There is no doubt that “that” Oprah Winfrey interview was an eye-opening experience for any observer who strives to retain an objective viewpoint. Everywhere you turn, the stories are there, escalating what is undoubtedly a private family disagreement into something a lot nastier and infinitely more divisive. There is no doubt that that carefully scripted televisual event was driven by a group with huge egos and an insatiable demand for sympathetic headlines. Pandora’s box has been opened and as such the consequences unintended or otherwise are going to be cataclysmic and far-reaching.
What ‘that’ interview illustrated all too accurately is that perception is driven by messages and it is often perception rather than facts that are the driving force behind decision making and the message the media delivers to its audience. As a result, the messenger who is quickest to the media, or that has the more sensational negative message, is today the one whose message will, initially at least, gain the most popular traction. This negativity is amplified by the broadcast media who today seem unable or unwilling to present a balanced rational viewpoint of any contentious issue.
This ‘forget the truth, give me the headlines’ is a strategy through which hunting has suffered over a number of years, especially with the drive from those in influential positions to adopt a mantra of ‘keep quiet and hoping the whole thing will blow over’. In the meantime, messages from the well-funded confederation of anti-hunt/ animal rights/anti-establishment/anti-[yet to be decided] groups have increasingly been broadcast largely unchallenged, no matter how inaccurate or indeed fanciful. Such control of the narrative has accelerated a shift in mindset away from hunts being seen as valuable local employers that perform a range of services for the wider benefit of their community towards anyone involved in field sports of any type being presented in a child-like way as demons, with an insatiable level of bloodlust and cruelty.
Without wishing to sound repetitive we have not learnt that keeping quiet does not work.
If we say nothing, the perception is that we have nothing to say. A cynical view might be that it was never actually expected to work long term. By consistently failing to invest in any form of strategic vision that hunt followers could buy into and, until very recently, failing to mount any form of effective challenges to the ‘noise’ and the inaccuracies being peddled by our opponents, the perception is that everything they say must be accurate.
If we do not put forward positive straight forward arguments illustrating that ALL fieldsports:- hunting, shooting, and fishing, are a vital component of the environment and key to balancing rural life then we risk becoming a casualty of ‘ group woke think’. Such dogma reinforces the perception that there is nothing positive about any field sport and we are all at risk. In addition, much like the flight of fantasy that was at the core of ‘that interview’ any invented negative is taken as true by implication.
On the rare occasions we do get to speak to the media, we must work much harder to remove the perception that mounted hunting in particular, is the preserve of rich white people. Hunting can no longer tolerate the ego of that tiny minority who break the rules and try to cover it up, or worse still gloss over it because some refuse even to evaluate effective governance or assess the impact of potential changes such as licencing or regulation to protect our way of life. The problem lies at the heart of hunting and much like Marie Antionette’s perceived arrogance and lavishness, it seems that those who direct the ‘heart of hunting’ just cannot see the problem.
During this quiet period before the start of next season, we are all going to have to redouble efforts to combat the current perception that we are ‘all rulebreakers’. A good start would be to fund a strategy that retakes the narrative from ‘rural journalists’ and those actions from outside our community. Research indicates that ‘Ducks Unlimited’ an American Wildfowling group returns 80% of their annual income to support groups at the frontline line of wildfowling and wetland conservation, they at least understand the fight. On this side of the pond we’re already playing catchup after decades where the anti-hunt message was the only one being publicly presented, and to continue hoping for change while repeating the same failures is foolish in the extreme.
Like it or not, today, perception is everything. The British Royal Family and the standing of the whole country have been damaged by the perception given from that one interview. Hunting needs to think long and hard about the perception we want the world to have of us and how to challenge the negative one that is hardening around us. It is not too late but we need to be seen to act now and not squander yet another opportunity.