Springtime, and the paranoia is rising – at least among dairy farmers. By: GERARD HUTCHING
Chastened by scrapes with animal rights groups and the media in recent years, farmers are on high alert for cameras lurking behind cowsheds or drones whirring in the skies.
In calving season images of distressed or abused bobby calves are the last thing the industry needs.
Therefore when a Northland dairy farming couple spotted two vehicles and a camera crew with a drone on the road next to their farm on Saturday their suspicions were aroused.
The couple, who wish to remain anonymous, approached the crew, one of whom was freelance journalist Cameron Bennett.
The moment they identified him, their wariness deepened. Wasn’t this the same journalist who had stitched up the dairy industry with his Sunday programme exposé “The Price of Milk” in April.
When confronted over what he was up to, Bennett was “defensive”. What was it to do with them what he was up to, he asked.
Pressed, he confessed. The crew were in the process of making a documentary about a historic pā site nearby.
The story might have ended there, but as these things do these days, it went viral. The fact Bennett was in the region was posted on Twitter and reaction followed.
At that point DairyNZ got in on the act and posted on Facebook that farmers should keep a wary eye out because Bennett was nosing around.
The industry-good body also informed farmers of their legal rights about drones being flown over their properties and the fact they should contact police if their privacy was being invaded.
The comments that followed the post ranged from the mild “sneaky” to veiled threats about shooting down the drone, and further use of firearms.
By Tuesday evening the Facebook post had been removed. A DairyNZ spokeswoman said information had come to light confirming that Bennett was indeed making a documentary about a pā site.
It had nevertheless felt a “duty” to inform farmers about the presence of Bennett after what it considered his earlier unfair attack on dairying.
Bennett told Stuff that DairyNZ should have approached him first to verify the facts. He has written seeking an apology from DairyNZ.
“I don’t know the source of your information but do know that your decision to publish an unsubstantiated rumour was journalistically shabby at best. Presumably that’s why you pulled the story last night,” he wrote.
“Your website suggests that you pride yourself on being a science-first industry brand, yet you failed to apply even the most basic verification of the facts in this case.
“You chose to mention me by name and clearly set out to incite people to vent online. The result was a string of comments including some suggesting that farmers resort to use of firearms.”
“Your post was unprofessional and irresponsible. The record should be put straight for your readers and I’m due an apology,” Bennett finished.
Federated Farmers vice-president Andrew Hoggard said people had to be careful about what they read on the internet.
“Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true, in fact it’s probably false – that’s the default position I always take.”
“People are obviously nervous about footage being used in the wrong way and invasions of privacy, but you should always do the best you can to verify whether something’s actually happening or not,” Hoggard said.