The President and the press

Posted on September 18, 2015 by John Blackwell

John being filmed for Veterinary ViewI have almost come to the close of my year as President and at BVA Members’ Day on 24 September I will be moving along the bridge and passing the helm of the ship to the sure hands of Sean Wensley.

I’m starting to reflect on the year, the challenges that have come onto the horizon, and one such challenge that the President is involved in week-in-and-week-out is dealing with the media.

Walking delicate lines in the media spotlight

There have been a number of high profile issues of political and strategic importance to BVA and its members that I was asked to discuss and comment on in the press throughout the year, including our highly visible campaign to end non-stun slaughter and the pilot badger culls. Although animal welfare is always at the forefront of our press comment, you become increasingly aware when you are on the media frontline that we are dealing with political, social and cultural sensitivities as well. From guest comment in Jewish News where I argued why ending non-stun slaughter is about animal welfare for vets not religious prejudice, to appearing on Farming Today and calling for Defra to release the pilot cull data, the President can walk some delicate and tricky lines when representing our members views in the media spotlight.

Another issue that I didn’t really expect to comment on was the emerging Ebola crisis in Africa, high profile and extremely serious to the world’s population. I gave an interview to a French radio station about the risk of contracting Ebola from pets following the euthanizing of an in contact pet dog belonging to a Spanish nurse who had become infected. I would not have predicted that in my first few months as President I would be giving an interview on that subject – media and news stories move fast and sometimes in directions that are hard to predict.

Lonely rabbits to injured vets - statistics generate stories

Rabbit in consultation roomOur aim in the media is to support animal welfare and promote what matters to you, our BVA members. I have been struck this year by how much our Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey has helped to get those messages that matter most out to the media. Coinciding with the Westminster Hall debate organised by Neil Parish MP on non-stun slaughter, BVA issued a news release based on survey statistics that showed 9 out of 10 vets thought consumers should be better informed about slaughter methods. This story appeared in over 130 regional newspapers, helping to bring one of our key campaigns and welfare priorities to consumer audiences across the country.

Hundreds of other stories have been generated by survey statistics including airgun injuries to cats, lonely rabbits, AMR and prescribing pressures on vets, recruitment issues, and injuries to farm vets, equine and companion animal vets. What I have seen is that journalists love statistics underpinned by authoritative voices – and that’s what our Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey gives them. I’ve been delighted to see survey stories appear in The Times, Telegraph, Daily Express, Daily Mail and BBC and ITV regional broadcasts, in addition to a fantastic breadth and depth of regional and veterinary press coverage.

Thank you survey panel

Milly the dog after swallowing a Christmas decorationOne thing I have personally enjoyed about working on the survey questions and then seeing the responses come in, is what it tells me about our profession, what’s happening on the frontline, penside and in the consulting room and theatres, up and down the country. How many members of our survey panel treated a case of chocolate poisoning, or other condition relating to over indulgence in festive treats? Well I can tell you it was 78% and I was able to embellish that one by removing almost 80 cm of a tinsel foreign body from the small intestines of one of my feline patients back at the practice!

So, when I look back on my year, I have to end by saying a huge and heartfelt thank you to our Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey panel. You’ve made a big difference to our impact in the media, helped to improve the visibility of your association and been an integral part in helping us to champion the work of the veterinary profession.

John

Join the survey panel to add your voice - we’re about to launch our autumn survey.

John Blackwell

Written by John Blackwell

BVA President from September 2014 to September 2015

John is a farm animal and equine practitioner, and a director at Brownlow Veterinary Centre in Shropshire. Follow John on Twitter