As part of the Channel 4 reality show The Island With Bear Grylls, contestants were filmed creeping up on a sleeping pig and plunging a knife into the animal's neck. The pig could be heard screaming in pain and terror. In a previous episode of the show, contestants tracked down and killed an endangered American crocodile. It comes as little surprise that Channel 4 has admitted to receiving hundreds of complaints about the show and that media watchdog Ofcom is weighing whether or not to launch an investigation. I'm not sure what there is to weigh, though, as it seems perfectly clear that an investigation is necessary and that Channel 4 should be held accountable.
The Island supposedly involves a group of men and women who want to test their survival skills. In the introduction, Grylls said: "I want to find out what happens if you strip man of all the luxuries and conveniences of modern living and then force him to fight for his existence". But the truth is that the programme isn't genuinely about survival; it was made with the primary purpose of entertaining viewers.
The show's producers revealed that the island's freshwater supply had been topped up and that pigs had been shipped to the uninhabited Pearl Islands for the show expressly so they could be killed and eaten by contestants. What on Earth is that supposed to teach us? Had this violence taken place in the UK, the contestants would almost certainly be facing cruelty charges and, potentially, time in prison for the suffering they inflicted on these terrified animals. As of this writing, thousands of people have already contacted the government of Panama asking for charges to be brought against Bear Grylls and the show's contestants and producers over the sick stunt.
And here, a crowd of protesters made their outrage known last week by picketing Channel 4's London headquarters, asking the channel to stop allowing cruelty to occur on their programmes. And they're absolutely right. Torturing and killing animals is a disgusting way for Channel 4 to attempt to boost ratings. How far should we go for the sake of entertainment? People truly fighting for survival might decide to kill and eat each other. I wonder if the execs at Channel 4 would see that as great television. There is simply no excuse for disrespecting any life and for sending such a harmful message to young viewers, who are greatly influenced by what they see on TV. It is this kind of callous disregard for animals that keeps caseworkers inundated with cruelty-to-animals reports year round.
I challenge Channel 4 to offer viewers real reality television, rather than creating fictional scenarios, by airing Glass Walls - a documentary narrated by Paul McCartney showing what pigs and other animals endure before they're turned into sausages, burgers or nuggets. Granted, it's not high in "entertainment" value, but it would certainly make viewers reconsider those "conveniences of modern living" that Grylls refers to, which would be a much worthier project.
One doesn't have to look far in TV Guide to see that TV producers and broadcasters can easily entertain audiences without resorting to cruelty to other living beings. It's imperative, now more than ever, that broadcasters take more responsibility for programming, which is why the UK's leading animal protection groups - PETA, Animal Aid, OneKind and VIVA! - are calling on Channel Four Television Corporation Chief Executive David Abraham to implement a proper animal-welfare policy, ensuring that such violence is never aired again. It's high time we stopped cruelty to animals packaged as "entertainment".