As a one-time professional historian, I had sympathy for Huw Edwards this week for being roundly censored by his employer, the BBC. Edwards had spoken out about the removal of a portrait of Sir Thomas Picton from the National Museum, Cardiff.
Whatever Picton may have done two hundred years ago, Edwards condemned “the censoring of history” and called for the painting’s reinstatement.
For many years, here in the UK we have abhorred the rewriting of history when it has been done by the Russians, Chinese, or various religious sects, but now it seems we are just as careless of the facts as anyone else.
Edwards fell foul of the BBC’s policy that “staff should not express a personal opinion on a matter of public policy, politics or controversial subjects”.
Whether or not we want robots or human beings presenting our news is not for me to say, but I do find it strange that the BBC clamps down on some but not others.
Chris Packham has been employed by the BBC for many years and has used his position there to “express personal opinions on public policy, politics and controversial subjects” throughout his tenure.
I had one meeting with Chris Packham which was extremely unpleasant, but I have tried to ignore this and keep an open mind, which, like many anglers and country people, I have found difficult.
As an example, I’ll give Packham’s vocal condemnation of game shooting as a sport.
I have recently moved to Herefordshire, deep in a secluded valley. There are fields and orchards around me, but also over a score of small woodland pockets.
These are a haven of wildlife and account for the plethora of birdlife I am revelling in. They are, of course, shot for pheasants too but on a small scale, largely by farmers, friends and family.
These last few days, there have been guns firing at odd times, and I have gone out of my way to speak to those responsible.
They have unanimously made the point that they preserve woodland for wildlife and sport both, and that if the latter were made illegal, it would probably convince them to submit to financial pressures and replace trees with crops where possible.
Now, like Packham, I don’t like shooting personally. I did shoot as a lad, and beat for big shoots on Norfolk estates around me. The whole scene I found not to my taste, but many friends who I admired, adored it.
Unlike Packham, I took their views into account, and the valuable side-effects shooting has on countryside diversity… the word of the moment I know!
In short, for many years now, Packham has used the BBC as a platform for his own agenda, much of which is “political” or “controversial” and yet, as far as I can tell, he remains above reproach in the organisation.
Last year I contacted a BBC producer to beg for air time so I could point out the damage canoeing does on shallow rivers at spawning time. I was told that whilst he sympathised, the subject was “too controversial” for the BBC.
We really do live in strange times.