Horse racing news coverage – where facts are a non runner

Horse racing news coverage – where facts are a non runner
battlefront dies in the fox hunters chase at aintree

Battlefront shortly before he died

A much loved, well cared for horse died at the Aintree Grand National meeting on Thursday.

Battlefront was owned by Helen Walsh, wife of trainer Ted and mother of jockey Katie.

Katie pulled up the horse before the 15th fence when she knew something was wrong with the 11 year old gelding.

Battlefront died of a heart attack with Katie in attendance.

The Walsh family are distraught,

How has this tragic event been covered by the media that ignores racing the rest of the year? Well some newspapers immediately picked up their hotline to Animal Aid and other anti-racing groups who never let the facts get in the way of a rant against the sport.

And these days such lazy journalism has extended to television news programming, at least in the UK. Where the visual version of cut and paste journalism is rife and programme editors and producers have GRAND NATIONAL written up on their white boards. In red ink. Just waiting for a horse fatality at the meeting so that they can fill three minutes of airtime with misleading information.

Christmas came early this week. How they must have sprung into action when they heard a horse had died at Aintree on Thursday. Let’s get the sound bites first from the animal welfare organisations. Then get hold of some old crusty type with a double barrelled name who we can edit down to the thirty seconds in which he or she says “racing is a great sport…watched by thousands.”

If you are a sub editor for the Daily (hate everyone and everything) Mail you get on to your computer and trawl for dated images of horses that have fallen in a Grand National (even if the race in which the death occurred was called the Fox Hunters’ Chase). After all, never let the facts get in the way of an easy to write story.

I expect nothing less from the Mail. We all know how low this once fine broadsheet newspaper of record can stoop. Only yesterday it alleged that everyone on state benefit was, like Mick Philpott, (who killed his six children); a danger to society. Editor Paul Dacre has turned the Daily Mail into a very successful rag by playing to the prejudices of the unwashed who pay money to read stories that have as their central ingredient lies and invention. Facts are a stranger to the Daily Mail.

What I find really sad is that, like literary lemmings, so many other newspapers now follow their lead. Lazy journalism or a race to sell copies? Both. They are linked.

There were one or two notable exceptions among the broadsheet journalists who know the sport and wrote more balanced copy this evening, for Friday. But they are now the exception whereas, when I worked in Fleet Street in the late 70’s, they were the norm.

Meanwhile, in the world of broadcast news, if you are working for BBC TV News, SKY News or ITV News then the approach is simple. Give the taped interviews to the editor. Tell him or her which sound bites you want. Plonk some archive footage tapes on their desk and tell them to use the nastiest falls they can find. Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t forget to mention that a jockey was paralysed at the Cheltenham festival.

No. Correction. Hang on a moment there. A jockey is not a horse. So scrap that idea. Horses pull at the heart strings of those who don’t watch racing. They will either not know nor care about what a jockey does for his or her living. The dangers they face.

And send out a cameraman anywhere to get a shot of an empty horsebox. No matter that it is not connected to the horse that so sadly died of a heart attack. Just get a shot of an empty horsebox. And be quick about it.

Oh, and don’t forget to use footage of the ill fated Grand National for last year. Again. We want to see lots of horses falling.

Wrap it all up in a 2-3 minute video package and get it on air pronto.

Don’t mention that the 11 year old horse Battlefront died of a heart attack that could have happened at any meeting, and on any day. Or that the horse could have had a heart attack at home, or while out on the road or the gallops at home.

No. Facts are no longer part of mainstream broadcast journalism and they certainly have no place in a tabloid newspaper today.

After all, we wouldn’t want to talk to someone who knows the facts of animal welfare.

Someone like Jim McGrath. He would be too wordy and we couldn’t edit him down to a thirty second sound bite which, in turn, would make him sound complacent about the welfare of horses. And we wouldn’t want that, would we?

For my part, writes Vernon Grant, I do try to interview people at length.

This age of sound bite, short attention span media means thoughtful analysis, comment and interviewing about sport is all too rare.

Inside this interview with Jim McGrath he talks about an important, thorough and detailed report that looked into animal welfare in the world of racing. It’s findings surprised even Jim – a man who knows the sport well and is not afraid to comment on its failings and its beauty. A man the Daily Mail or TV News shows would never think to interview.

If you haven’t watched it already, do so now. It is illuminating



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