Animal Aid

BBC SPORT - National disgrace

Posted 1 June 2002

Two horses died during the 2002 Grand National - but that fact received not a mention during the BBC's television coverage and barely a word on radio. Our correspondence with the BBC on this subject continues...

Racehorse with broken legPeter Salmon
Director of BBC Sport
The BBC
Broadcasting House
Portland Place
London W1A 1AA

May 27, 2002

Dear Peter Salmon

Thank you for your May 10 letter in response to mine to Greg Dyke.

You tell me in paragraph three that the 'sometimes tragic nature of the event is part of the overall experience...'

Let me remind you that tragedy is not an occasional feature of the three-day Aintree event. Horses die virtually every year. Four perished this year, one in 2001, five in 2000, four in 1999, five in 1998, and eight in 1997 - a total of 27 in six years. This is apart from the horses who suffer less spectacular injuries and are quietly disposed of in the weeks and months after the event.

I'm afraid I regard your claim that 'we make no attempt to disguise this reality' as utterly fallacious. You talk about the need for accuracy and verification and that you failed to receive official confirmation until after going off air at 16.45. How convenient!

The race started at precisely 15.52 and was over at 1601. Given that both horses were fatally injured sometime before the race was completed, you had at least 45 minutes to verify that they had died. If the desire had been there, you could have done so with ease.

Let me reiterate something I said in my earlier letter: When a horse sustains a serious back or neck injury, such as those suffered by The Last Fling and Manx Magic, course officials are aware almost immediately. The decision to despatch the animal is made and carried out before the race is over.

Your racing team was fronted by two experienced ex-jockeys who have themselves both ridden in the National. Yet they failed to inform the viewing public what had happened, even though there were slow motion re-runs of the race, during which the stricken horses were clearly in view.

In your subsequent coverage of the event on radio and TV, the death of these animals rated barely a sentence, if anything. The news, quite simply, was buried along with the animals.

You go on to tell me that you are unable to provide 'details of confidential contractual agreements'. I never asked for such details. The information I requested was perfectly straightforward. It relates to the scale of your coverage of the event, links with overseas television companies and the way licence-fee money is being spent. As a public service broadcaster pledged - in the words of Greg Dyke - to working to the 'highest editorial and ethical standards',* I cannot believe there is a case for withholding all of this information from the public.
(*Introduction by the Director General to the Code of Ethics for Programme Makers, February 2000.)

Allow me to repeat the questions from my earlier letter:

  1. How much is paid by the BBC to the organisers of the Aintree event for the right to screen the races? What are the comparative figures for 2001 and 2000?
  2. What income accrues to the BBC in respect of footage/ services made available to overseas TV companies? (Figures for 2001 and 2002)
  3. With how many foreign TV companies, in how many countries, does the BBC have a commercial arrangement in respect of the Aintree meet? (Figures for 2001 and 2002)
  4. What was the size, respectively, of the British viewing audience (figure supplied) and the overseas viewing audience for this year's Grand National? (Figures for 2001 and 2002)
  5. What is the total cost to the BBC of its coverage of the Aintree meet? (Figures for 2001 and 2002)
  6. What was the size of the broadcast and technical crew involved in this year's event? (Figures for 2001 and 2002)
  7. Are any payments made to the Jockey Club and/or to the British Horseracing Board with respect to the Aintree meet? (Figures for 2001 and 2002)
  8. What is the projected total BBC expenditure on horse racing coverage this year? (Figures for 2001 and 2002)

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Tyler
Director, Animal Aid

c.c. Mr Greg Dyke, Director General, BBC

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