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Traditional UK media accepted baseless allegations against animal research labs

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Animal welfare issues aren’t our area of expertise, but this item from The Guardian is worth noting:

‘Shocking’ animal rights exposés by newspapers were nothing of the kind

Last week the UK Home Office published the findings of its investigations into allegations of animal suffering, made after undercover infiltrations at two animal research facilities.

You will not find coverage of any of the conclusions in the national news media. Instead any search for media coverage will unearth the original infiltration stories under headlines such as: “Horrific video shows distress of puppies and kittens waiting to be dissected at animal testing lab”; “Graphic content: horrifying video shows puppies and kittens tested at UK laboratory”; and “Rats beheaded with scissors and kept in ‘pitiful state’.”

It all sounds awful. Good thing it was untrue.

The investigation upheld only 5 of 180 accusations against Imperial College in London, and the violations were minor (no significant suffering). No allegations against Merke, Sharpe and Dohme were upheld.

The background to cases of this type, as journalist Fiona Fox explains, is that animal rights activists, who oppose animal research in principle, infiltrate labs to dig up dirt. Ignoring in-house procedures for reporting mistreatment, they go to the newspapers with, in these cases, sensational fables that fall apart when authorities investigate.

No sane person supports animal cruelty, and Fox reports that science labs are starting to get wise to how to handle unfounded accusations:

This kind of one-sided reporting may have been more understandable when scientists stayed quiet on the issue, but this is no longer the case. Earlier this year, 81 organisations signed a Concordat on Openness in Animal Research, committing them to embrace media and public interest in their use of animals in research, and open up their facilities to more journalists. So when animal rights activists in Leicester recently told local newspapers that a new facility in the university would be used to inflict suffering on monkeys and dogs, the university threw its doors open to journalists who after unfettered access reported that this particular facility housed only rodents. More.

There was a time when newspapers and other traditional media did their own investigations. No, those weren’t the good old days, by any means.

But—just for example—the Chicago Tribune or the Toronto Star might investigate slum housing without having any special reason (or need!) to misrepresent slumlords. They did not, for example, represent interests that wanted to abolish private property—which would incline a news source toward sensational allegations. Accepting outside investigations means accepting outside agendas.

But as media decline in importance as information sources, they are increasingly likely to run with a ball provided by others, without pausing overlong to see what that ball consists of. They desperately need to sell copies now; there isn’t much of a future to build trust for.

If such media print unfounded allegations of wrong-doing against others, we can of course expect them to do it to us as well. Just a heads-up.

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