Channel 4 has been heavily criticised for a perceived conflict of interest in screening two anti-meat documentaries recently while at the same time having a strong commercial interest in a British based plant food-based manufacturer, Meatless Farm.
The broadcaster recently broadcast George Monbiot’s Apocalypse Cow: How Meat Killed the Planet. The documentary explores the link between animal agriculture and climate change, and discussed the advent of lab-grown meat as a possible way forward.
Channel 4 has also shown How To Steal Pigs And Influence People, which it is claimed by some was glamorises so-called “criminal activity”. It has considerable footage of vegan activists raiding farms.
The claims of a significant conflict of interest arise from the fact that Channel 4’s Commercial Growth Fund made a seven-figure investment in Meatless Farm. In return for equity, Channel 4 has pledged to offer the Leeds based company commercial airtime. Meatless Farm is busy establishing itself alongside Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods as a serious player in the meatless meat industry. The company which was started by Morten Toft Bech in 2016, has outlets through Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and in over 450 Whole Foods Market Stores in the USA.
Conflict of interest significantly undermines trust in journalism?
Inevitably the National Farmers’ Union is outraged. Stuart Roberts of the NFU said the broadcaster’s investment ‘significantly undermines trust in journalism’.
The view is shared by Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance, who said:
‘There has been increasing concern in the countryside about the aggressive anti-farming agenda being pursued by Channel 4.
‘Their decision to invest in a vegan food company is clumsy and insulting.’
Many of Channel 4’s staff are also concerned about the development.
The theme of Apocalypse Cow clearly promotes the trend that is creating the market for the likes of Meatless Farm. Monbiot is even seen eating lab-grown food.
We are on the cusp of the biggest economic transformation, of any kind, for 200 years,” says Monbiot. “Before long, most of our food will come neither from animals nor plants, but from unicellular life”.
Monbiot also argues that current farming subsidies should be used instead for tree-planting and other conservation projects.
“Every hectare of land used by farming is a hectare not used for wildlife and complex living systems,” he says.
Channel 4, however, denies any impropriety:
‘Apocalypse Cow and How To Steal Pigs And Influence People are documentaries examining relevant and topical subjects and both comply with Ofcom’s broadcasting code.
‘Channel 4 maintains clear separation between its editorial decisions and commercial activity. There is no conflict of interest.’