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Ofcom rules on Pedigree Dogs Exposed


WATCHDOG OFCOM finally revealed last week that the controversial programme, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, was not unfairly edited, but went on to criticise parts of the programme which rocked the world of dogs two years ago.

Last year, following the airing of the infamous programme which set out to malign dog breeders and exhibitors, The Kennel Club lodged a complaint saying it had been treated unfairly. The complaint suggested that parts of the programme had been edited to portray the KC, and those involved in dogs as a hobby, as cruel and uncaring about the welfare of showdogs, a claim which was backed up in the programme by the RSPCA’s veterinary advisor, Mark Evans, who controversially claimed that many showdogs were ‘mutants’.

Ofcom said in its statement that the club ‘was not deceived about the purpose of the programme; but that it had not been given ‘a proper opportunity’ to respond to the allegations.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed was broadcast in August 2008 and looked at the ‘health and welfare problems in pedigree dogs’, citing that physical traits required by breed standards,led to inherent health problems. It also contained criticisms of other dog clubs and individual dog breeders.
Thousands of Our Dogs readers, protested against the RSPCA and Passionate Productions (the company which made the programme), in the weeks that followed the programme in August 2008. The main concern was that problems within breeds was shown as being down to uncaring breeders, rather than as one-off problems which were highlighted on the programme as the norm.

The Kennel Club consequently said that the documentary was unfairly edited and did not properly reflect its ‘deep commitment to the health and welfare of dogs’.

The controversey over the programme eventually led to the dropping of Crufts from the BBC’s schedules in March last, after 42 years of commitment to the show. The event was quickly snapped up by another company and attracted a record number of viewers worldwide last year via an internet ‘pay as you watch’ attraction.

Many called the programme ‘sensationalist’ and knocked the producers for allowing dogs to be filmed whilst suffering from seizures and pain, with detractors calling for prosecution of the RSPCA for alloiwng animals to be filmed whilst clearly suffering.

In a statement, Ofcom said that the BBC documentary had shown no ‘unfairness to the Kennel Club in the editing of the programme and that the Kennel Club was not deceived about the purpose of the programme’. It added that programme makers had given the Kennel Club an ‘appropriate and timely opportunity to respond’ to some of the allegations.

Unfair

However, it did agree that the organisation had not been given a proper opportunity to respond to an allegation about eugenics and a comparison with Hitler and the Nazi Party, or an allegation that it covered up the nature of an operation carried out on a Crufts Best in Show winner’.

The Kennel Club made five complaints in total. Four of those complaints were rejected.

The ruling was due to come out several weeks ago, though reports of a hold-up and complaints by the BBC shortly beforehand apparently led to the delay in any details until last week.

In its statement, published late last week, Ofcom said that the ‘the club’s fifth area of complaint was that it was not given an appropriate opportunity to respond to 15 specific allegations. Ofcom has found that the club was treated unfairly in four of those 15’.

Complaints were also made by the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Great Britain, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, and dog breeders Mr Michael Randall and Mrs Virginia Barwell. The programme had accused the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Great Britain of not doing all it could about Dermoid Sinus. Ofcom said that the documentary ‘did not fairly represent the research on the subject’.

The programme was also gave the ruling ‘unfair’ to Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breeder Mrs Virginia Barwell.

KC response

The KC immediately issued a response to the ruling, a response which maintained its disappointment in the The Kennel Club became involved in the programme ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’ because it wanted to have an open and honest discussion about the health issues of some pedigree dog breeds and what can and is being done to ensure that all dogs have the opportunity to live healthy, happy lives. It was precisely because the programme makers originally said that its message was “intended to be a hopeful one showing how science and breeders can combine to preserve our purebreds for the future” that the Kennel Club was keen to take part.

After the programme was broadcast the Kennel Club lodged a complaint to Ofcom because it believed it had been treated unfairly, and because its views had not been adequately conveyed.
Ofcom upheld parts of the Kennel Club’s complaint about unfair treatment, by saying that it was not given a timely and appropriate opportunity to respond to certain damaging allegations included in the programme. These included the implication that the Kennel Club covered up the nature of an operation carried out on a Crufts Best in Show winner.

Ofcom also found that contributions to the programme made by Professor Jeff Sampson, the Kennel Club’s senior scientific advisor and spokesman, did not fairly represent his views. It admitted that the material and extracts actually used in the programme did not fully or fairly reflect his considered responses in the lengthy interviews he gave to the programme makers.
Chairman of the Kennel Club, Ronnie Irving, said: “The Kennel Club is pleased that Ofcom has confirmed that Professor Sampson was not fairly represented in the programme. Professor Sampson is our senior representative and spokesman on the health and genetic issues affecting dogs. It is therefore surprising that Ofcom doesn’t also conclude, on this occasion, that the Kennel Club itself was therefore unfairly represented. Ofcom has actually changed its mind on this point since its provisional decision.

“The damaging effect of this unfair editing was to distort our views and to fail to show viewers the seriousness with which we take the issue of dog health and the investment we make in this area.

“We are pleased with the finding in respect of the Crufts Best in Show winner. We are committed to ensuring that the show ring is used as a force for good, to encourage and reward the breeding of healthy, happy dogs and we took this allegation – and the fact that we were not given the appropriate opportunity to respond to it – very seriously.

“We have previously indicated our concerns over the lengthy time it has taken to resolve our complaint and over Ofcom’s last minute acceptance of further submissions by the BBC. We do have serious misgivings about the conduct of our complaint and on the obvious change of mind which took place between Ofcom’s decision in its provisional finding, and the decision that it finally published.

“This process has taken a significant amount of time and the Kennel Club now wants to move forward, continuing to work with breed experts, our scientific advisors and the veterinary profession, to ensure that all dogs are given the opportunity to lead the healthy, happy lives that they deserve.”

Pleased

The RRCGB also issued a statement following the findings, and said that it was ‘very pleased’ that Ofcom had upheld its complaints regarding the misleading information about Dermoid Sinus, Spina bifida and the Ridge in the BBC programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed 19/8/08.

‘The breed has been through an extremely difficult year as a result of the inaccurate statements contained in this programme, statements which left viewers with the impression that breeders were breeding from, and selling, Ridgebacks that were deformed,’ said the statement, issued by club Chairman, Kirsteen Maidment.

‘The damage to our breed has been huge, owners have received verbal abuse, puppy sales and breeding programmes have been put in jeopardy. It has been disappointing that the Kennel Club have not wholly supported us, and very regrettable that several parties including, the RSPCA, and general public opinion were very quick to make critical opinion of our breed without making any initial attempt to contact breed experts for clarification regarding the health issues of Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

‘We have had to wait for over a year before Ofcom’s decision has allowed us to let the public know that Rhodesian Ridgebacks are a very healthy, fit and active breed. At no time have Club members knowingly bred from unhealthy, deformed dogs, nor are ridgeless or Dermoid Sinus detected dogs used in breeding programmes.Breeders have always attempted to maintain the extraordinary virtues of the breed, and (with a considerable measure of success) have reduced the incidence of Dermoid Sinus over the past four years to 2.24%. The Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Great Britain is continuing to fund research which it is hoped will result in a Dermoid Sinus positive DNA test.

‘We have been extremely grateful for all support received over the past year both at home and abroad.’

Click here for the full OFCOM report

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