Tuesday, March 10, 2015

It's All About the Animals

Later this spring, the State Legislature is going to consider a bill that would place new rules on the secret recording of operations at Wisconsin farms.  Representative Lee Nerison of Westby is working on legislation that would require anyone who records or photographs suspected abuse of animals to turn that footage over to law enforcement immediately--as it could be considered evidence of a crime.

But the activist groups that send these undercover operatives to the farms are vehemently opposed to this proposed law.  You would think that anyone who claims to "care about the animals" would want anyone who abuses them to be brought to justice swiftly.  But giving up the footage or the pictures would no longer allow these groups to "control the narrative".

As things stand right now, the groups can shoot hundreds of hours of undercover footage and spend weeks carefully editing that down to just a few minutes of the worst animal treatment that they can find.  Then they work on carefully crafting press releases insinuating that the cows or other animals are treated like this on a regular basis at the farm.  Then they hold a press conference--looping the footage behind them over and over again--while providing the local TV stations with DVD copies of the carefully-edited footage.  Then it is posted on their Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and blog pages before it is finally turned over to law enforcement for "further investigation".  We talk to the cops, they say that they are "looking into the matter", the farm operator has "no comment" on the investigation" and the activist group rolls out of town looking like whistleblowing heroes.  Maybe a month or so later, prosecutors decide there isn't enough evidence to file any charges--or a couple of farmhands get hit with misdemeanors and pay small fines--but the operation is remembered as being "animal abusers".

Now consider what the process will be like if the requirement to go to law enforcement first goes into effect.  Investigators will want to see all of the videotape so that whatever incidents that are captured can be put into proper prospective.  And because the film becomes evidence in a criminal investigation, it will not be released to the media until formal charges are filed--if they ever are.  Those accused of the abuse will be questioned--with lawyers present if they so choose--and challenges could be made to the admissibility of that footage in a court of law--all of which prosecutors will have to weigh before choosing to file any charges.  And if no charges are filed, the groups can still release the tapes--but then we reporters can go to the DA and he can explain right away why no charges will be filed--and the farm operator can issue a statement of relief that no criminal activity was found.  The activists don't look like such "heroes" in that scenario, do they?

Groups that "uncover abuse" at large-scale dairy operations and slaughterhouses don't want their cases tried in courts of law.  They prefer to try "offenders" in the court of public opinion--where the burdens of proof--and rules on admissibility of evidence are far less stringent.  Remember, it's "all about the animals".

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