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DEAR MR DYKE - Letter to the BBC
Posted 1 April 2003
In its coverage of the Grand National last year, the BBC effectively avoided mentioning the death of The Last Fling and Manx Magic. Our letter to the Director General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, seeking assurances regarding this year's coverage, is reproduced below. For background to the letter see our Horse Racing Awareness Week pages.
Mr Greg Dyke
London W1A 1AA
14th March 2003
Dear Mr Dyke
You may remember that we entered into correspondence last year over the BBC's coverage of the Grand National. We were most disturbed that, despite four deaths during the three day event - two of them during the Grand National itself - the BBC effectively avoided altogether any mention of the Saturday fatalities and granted barely a sentence to the earlier deaths.
I write asking for an assurance that the BBC will respond promptly and appropriately to any such injuries and deaths that arise during this year's event.
Peter Salmon, director of Sport, claimed that his television racing team were unable to respond to the big race fatalities because of shortage of time. Let me remind you that The Last Fling broke his back and Manx Magic fractured his neck. The seriousness of these injuries would have been identified almost immediately and the horses would have died or been shot before the end of the race.
Your commentary team, which featured two experienced jockeys who had both ridden in the National itself, would have known what had happened, and yet reference to the fate of these horses was ostentatiously avoided during the roughly 45 minutes they remained on air following the race's completion. This was despite the fact that the race was re-screened in slow motion - during the course of which, the fatally injured animals were plainly in view.
Animal Aid was not able to monitor all your coverage but my understanding is as follows:
BBC 1 television made no mention whatsoever of the Saturday fatalities. There was merely an ambiguous reference to one 'casualty'. Radio 5 Live failed to mention the deaths - certainly for some hours. Radio 2 failed to mention the deaths. Radio 4's first and only mention of the two fatalities was a brief reference at around 15 minutes past midnight.
I presume you would not want to argue that the British public has no interest in whether or not horses die during this event; or that the BBC is justified in all but failing to report on the four fatalities.
The industry itself was clearly alarmed in the run-up to last year's Aintree event at the prospect of more deaths. It is aware that the public is increasingly disturbed at the annual carnage. Since 1997, 27 horses have died at Aintree.
The suspicion must be that your front-line racing team - which included two former leading jockeys and the daughter of a man who trains horses for the Queen - was determined not to sully its coverage with appropriate reporting of the bad news. This is a betrayal not just of the equine victims but of the many welfare-sensitive members of the viewing public.
There is also the issue of commercial motives. Could it be that with millions of pounds to be earned from rights sales to overseas TV companies, the BBC was determined to present a sanitised version of the event?
In light of the above, I feel I must state the obvious at this juncture: the Aintree event is a wholly commercial enterprise. The BBC has a public service mandate. A handsome income accruing to the Corporation from rights sales to overseas TV companies - or via other initiatives - is no justification for abandoning its statutory and ethical responsibilities.
I look forward to receiving your assurance that the BBC will cover any injuries and deaths at the Grand National three-day event in a prompt and appropriate manner.
Director, Animal Aid