Let’s be honest, it’s not every day you get the opportunity to congratulate Australians for their sense of compassion and consideration, let alone their ability to see the bigger picture.
But the past week proved something of an exception when New South Wales police threw the book at a couple of British reality TV stars for gratuitously killing animals during an episode of I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out
Chef Gino D’Acampo and soap star Stuart Manning were arrested and charged with animal cruelty offences after killing, beheading and cooking a tame rat – then serving it in a risotto dish for fellow contestants on the TV show’s set near Dungay in northern New South Wales.
I know, many will say it was only a rat so no harm done. Problem is, Australian law forbids the killing of animals for the purpose of a performance, theatre or entertainment. Breaches carry a maximum three-year jail sentence.
Fair enough too. It’s not so much the rat as the principle at stake: it’s just a short step from televising the killing of rats to televising seal cub massacres, the slaughter of horses, dog exterminations and cat culling, all in the name of our personal entertainment.
It wasn’t so long ago that United States TV networks were lobbying Washington for the right to televise live executions, whether by lethal injection or electric chair. They were highly miffed to be rebuffed – it would have been a runaway ratings triumph, apparently.
Yes, only a rat maybe, but the thin end of the wedge all the same. Last year Dancing With The Stars judge Brendon Cole sickened many viewers of the TV One reality series Intrepid Journeys when he chased and caught a chicken, wrung its neck, beat it with a stick and then asked, “Is it dead yet?”
All this after he initially tried to stone it to death, only to discover he couldn’t hit a barn door at 10 paces.
And British activist chef Jamie Oliver took the unusual step – during a campaign to highlight the cruelty of battery-farmed chickens – of electrocuting and suffocating a few chicks during an episode of Jamie’s Fowl Dinners.
That’s right, highlighting animal cruelty by treating animals cruelly.
How bad can it get? Who knows, but there’s another British reality TV show called Man vs Wild which screens on Prime in which the main character (Bear Grylls) pretends to find himself in a frontier environment in which the wholesale slaughter of animals is a matter of survival.
In fact, the show was later shown to be a complete fraud in which Grylls spent much of his time in swanky hotels. But that didn’t stop him from, among other things, chopping off a snake’s head for no reason, stabbing a boar in the chest, killing a lizard by hurling it against a tree – and biting off a frog’s head.
All for TV viewers’ amusement.
Which is why New Zealand could do a lot worse than follow Australia’s lead on this one. And that’s something you don’t often hear.