5 min read

Animals: Some Guidelines For The Media

Articles, news reports, and documentaries about nonhuman animals (animals) are "hot" items. It's difficult to pick up a newspaper or magazine or turn on the TV and not see something about the fascinating cognitive and emotional lives of other animals, including commercials, or a discussion of our complex, frustrating, challenging, and paradoxical relationships with them (anthrozoology).

I've often been concerned about how animals are misrepresented in various forms of media as objects or cruel and evil beings (see for example, "The Grey' Has It All Wrong About Wolves," "Animals Are Not Warmongers: An Important Media Corrective," "Do Less Harm: Ants and a Simple New Years Resolution" in which cutting off an ant's legs is referred to as a "makeover," and "'Are You with the Right Mate?' The Media's Misuse of Chimpanzees"). Other examples can be found in two excellent research essays called "Specific Image Characteristics Influence Attitudes about Chimpanzee Conservation and Use as Pets" and "Use of 'Entertainment' Chimpanzees in Commercials Distorts Public Perception Regarding Their Conservation Status."

Misrepresentation can be extremely injurious to animals because of the false images that are portrayed and projected, and in my new book Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence I discuss this in a chapter called "Rewilding the Media: Our Mirror Up to Nature."

I am not alone in my concerns and now Dr. Carrie Freeman, Associate Professor of Communication at Georgia State University, has co-authored a media style guide along with media scholar Deb Merskin, Associate Professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon in Eugene, that is essential reading for anyone writing about other animals. Their website is called "Animals and Media: A Style Guide For Giving Voice to the Voiceless" and their credentials are available here.

"Animals and Media" should be mandatory reading. On the site, you'll find guidelines for how animals are represented in journalism, advertising, public relations, and entertainment and also tips for the general public and extremely valuable resources including Online Resources and a Glossary of Animal-Related Terms. The style guidelines were created for media practitioners in the professions of journalism, entertainment media, advertising, and public relations to offer concrete guidance for how to cover and represent nonhuman animals in a fair, honest, and respectful manner in accordance with professional ethical principles.

The care with which this invaluable resource has been prepared and the details provided are truly precedent setting. This website is perfect for courses in communication and media studies and should be mandatory reading for anyone writing about nonhuman animals or representing them in any and all types of media. It really is that good and I learned a lot from visiting it a number of times. I'm sure I'll return to it again and again.