Last night’s TV1 News began with one of the most disgraceful and irresponsible pieces of journalism I have seen in some years. With no supporting evidence of any sort, Lisa Owen reported a series of ’serious allegations’ against ‘Lion Man’ Craig Busch, including animal cruelty and putting the lives of Zion Wildlife Gardens workers at risk. The allegations were based on ‘documents forwarded to TV1 News’ by three employees of the park who ‘want to remain anonymous through fear of retribution’. The three, we were told, ’didn’t speak up at the time’ because they were ‘too scared to’. It strikes me that by choosing to remain anonymous they are still not speaking up. They were gutless then, and they are gutless now. But this did not deter One News from massively defaming Busch by presenting these untested allegations to TV1 viewers as the lead item in Sunday’s bulletin and in a tone which suggested that Busch had a case to answer. And the allegations were indeed serious. Busch was accused to having ‘cruelly killed unwanted cubs’; of having used ‘a rock the size of a softball’ to kill one of the cubs, taking ‘three or four blows’; of having ‘beaten two cats with a short wooden handle’; and of having put the lives of Zion staff at risk by getting them to run alongside the big cats.
The item contained several verbatim quotes from park staff. We can’t judge those people’s credibility of course, because we don’t know who they are. It’s worth remembering that Busch is currently involved in a bitter legal battle in the Employment Court over his sacking without notice from the lion park and that, following the killing of a keeper by a white tiger which was shot dead during the attack, he has made some serious criticisms of the running of the park in his absence. He is a man with enemies who have a vested interest in discrediting him. Might those not be the same anonymous complainants to One News? Might that not be a serious consideration for any news editor or reporter intending to put such allegations to air? Apparently not. A spokesman for Busch did give a statement to One News. It read; ‘These allegations are part of an ongoing campaign of misinformation against the Lion Man. A smear.’ I don’t know whether that is the case or not. Nor do I know whether any of the allegations are true. But neither do One News or Lisa Owen. Yet they put the allegations to air in peak time, as the lead item in the bulletin. I’m not sure whether that is worse than the media manipulation by Busch’s adversaries in which One News allowed itself to be complicit.