‘We must try not to whinge’ – NFU

The farming industry needs to present itself to the media in a positive way if it is to win the support of government and the loyalty of consumers.

In a breakout session at the NFU Centenary Conference, the union’s director of communications Anthony Gibson, explained how the union wanted to be perceived as a champion for a successful, dynamic industry.

The NFU communications team aimed to present the industry as a vital national asset producing quality food, good stockmen and a beautiful countryside. And the way to get there, he said, was by being “relentlessly positive”.

“We want to be properly assertive, not aggressive and certainly not bitter,” he said. “We must try not to whinge – no one loves a whinger in the post-Thatcher era. There is the saying; ‘Laugh and everyone laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.”

Mr Gibson, who retires in May, explained that the NFU’s media coverage was impressive given that it employed just three press officers in its headquarters, compared with 40 by DEFRA and 90 by the British Airports Authority.

He conceded the union tended to be more reactive, than proactive, but that was a consequence of the huge volume of calls they took from members of the press.

Press calls averaged 300-400 a month and were as high as 789 in August 2007 during the foot-and-mouth outbreak, he said.

“And we never say ‘no comment’. We always try to be as helpful as we can.”

Mr Gibson said that issues such as badger culling, biofuels and GM crops were difficult for the union to address from a communications point of view.

“There is no easy way you can present badgers and TB which will get the general public to have a warm feeling about the farming community.

“So all we try and do is tell it like it is. We don’t fight shy of commenting on bovine Tb and badgers. There are times you have to do what’s right and say what’s right even if it is not popular.”