VegNewsGate and PETA

When I first wrote about VegNewsGate and the expose by Quarry Girl that they had published stock photography of meat-based dishes while presenting them as representations of the vegan recipes on the same page, I wrote with some sympathy for VegNews, as I was the last publisher of The Animals’ Agenda magazine.

I know from personal experience the challenge to producing a magazine to high standards with low budgets. We could have carried on publishing The Animals’ Agenda by lowering our editorial standards and filling the pages with content which were not, for example, as researched or fact-checked. This was unacceptable. We wanted to do what was ethical and professional and only produce a publication with editorial integrity. Filling pages with stuff was not an alternative. This is why The Animals’ Agenda was so respected. Notwithstanding our many friends, we were in the same place as many other publications in 2001/2002. We were dealing with the arrival of the Internet, then the World Wide Web, and the 911 terrorist attacks and the resulting economic downturn. But, nearly ten years after its demise, people still tell me how much they miss The Animals’ Agenda. I’m pleased to say we reinvented and merged organisations to form the Animals and Society Institute.

As the VegNewsGate story developed, the publishers issued a far-from satisfactory and defensive rebuttal. It’s hard to call it an apology. Regrettably, they handled it badly at first. Nevertheless, they later published an appropriate apology, promising to implement a new and more enlightened policy. It appears they understood why many were angry and dismayed. One positive arising out of this is a new vegan stock photo Web site.

I thought VegNews’s second statement put the issue to bed. All those concerned were ready to move on.

But celebrated vegan, animal rights activist Bruce Friedrich then writes a commentary for the Huffington Post Web site and re-ignites the controversy.

As there’s no statement that this is personal opinion, it’s reasonable to assume Bruce writes as PETA’s Vice President for Policy. This is a shame. The policy espoused here makes the case more in defence of propaganda than it does for telling the truth about our treatment of animals. This doesn’t reflect well on PETA which, for many people, both inside and outside the animal rights movement, take issue with its credibility, who are concerned about some of its activities and statements. Existing anxiousness over PETA’s credibility is exacerbated when its Vice President for Policy defends the publication of photographs of non-vegan dishes in a vegan magazine. Questions about publishing credibility and integrity are important matters, which is why The New York Times also commented on VegNewsGate.

None of this is meant to question Bruce’s commitment and contribution to veganism and animal rights. Nor, indeed, anyone at VegNews.

What is at stake is integrity. It’s about professional practices befitting a movement acting on behalf of others, which, in my mind, makes it even more important that we are beyond reproach.

Bruce claims VegNewsGate is “silly.” He relies upon the cliche “With friends like these” to castigate those who spoke out. This, of course, begs the question: Why does Bruce devote a valuable editorial on one of the world’s most popular Web sites declaring the controversy “silly” and attack those who spoke out. He could have used it as an opportunity to educate people about animal cruelty and exploitation.

Further, Bruce’s principal line of attack is to guilt trip those who expressed concern about VegNews. By implication, this approach always questions someone’s commitment. I find this arrogant and unacceptable. “Veganism is supposed to be about reducing suffering,” he writes. “How does attacking VegNews accomplish anything good?”

Just because VegNews (or anything else) promotes veganism and animal rights doesn’t mean it is automatically beyond criticism. There’s no get out of jail card. No one holds a trump card either. Truth is on the side of the animals. Vegan dishes photograph just as well if not better than non-vegan. It isn’t necessary to embellish or spin the truth. This is why it’s important to call out — and not cover up or dismiss — practices which are unprofessional, inappropriate and damaging to the integrity of everyone involved in promoting veganism and advancing animal rights.

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