whatever their idea of the current social norms might be.

There have been many claims put forward on the ‘huge’ percentage of the UK population against hunting, against which it is possible to apply the quote attributed to Disraeli “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics” with great accuracy. It is a truism that in a poll, to get the answer you want, you skew the questions – why would you pay a polling company to produce a message your audience does not want hear? As a result, the statement that ‘80% of people are opposed to hunting with hounds’ goes from wishful thinking to social media fact.

From the nineties, Animal Rights protestors have become increasingly vocal, violent, and disruptive. And what happened? The AR ‘direct action’ approach was rewarded by politicians who used hunting as a weapon in a class war as a way of taking revenge, completely ignoring the reality of the inclusiveness and class-levelling tendencies of the hunting field. Pro hunting activists who suddenly found themselves painted as wrong does by a toxic combination of class war driven politicians, lazy, sensation-seeking journalists ‘who needs facts when you have headlines’ and an embryonic and disruptive social media. The pro-field sports bodies have been much too slow recognising the threat, too slow at formulating a process to deal with it and largely failed to recognise the game had changed and there were now new rules.

The precedent has been set. Protestors have something to point at which tells them they will get what they want if they are only vocal enough, violent enough, or disruptive enough, no matter how small their number.  The group Wild Justice claimed recently that they had dealt a death blow to shooting interest in their latest skirmish with Defra, whereas the reality is that their action will have very little impact on shooting or gamebird management. Regardless of the facts, it was dressed up to be a major ‘victory’ against field sports in general, and, according to one ill-informed commentator the “factory farms’ that produce Red Grouse on demand which are then slaughtered en masse by tweed-clad ‘toffs’” in particular. The truth, of course, is somewhat different, but why let reality get in the way of fake news?

Unfortunately,  rural sports supporters have been slow to understand or adapt to the underhand tactics of the AR fanatics. The result is that there has been a failure to grasp the need or be proactive about identifying and mitigating online risks or indeed exploiting the numerous opportunities. In a recent online poll promoted by a regional newspaper there was significant support for grouse shooting and moorland management, then, in just 4 hours over 17000 votes were cast against, completely reversing the poll results. That’s over 70 votes against grouse shooting every minute or more than once every second, this was not as a result of voters action but the use of a ‘vote bot’ by tech-savvy opponents of rural life and shows the depths to which a few desperate people will goto to fake both news items and results, and they do. Not having, or recognising the need to have the skillset to manage the message in all media that field sports are what created the countryside is no longer good enough.