Dom Wightman: Libel can be a costly business. I was rather surprised to receive the letter from Packham’s lawyers.
Mallard Editor Jake Scott interviews the Editor of Country Squire Magazine, Dom Wightman, who along with a Country Squire journalist, has been threatened with legal action by BBC Wildlife presenter Chris Packham relating to some articles published on Country Squire during the Spring related to rehomed tigers and crowdfunding. Jake asks Dom how he’s holding up and why he’s sticking to his guns and refusing to take down the articles in question.
Jake Scott: Welcome to The Mallard, Dom, great to be able to interview you.
Dom Wightman: A veritable honour, Jake.
JS: So, without wanting to get involved in the legal action ourselves, what is the background behind the defamation action that Packham’s lawyers are threatening you and others with?
DW: Yes, let us tread lightly! In short, Country Squire published a bunch of articles, which I edited, which all involved in their construction believe to be true. They concern some German and Spanish tigers which were rehomed at Packham’s girlfriend’s zoo. Chris Packham claims that our interpretation of truth is different from his and so we are at loggerheads. Since the articles were published a crowd of people who feel they were wronged by Packham have got in touch, which has turned defending a defamation threat into something of a noble campaign.
JS: It must be a nightmare receiving a legal threat? Libel can be awfully expensive, no?
DW: Libel can be a costly business. I was rather surprised to receive the letter from Packham’s lawyers one Friday night in April but then woke early the next morning full of fight. When you hover over the target, expect some flak but show resolve. I had published their letter unredacted on the magazine by five in the morning the day after receiving it. I knew early on that we were in the right and still believe so, especially after talking to some very expensive lawyers about the intricacies of defamation law. Not a nightmare at all – we are well-placed and personally I am relishing this fight which I probably would not have got involved in had Packham not threatened me.
JS: Country Squire Magazine self-describes as a publication ‘which provides a platform for voices from the overlooked Great British Countryside’. Basically you’re a lung for the pro-hunting lobby, no? That’s why you have a stag as your logo?
DW: There’s an ethical clothing company called Hidden Stag in Edinburgh which makes excellent t-shirts for toddlers. The stag/deer is recognised as a symbol of spiritual authority – it has a meaning of regeneration, intuition and gentleness. I don’t think the stag is a pro-hunting emblem as such. The reason why Packham and other anti-hunt eco-chuggers are so scared of our magazine is because we are a platform and encourage all to express their opinions on it. I’ve often asked the anti-hunt brigade to contribute articles, but they have always refused. The rewilding lobby have been braver and have scribed a few articles – often as right to replies – and we welcome their use of the platform. Personally, I’m kryptonite – I can legitimately attack say the fringe views of Chris Packham on the countryside with the hunting issue well off the table. They all know I have never been hunting in my life, although I was once given beagling as a punishment at school but managed to escape to a nearby pub on the freezing North Yorkshire moors while the very dull hunt for a hare was going on!
JS: So are you personally anti-hunt?
DW: No. As someone who owns chickens and has seen what foxes can get up to when faced with the smorgasbord of a hen house, I understand that, especially to commercial farmers, foxes are pests and there needs to be a form of control manifested on them. I hold the most popular view – something most fox-afflicted townies would agree with – that foxes need controlling. It’s estimated that over one hundred fox assassins operate in London alone, with many more in other cities throughout Great Britain.
JS: The Packham view of countrysiders is one of disdain – you are a bunch of backward-looking characters who will never reach sustainable farming levels and so are damaging the environment?
DW: That is a pretty good summary of their view, yes, but they are so obviously wrong. The anti countrysiders need to get out and about more or we will end up with countryside votes for countrysiders. Packham and his ilk are the dinosaurs! British farmers are doing a fantastic job and environmental standards are rapidly improving towards a position of sustainability that we all strive for. From gene editing to working out the metabolisable energy of a dairy cow diet, Britain is at the vanguard of rural technologies and agricultural progress. We are riding the cusp of a technological revolution, we are striving, we are professional, and we are highly educated people. Farmers these days are more likely to be seen checking through charts on their laptops in their gators rather than chewing a bit of grass while leaning against a field gate like yokels of days past. The Packham crew say get rid of the farms, rewild and set animals free – that is bonkers. Just look at the plastic polytunnels providing their vegetables, scarring the landscapes of countries like Spain, replete with illegal labour and terrible working conditions – so that is the solution, is it?
JS: Packham’s Extinction Rebellion appearance underlies his stance as a radical doomscultist. How politically-sentient is he do you think?
DW: Like Greta Thunberg, Packham is just reading from a script. He spouts so-called ‘progressive’ fear-mongering on rural and environmental matters which verges on communist ideology at times. He’s a typical watermelon – his speeches are calculated to overthrow an imagined capitalist countryside overclass. It’s class war hogwash concocted by bitter old Trots on townhouse desks – an us versus them narrative which never reflected reality, even in the nineteenth century when most of this bile was first expectorated. Packham enjoys the treats of capitalist society rather too much to walk round in the sack-cloth his speeches are cut from. I do believe the BBC is accessory to the damage Packham tries to manifest on the countryside.
JS: Ah, but Packham is not employed by the BBC. He is only a contractor, right?
DW: That has been the BBC line over recent years. They even have a standard response to the multiple complaints they receive on Packham which contains that very line.
JS: Do you see a future for the BBC?
DW: Oddly enough I do. I am not one of these #defundthebbc to destruction Taliban types. I do believe there should be a centrally-funded core BBC which continues the useful bits – the World Service, core news and political coverage, as well as some of the research and resource departments –returning to core values that won the BBC brand global admiration. I want nepotism in the BBC to end and for the organisation to get over the circular firing squad of postmodern identity politics, which is so obviously divisive. I want to see an end to the licence fee as some people really cannot afford it and I find the money-making elements of the BBC gutless. Why should companies like GB News and Amazon risk facing up to the market while elements of the BBC, which could be money-making, do not have the guts and continue to rely on public subsidy? The material the BBC produces which has no market should wither, unless of core value to the nation such as documentaries and investigations, which merit a larger budget than they are receiving now.
JS: If you could run a TV channel, what would it feature?
DW: Either a channel on the countryside or one featuring wall-to-wall documentaries and investigations which meticulously expose the truth.
JS: Not a channel about veganism, then? Veganism is surely the future no?!
DW: Not my cup of gruel, Jake. Vegans are free to be vegans. What’s important is putting them into perspective, which is when proselytising vegans can get a tad annoying. Right now they represent less than 1% of the UK population, so are a very fringe group. We have been eating meat for millennia. That’s how we got here. When our early ancestors were vegetarians, we were monkeys, but we turned into humans when we learned to eat meat. I’m not saying those who are vegans have a simian-level way of life – I’m just saying that they have one hell of a long way to go to erase bacon sarnies and ribeye steaks from our daily menu. I do not see veganism as the future but bank on science and technology changing how we grow the meat I am sure we will always consume.
JS: I read somewhere that you are married to a Venezuelan beauty queen and that in many ways your marriage to a Venezuelan has coloured your views on socialism?
DW: Yes, I have been married almost fifteen years now and during that time I have witnessed some horrors over in Venezuela, first with Hugo Chavez and then, when all the Chavistas’ money ran out, with Nicolas Maduro as President. I have seen my father-in-law perish a brutal death to cancer where there were no painkillers available to ease his pain – he ended up on his deathbed in sheer agony looking like an Egyptian mummy. I have lost friends to the increasing violence out there – our friend Monica Spear, who was in the same Miss Venezuela finals as my wife, was shot and killed alongside her partner Tom with their toddler daughter cowering in the back seat of their car, shot in the leg. I have seen in-laws starve, which has obviously distressed us as we were helpless, as sending them money was unfeasible – the Chavistas just intercept the foreign exchange and any medications.
JS: Ah but is what the Chavistas implemented ‘real’ socialism?
DW: Brits joke about Venezuela and socialism – socialist caricatures like Owen Jones for example – but I witnessed first-hand the price fixing that socialism entails. When Chavez set the price of a bag of sugar, the supermarkets could no longer make a profit and so sugar was no longer cultivated or sold – I talked to the Chinese who ran the supermarkets, and they were pulling their hair out. I saw the destruction of large farms, split into small, unproductive parcels ‘for the people’ which turned into unkempt allotments. I witnessed the theft of livestock by armed delinquents and slept with a Brazilian pistol under my pillow when visiting as I had to protect my young family and the farm we have in Monagas state. I saw the greed of the Chavistas and their chronic lack of investment into PDVSA, the national oil firm, which, well handled, would have seen Venezuelans richer than Saudis. Socialism is based on fixed ideas and real life requires trade-offs. You reap what you sow. The Chavistas sowed bitter and divisive ideology and look what they reaped. Yes, I believe that socialism is dangerous, and I cry for Venezuela, which is a beautiful country full of great people who seem to always end up with appalling leaders.
JS: Thank you for your time, Dom.
DW: My pleasure and the very best of luck to all of you at The Mallard. Keep up the sterling work!
Photo provided by Country Squire Magazine.