Let Battle Commence

Taking a break from GDPR we investigate why fox hunting continues to create a Brexit-esque divide in the UK 

I’m writing this at a time when most of my days seem to be occupied by deleting or responding to emails about GDPR. Seriously, how did I become signed up to so much utter tosh? From insanely dull newsletters about improving your marketing, to special offers on different types of packaging, it seems like I’ve been giving away my data faster than a tweed-mini-skirt-wearing lass giving out sloe gin at a Game Fair.

The thing about GDPR is that, like many similar initiatives, it is a relatively simple proposition made head-achingly convoluted by bureaucracy – and further confused by people looking to make a quick buck from small businesses. I hope, however, that everyone reading this had as easy a time of it as possible!

Incidentally, if you’re a business owner reading this and the phrase GDPR isn’t ringing any bells, I suggest you quickly and quietly find someone wearing glasses and a Doctor Who T-shirt, they’ll tell you what to do…

At its heart, GDPR is about the privacy of everyday people. It makes it utterly clear that not only do you have the right for companies to delete your data, but if you do sign up to hear the latest news about packaging, your data should be kept in a secure fashion and not used in ways that jeopardise your privacy or safety.

It’s sad that we need such rules, but there is no question that we do. One of my favourite party tricks when in the company of people from the older generation is to demonstrate how easy it is to track their lost acquaintances down online. Remember that chap who got drunk at your wedding reception 30 years ago? Here’s his email address, the town he lives in and a photo of him getting similarly sloshed at a bar mitzvah just last year. Scared yet?

The idea of your personal details being so public is anathema to people who grew up with ideas like ‘keep a stiff upper lip’ and ‘don’t kiss and tell’. But, as we all know, the truly terrifying thing isn’t our own stupidity at uploading our own details, it’s the things that other people can upload about you. This issue was the core of a recent BBC documentary entitled ‘The Hunt: Battle for the Countryside’, which followed some hunt saboteurs as they attempted to disrupt a hunt. Or the core of my problem with it, anyway – there was, in fairness, much to take offence at.

The prospect of any BBC documentary onfield sports naturally fills me with dread, and it was with much trepidation that I sat down to watch it on iPlayer (where you can find it for the next 10 months, incidentally). How bad would the notoriously left-leaning Beeb have made the hunt look? Would it simply be a 24-minute propaganda video for saboteurs, or ‘sabs’ as they are also known?

The first few minutes really didn’t bode well. It started with a man whose face was concealed, talking about his beliefs and why he devoted a large part of his life to disrupting hunts. He was clearly under the impression that he was an important part of a large and vital struggle – he even ended his speech with the grandiose claim that ‘there is a battle in the countryside and it’s a lot bigger than people realise’. Quake in your pristine Hunter wellies, city dwellers!

Next, the lady doing the documentary’s voiceover claimed that, while they’d had a huge influx of huntsmen wanted to contribute to the piece, ‘national organisations warned people off and shut us out. So we’re having to tell half this story using archive footage and anyone else who would talk to us.’ I had horrible visions of a mad old chap in red trousers speaking from the grounds of a castle about how much fun it was running over sabs with his horse.

Fortunately, the reality was much, much better. The pro-hunters the documentary did film were all young people who’d been asked to do vox- pops on a high street, and they all came across like normal, middle class, law-abiding citizens. Biased old me also very much enjoyed their contempt for the sabs, particularly the one chap who said: “It’s almost like a hobby for them, going off and being a pain in the ass”.

Even if it wasn’t a pro-sab film, there were two things about it that really, really annoyed me. The first was that the documentary had footage of the sabs stealing hounds, almost in a way that glorified masked people breaking the law, and the second is best demonstrated by two comments from the film:

Pretty blonde girl on high street: “They’re filming us and publishing it on Facebook without our permission.”

Masked maverick: “The reason that we do cover our faces is that we’ve seen a huge escalation in online activity, trying to find out who we are….. it’s definitely a risky job.”

As we all know, the sabs are publishing videos of huntsmen on Facebook so they can be more easily targeted by their community of hideous little criminals. It’s not only an invasion of privacy but also the use of personal details for the specific purpose of inciting illegal activity, most probably violence. It’s utterly abhorrent, and it’s a problem that could easily affect shooters – not least because shoots are in fixed locations, with reasonably predictable patterns of operation, and therefore easy targets.

As shooters, we are the obvious next target, and already under an ever-increasing threat of our details being published and used for nefarious purposes. As I highlighted in my last column, people are already being victimised in the media for simple things such as working gundogs, and who knows what else that coverage might incite?

The BBC should be ashamed of themselves for screening such a cursory look at these issues, and arguably for highlighting this kind of behaviour in a way that might encourage others to take part.

The media’s first job is to report the news in an unbiased and factual way but, as GDPR shows, the right to be private, or as Google would say, ‘forgotten’, has never been more vital. Reporting that encourages public harm can never be in the public interest, but protecting ourselves, both online and in life, looks to be the real battle in the countryside.

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