Major stud launches legal proceedings over TV production company’s undercover filming

  • Helgstrand Dressage has started legal proceedings against a television production company after hidden filming was allegedly carried out by an undercover reporter, posing as a groom.

    On 14 June the Danish stud issued a statement claiming that Danish television production company TV2 had carried out the filming for Operation X, an undercover documentary series featuring journalist Morten Spiegelhauer.

    “What would you say to being filmed with a hidden camera – and then shown on national television? This is exactly what the employees at Helgstrand have been exposed to by TV2. The recordings have been made by a mole from TV2’s programme Operation X,” read the Helgstrand statement.

    Former Olympic rider and Helgstrand Dressage founder Andreas Helgstrand added that it was “incredibly offensive and deeply worrying” that he and his employees had their “privacy violated solely to create an exciting documentary”.

    “Everyone who has to do with riding horses knows that horses are big and strong, and that they often requires aids. We also use that here at our place. We would have liked to have shown that on TV2. But no one in their [TV2’s] editorial office has contacted us in the hope of creating dialogue and understanding,” said Andreas.

    “Why hasn’t TV2 asked if they could come and film our methods? Why has TV2 completely bypassed us, when now the entire program is apparently going to be about Helgstrand Dressage? Helgstrand Dressage has always wanted a transparent and open dialogue with both the press and the rest of society. That is why I am very sorry that TV2 has chosen the exact opposite. I strongly distance myself from that.”

    Andreas said that “after working in secret, TV2 and Morten Spiegelhauer now want to set the agenda for an interview on their terms”. He added that as Helgstrand Dressage knows nothing about when and what was filmed, he has responded to the TV2 interview request in an open letter.

    “Thank you for your call on 15 June. It was unpleasant that you recorded the phone conversation and only told me when I asked you if you recorded this conversation. In the same way, it is borderline unpleasant when you say and write that TV2 has employed a person as a horse keeper with us, who was in reality an agent with a hidden camera and with the instruction to find something to criticise and record it on video,” reads the letter.

    “It’s uncomfortable because it feels the same as if there’s been a burglar in your house and messed around in your rooms and closets. Regardless of our openness and availability, Helgstrand Dressage is a private company and thus a private space.”

    The letter states neither Andreas nor any of Helgstand’s employees lives “where the risk of being monitored and filmed by nationwide media is a built-in condition of our working day”.

    “It is seen as extremely offensive and cannot be legal. If you had entered through the front door, you would have been welcome in the house and in a dialogue like everyone else. You are now asking me for a meeting with the purpose of rolling cameras to show me the material,” it states.

    “Before I want to consider appearing for an interview, I ask TV2 to send me the complete raw tapes from the hidden recordings in advance, and when I have had the opportunity to review the material, we can agree on a date for the interview.”

    In an update yesterday (22 June) Andreas said the public reaction to his first statement about the “secret deployment of a journalist with a hidden camera in employment as a groom” had been “overwhelming”.

    He thanked people for all the “supportive and encouraging” messages, and said Helgstrand Dressage still did not know what had been filmed.

    “It is in itself extremely unpleasant and quite extreme, also in relation to the employees, many of whom are young people. No one should go to work without knowing whether today they will be filmed on the job for later critical screening on national television,” he said.

    “As someone has written on Facebook, we could just sit back and wait for TV2 to broadcast its program if we have nothing to hide. We believe that TV2’s choice of journalistic method is so far below the framework for what is permissible media behaviour in a civilised country like Denmark, that the courts of law must decide on the matter.”

    He added that he believes the “societal consequences” of allowing the behaviour of TV2 to go unreported are “too great for all of us”.

    “Therefore, we have today submitted a request for a ban to the court in Aalborg and a police report against TV2 and the involved employee,” he said.

    Today (23 June) Andreas answered some questions on Facebook surrounding the matter, and when asked why he will not attend an interview with TV2, he said he believes the company makes “completely unreasonable demands”.

    “I have never refused an interview with Morten, on the contrary, but we ask for the right to see the full material, in order to be able to give qualified answers. I run a global business, and would naturally like to have full insight into the details. The recordings apparently took place on our land, and the recordings most likely show our employees or myself, so it is probably right and reasonable that I get it reviewed before I comment,” he said.

    When asked if he had “something to hide”, Andreas said “I don’t think I have anything to hide, but maybe it’s perceived that way”.

    “I just ask for reasonable requirements, prior to an interview. That being said, I run a large company that doesn’t publicly share everything that goes on. Few companies do that. I also have great consideration to take when it comes to my staff.

    “Our employees have been filmed without consent, and this creates great insecurity among our employees. No one wants to be filmed, unannounced, and shown on national television.”

    TV2 executive producer Michael Nørgaard confirmed to H&H that TV2 is working on a documentary about Helgstrand Dressage and the plan is to broadcast it “later this year.”

    “We do not wish to comment in detail on the contents of a program that we are still researching and have not yet published,” he said.

    “In terms of the clandestine recordings, TV2 adheres to the guidelines of the ‘press ethical rules’ of the Danish Press Council; ‘Clandestine recordings should only be published if the persons involved have given their consent, or if the interests of society clearly supersede the claim for protection of the individual and it is not possible, or only possible with great difficulty, to obtain the necessary journalistic evidence in any other way’.”

    Mr Nørgaard added that TV2 has offered Andreas Helgstrand the possibility of watching the “relevant section of the clandestine recordings without us filming him watching it.”

    “We can confirm that we have received a request from Andreas Helgstrand’s lawyer to prohibit broadcasting of the documentary via the Danish judicial court,” he said.

    You might also be interested in:

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...