Virginia McKenna, the actress and animal rights campaigner, has called on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow to ban all ivory artefacts from the programme.
The 86-year-old star, known for her animal rights work as well as lead roles in acclaimed films Born Free and A Town Like Alice, writes in this week’s Radio Times that a likely ban on the trade of all ivory antiques in the UK should prompt the BBC1 programme to follow suit.
Writing in Radio Times, McKenna said that the current policy of featuring ivory items on Antiques Roadshow “does not help the situation and is out of touch with the great majority of the British public”.
She was responding to a BBC statement provided to Radio Times in December which made clear that it had no current plans to ban ivory but has a longstanding policy of explaining the “horrors” associated with modern day poaching whenever ivory artefacts are featured on Antiques Roadshow.
On Monday the BBC updated its statement to say that it was “reviewing” this policy.
McKenna wrote, “Some will still argue that featuring ‘antique’ ivory has no impact on living elephants. They are fooling themselves. The UK, until recently, was the largest exporter of carved ivory items to the Far East and the trade provides cover for illegal ivory, the result of ongoing poaching that today accounts for the lives of around 20,000 elephants a year.
“It is with enormous respect that I say to the wonderful people on Antiques Roadshow – who explain so much about hour history, culture and heritage when they look at a painting, a piece of furniture a vase or some jewellery – that we simply cannot afford to put a value on bloody ivory any longer.
“The era of ivory is over and I implore Antiques Roadshow to ‘get with the programme’.”
The BBC initially told Radio Times in December that Antiques Roadshow was not considering imposing a ban on featuring antique ivory objects.
“In our role as a trusted source of advice about antiques and fine art, we do not feel it appropriate to impose a ban on all coverage of ivory objects,” the BBC statement said.
“On the few occasions where we will show antique ivory in future programmes we will choose them because of their importance in representing such cultural or creative significance and only when such pieces are legal under the CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] convention. Within these features we will also seek to reflect the wider context of the debate about ivory and the horrors of modern day poaching.”
On Monday, following notification of McKenna’s piece, the programme issued an updated response.
The new BBC statement said, “In the light of recent developments in the UK and China with regard to the trade in antique ivory, the Antiques Roadshow is currently reviewing the way it will, in future, approach items of antique ivory that are brought in by members of the public for appraisal.
“In recent years, on the rare occasions when we have examined an object, the Antiques Roadshow has sought to raise awareness of the debate around antique ivory, informing our viewers about current legislation and drawing attention to the horrors of modern day poaching.
“We’re looking forward to finding out more about the government’s plans for new legislation around the trade in antique ivory and will review our approach in the coming months.”
At the moment, the UK prohibits only the sale of ivory pieces produced after 1947. But there is intense pressure on the Government to introduce a blanket ban on the entire commercial trade in ivory in the UK.
A consultation on what form a proposed ban should take has just closed, and the government says it will deliver its findings soon. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is overseeing the consultation, said there had been “a massive public response to the government’s proposed ban on ivory sales”. More than 60,000 responses were received.
China imposed a blanket ban on the ivory trade at the start of this year, prompting criticism of the UK’s failure to have implemented one of its own. It is estimated that 20,000 elephants are killed globally each year to fuel the demand for illegal ivory.
For the full piece by Virigina McKenna see this week’s Radio Times on sale from Tuesday 9th January