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Racing NSW letter of complaint to ABC regarding 7.30 program

Racing NSW chairman Russell Balding AO has written to David Anderson, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, ABC, with a complaint from Racing NSW regarding the 'The Final Race' program broadcast on 7.30 on ABC Television on October 17th, 2019.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE LETTER IS BELOW

Introduction

Racing NSW Chairman Mr Russell Balding AO has made a complaint to the ABC regarding ‘The Final Race’ program broadcast on “7:30” on ABC Television on 17 October 2019 and what is viewed as serious and numerous breaches of the ABC’s statutory duties, Editorial Policies and Code of Practice.

Racing NSW believes that the ABC has fallen far short of its statutory duty to ensure “news and information is accurate and impartial according to the recognized standards” and its Editorial Policy requirements to “uphold the fundamental journalistic principles of accuracy and impartiality”. The link to the 21-page letter detailing each of the breaches is HERE

Summary

The NSW racing industry has been depicted as being responsible for animal cruelty alleged to be occurring in some abattoirs and knackeries.

In particular, the NSW racing industry is falsely and unfairly associated with such practices at Queensland’s Meramist Abattoir, in ways that state that the industry is complicit, knowledgeable, uncaring and/or indifferent. These statements include:

“LEIGH SALES: Tonight the dark side of the horse racing industry.

“ELIO CELOTTO, COALITION FOR THE PROTECTION OF RACEHORSES:  I think they’re purposely hiding this from the general public…

“PAUL MCGREEVY: We’re talking about destroying horses on an industrial scale. (emphasis added)

“LEIGH SALES: … The ABC can reveal what really goes on when racehorses’ lives end in knackeries and abattoirs… (emphasis added)

“CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: The doggers and their transporters are ever-present here and the holding pens are constantly replenished with the racing industry's wastage...

“ELIO CELOTTO: … that tells you everything about the connection between the greyhound industry and the racing industry. They rely on each other.

“PAUL MCGREEVY: the industry has let a lot of people down and a lot of horses down by the looks of things. Racing New South Wales will really struggle to justify what's going on here.

“CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: While it's not illegal for New South Wales knackeries to be slaughtering racehorses, one fact is incontrovertible - it is the racing industry that's fuelling their business. (emphasis added)

“ELIO CELOTTO: The knackeries are essentially cleaning up the racing industry's mess and getting rid of it. The problem now is that they're being exposed for what really is happening out there. (emphasis added)

“CARO MELDRUM-HANNA: The racing industry's wastage is endless.” (emphasis added)

In addition, comments about the industry are intercut with images and audio of cruelty to animals at Queensland’s Meramist Abattoir. For example, following the final excerpt quoted above the program shows images of horses being cruelly treated with the following soundtrack:
“ABBATTOIR (sic) WORKER: Go on, you dumb f***ing dumb c***.

ABBATTOIR (sic) WORKER: F***ing stupid c***.”

Yet there is no effort by the program to explain that Racing NSW has no association with, or control over, Queensland’s Meramist Abattoir or was aware of the atrocities occurring at that facility. Further, no substantive evidence of these serious and unfounded allegations are presented on the program.

The unfairness is most clearly demonstrated in the interview of Racing NSW CEO, Mr Peter V’landys AM, who was not shown or made aware of the shocking footage of the sickening and abhorrent treatment of horses at Queensland’s Meramist Abattoir. Mr V’landys AM was denied the opportunity to present Racing NSW’s position in respect of that footage, which is broad and unconditional condemnation of such sickening and abhorrent treatment of horses. The audience would have been unaware that Mr V’landys AM had not been shown that footage or alerted to the treatment of horses at Queensland’s Meramist Abattoir nor given any opportunity to respond to, or comment on, that treatment. In stark contrast, two of the parties interviewed in the program, Mr Elio Celotto (from activist group, Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses) and Professor Paul McGreevy (a long-term critic of the racing industry), appear to have either been involved in obtaining, or provided with, privileged access to the footage shown on the “7.30” program and were allowed to comment specifically on the footage, with their perspective dominating the program.

Racing NSW takes strong measures to prevent the inappropriate disposal of racehorses within its jurisdiction. However, throughout the program, images, narration and commentary are presented of appalling practices in abattoirs and knackeries. Racing NSW has publicly condemned the cruelty identified. If Racing NSW had been aware of any instance of animal cruelty, whether relating to horses within its jurisdiction or not, or in relation to any animals, it would have immediately taken action itself where it had authority and, where it did not have jurisdiction, reported such matters to relevant authorities for action and rectification. This is especially important in relation to animal welfare.

It is disappointing that neither the ABC nor other parties involved in the two-year period of putting the program together apparently saw fit to report to authorities, when they became aware of the cruelty. While not within the ambit of this complaint, it is a matter for the ABC, as a public agency with integrity responsibilities, to consider. If the ABC has any evidence of abuse of thoroughbreds within the jurisdiction of Racing NSW, we would expect that such evidence be brought to Racing NSW’s attention as soon as possible.

By gathering and presenting this information in this manner and failing to present the diversity of perspectives relevant to the issues, the program has failed to meet the standards of the ABC’s Editorial Policy and Code of Practice. The failure is particularly serious given the contentious nature of the content.

There is unfairness at the core of the program’s approach and coverage of the issue. Despite an apparent two-year investigation, the interview with Racing NSW CEO, Mr Peter V’landys AM occurred only one day prior to broadcast. The request came just six days prior to broadcast and contained no information about the nature and extent of the cruelty allegations at Queensland’s Meramist Abattoir being made in the program which should have been provided to Racing NSW both prior to the interview being conducted and the program being broadcast.

There were 29 horses identified in the program that were implied to be NSW horses that were being illegally and improperly disposed of. However, Racing NSW inquiries subsequent to the broadcast have shown that of the 29 horses named, only one horse was sold to an abattoir by a person within Racing NSW’s jurisdiction. Further, one horse, Reliable Kingdom, alleged by the program to have been “condemned to death” is in fact alive.

Racing NSW and the racing industry in NSW were disproportionately represented in the program with far more detail than any other state and the viewer is given the incorrect impression that racing in NSW is the problem. In reality, Racing NSW was the only state to have had a Rule that attempts to address the issues raised in the program.

In the context of Mr V’landys AM being asked a series of questions, the program shows footage of Queensland Racing. Racing NSW has no jurisdiction over Queensland racing and this unfortunately is symptomatic of the program’s approach.

The complaint includes Racing NSW’s challenge of factual inaccuracies, misrepresentations, lack of independent verification of data, vision and statements, which include the following (in addition to those presented above):

The program asserts that branding is burnt into horses, whereas the practice of fire-branding has been banned in thoroughbred racing for over 30 years.
There are broad and unsupported statements about both the number and percentage of racehorses that are being killed at knackeries and abattoirs, with no independent verification being provided in support of those claims. References to thousands of racehorses being sent to abattoirs seems to be supported by unverified extrapolation of figures based on 22 days of alleged footage taken over a two-year period (3% of 2 years) and, in one case, a study conducted over 10 years ago, prior to the introduction of important welfare initiatives by the racing industry and Racing NSW’s Rules prohibiting horses predominantly domiciled in NSW for their life being sent to knackeries and abattoirs.

In the context of images of horses cruelly treated at Queensland’s Meramist Abattoir, the program includes the allegation that horses “are coming straight off the racetrack” whereas the majority of the horses identified in the program had been retired from racing for many years.

There is a need for the ABC to provide verification of the heavily edited footage and the analysis of the data cited in the program. This is because this data is used to allege that racing industry data is not only inaccurate but deliberately so. The ABC has a responsibility to “not present factual content in a way that will materially mislead the audience” (ABC editorial policy 2.1). The inaccuracies noted in the 21-page complaint influenced the perspective presented throughout the program with statements regarding the alleged scale and nature of the issue.

There was no proper or serious attempt to present the perspective of the racing industry, which should have included the actions and work of Racing NSW (and other racing organisations) to address the welfare of thoroughbred racehorses, both during and after their racing careers. To the extent that they are referenced, they are done so in a manner to be contextualized and critiqued by the industry opponents featured in the program.

The information that was specifically excluded from the program by the ABC included the statements of Mr V’landys AM provided during the interview in respect of Racing NSW’s many programs to rehome horses and provide equine therapy from these retired horses to disadvantaged persons within the community.
The program also did not present the important racing industry initiative introduced in 2016, tracking thoroughbred horses from birth to retirement from the racing industry. Since 2016, foals must be registered shortly after birth and are permanently excluded from racing if they are not. This initiative was a major step in developing the national traceability register supported by Racing NSW.

The program also failed to clearly identify the jurisdictional issues involved with different States and Territories or the extent of jurisdiction in relation to registered owners, trainers and horses while in the industry. For example, once horses move from the ownership of registered participants, Racing NSW has no legal right to either track or take action. Further, Racing NSW only has jurisdiction and power to act in the State of NSW. Despite this limited legal jurisdiction, Racing NSW seeks to act to protect the welfare of retired horses where it can, which has included purchasing horses from a Victorian sale located at Echuca which were at risk of being purchased by a knackery and also making bids on many other horses to make it unviable for the knackery to purchase them. Racing NSW also has no control or authority in relation to practices at knackeries or abattoirs which are subject to the State and Commonwealth legislative and regulatory oversight of those facilities.

The ABC was made aware of the complexity of issues contained in the program through email information sent by Racing NSW in the short period subsequent to the interview with Mr V’landys, and prior to broadcast, but chose not to include this information in the program.

Racing NSW considers the failure to adequately consider, or even engage with Racing NSW prior to the program, on information critical to the program, to further illustrate a failure of editorial standards. The program chose to proceed with damaging allegations regarding Racing NSW and the racing industry without specifically putting those allegations depriving Racing NSW and the racing industry from a fair and proper opportunity to respond to those allegations.

This is illustrated by the program sending an email to Racing NSW at 1:06 pm on the day of the broadcast in respect of alleged NSW horses that had been sent to Camden sales and two NSW knackeries in breach of Racing NSW’s Rules. Notwithstanding the short timeframe, Racing NSW provided a detailed response at 2:19pm but apart from a brief statement by the 7.30 host after the report ended, there was no mention of Racing NSW’s response. This is patently inadequate and inappropriate given the apparent two-year investigation, the provision of a response to an email on the day of broadcast and the clear focus of the program’s report on the racing industry.

The reporter, Ms Caro Meldrum-Hanna, has herself been observed on social media to continue to tweet, retweet and comment on other anti-racing causes even until the time of the lodgment of Racing NSW’s complaint showing a sustained attack on the racing industry, has supported other “anti-racing” causes such as anti-gambling and also commented and shared on declining TV ratings and wagering on the Melbourne Cup Carnival, directed multiple tweets at NSW Premier, Ms Gladys Berejiklian and other politicians in relation to the program. A copy of the tweets are available HERE

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