Next step, complain to Ofcom: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/complaints
This is our complaint to Ofcom:
We have already raised a complaint with Channel 4, and had a response that claims that welfare was of paramount importance, this is clearly not the case.
In their email they refer to “the licenced (sic.) company who cares for [the rabbits], in compliance with the Animal Welfare Regulations 2018”. We assume that they are saying that the company (the “Company”) responsible for the rabbit (or rabbits – as you refer to “animals”) has a licence for “Keeping or training animals for exhibition” which is a licensable activity further to Schedule 1 Part 6 para.10 of the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 (the “2018 Regulations”). If that is correct, the Company is required to comply both with the “General conditions” in Sch.2 of the 2018 Regulations, and the “Specific conditions: keeping or training animals for exhibition” in Sch.7.
In our view, a large number of those conditions were clearly not complied with. In particular, we do not feel that the Company complied with the following:
General conditions – Schedule 2
- Sch.2 para.5 (Suitable environment):
a) Para.5(2): the requirement that animals must be kept “at all times” in an environment suitable to their species with respect, of relevance here, to: (a) their behavioural needs, (b) its situation, space, air quality, cleanliness and temperature, (d) noise levels, (e) light levels and (f) ventilation. We fail to see how having a rabbit shut in a box for even a short period of time complies with this requirement.
b) Para.5(3): the requirement that staff “must ensure” that animals are kept clean and comfortable. Please explain how the rabbit could have been “comfortable” when under the level of stress the programme-makers put it under.
c) Para.5(6): the requirement that animals must be transported and handled in a manner including in relation to housing, temperature, ventilation and frequency, that “protects them from pain, suffering, injury and disease”. Please confirm how the rabbit(s) involved in this programme were protected from suffering. Our firm view is that the rabbit was clearly stressed and therefore suffering.
d) Para.5(9): the requirement that animals “must not be left unattended in any situation or for any period likely to cause them distress”. Our view is that while the rabbit(s) was in the box this was a “period likely to cause them distress”.
- Sch.2 para.8 (Animal handling and interactions):
a) Para.8(2): the requirement that no animals from a “social species” (which rabbits are) “may be isolated or separated from others of their species for any longer than is necessary”. Please note that we do not accept that it was ever “necessary” for the programme-makers to put a rabbit on its own in a small box and film excitable loud people poking it.
Specific conditions – Schedule 7
- Sch.7 para.5 (Housing with or apart from other animals):
a) Para.5(1): the requirement that social animals (which rabbits are) must not be exhibited if their “removal from and reintroduction to the group with which they are usually housed causes them or any other animal within that group stress, anxiety or fear”.
b) Para.5(3): the requirement that all persons (including those participating in the show) “likely to come into contact with the animals during an exhibition must be briefed about how to behave around the animals so as to minimise anxiety, fear and stress in the animals”. It was clear that the rabbit(s) featured was stressed and anxious, and the participants’ behaviour in respect of the rabbit would have increased its “anxiety, fear and stress”. It therefore beggars belief that even if those participating received such a briefing, they were allowed to behave in such a way around the rabbit(s).
- Sch.7 para.7 (Protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease):
a) Para.7(5): the requirement that any equipment or other materials used in the exhibition “must not cause the animals pain, discomfort, fatigue or stress”. Placing and filming a rabbit in a small clear box (when they are prey animals) caused evident discomfort and stress to the rabbit(s) on screen.
Further, we would note that the statutory guidance (https://www.gov.uk/…/keeping-or-training-animals-for…) requires the following. Again, please explain how the Company complied with these requirements:
Part A – General conditions
8.1: that an interaction must be stopped “if the animal shows signs of fear, suffering or fatigue”. It was clear that the rabbit(s) in question showed signs of fear and suffering.
8.3: that animals “must never be forced to interact with people. They must be able to avoid people, by having a facility such as a hiding place.” That was not the case in this programme.
Part B – Specific conditions
3.0: “If animals are displayed to the public, signs must be placed on enclosures to stop anyone from: tapping on the glass; putting their fingers into cages”. Please explain why it was thought appropriate – and in compliance with the guidance to the 2018 Regulations – to permit contestants to touch the rabbit(s) in this way.
4.1: Animals must not “be exposed to glare, heat, noises or other conditions unless specifically habituated to these conditions before the exhibition.” And “An animal must not be forced to do anything. It should not be expected to do anything: outside its normal behaviour repertoire”. It is certainly not within a rabbit’s “normal behaviour repertoire” to be subjected to what it/they were subjected to on the programme.
5.3: Everyone on the production site (including audience, actors and crew) must be told about “how to behave around the animals” and “any movements that might frighten the animals and make them panic or react aggressively”. Further, people exhibiting animals “must tell the event manager to alert them to any other activities that may cause anxiety for the animals […] Exhibitors must reduce any anxiety by moving the animals as far away as possible from the activities”. Please explain why it was thought the activities that took place could take place given these requirements.
5.3: “No one other than the staff responsible for the animals must be allowed to pet, handle or play with the animals during the working day unless supervised and directly involved with the required action and consistent with the best interest of the animal” (our underlining). Please confirm how this was complied with.
Regulation 15 of the 2018 Regulations gives local authorities the power to suspend, vary or revoke a licence at any time on being satisfied that the licence conditions are not being complied with, there has been a breach of the 2018 Regulations, or it is necessary to protect the welfare of an animal. In our view there are good grounds to argue that the Company’s licence should be suspended, if not revoked.