Animals in the media: Only some make the front page…

Feber, R. E., Raebel, E. M., D'cruze, N., Macdonald, D. W., & Baker, S. E. (2017). Some Animals Are More Equal than Others: Wild Animal Welfare in the Media. BioScience, 67(1), 62-72.

The media is a major source of information about wildlife. But what are the consequences of reporting about particular species and issues over others? Does the media and its biases affect the way that we perceive, and in effect care about wildlife?

This paper discusses how animals are portrayed in the media and how some species and wildlife issues feature more than others. Researchers aimed to find out which issues/species the public cared about most and what the media commonly report on. The results of this study explain the impacts that media coverage can have on animal welfare improvements, whilst also highlighting the consequences that a lack of media coverage can have. 

Through literature reviews researchers were able to identify issues that affect the welfare of wild vertebrates in the UK. By reviewing a media database over a one-year period, researchers were able to determine the number of times the issues were reported in the media. By doing this, they were able to determine common themes and patterns in the media reports.

People care about illegal and harmful acts

Once all search terms had been refined and the results screened, the wildlife issues reported were then categorised into six groups: legality, intention to harm, environment, seasonality, species and purpose of the article. It was found that articles involving animal management issues for example, culling and fox hunting were reported far more than any other wildlife issue. This accounted for over half of the 3347 media articles reviewed, animals used in entertainment received no media coverage at all.

Although the results showed that the highest ranked issues were centred on legal acts that intended to harm a species, the media focussed primarily on illegal acts. Most of the media coverage also focused on issues happening on land, rather than the marine environment.

In addition, the media articles reviewed tended to prioritise certain species over others, for instance culling of foxes was reported far more frequently than culling of moles or rabbits.

World Animal Protection’s view

The public rely heavily on the media as a source of information, furthermore the media has a huge amount of power in highlighting and raising the profile of certain issues. We hope in the future that issues concerning species considered less charismatic or interesting are highlighted in the media. This may then lead to a greater level of concern afforded to some species and the issues that affect them.