Framing Live Export: How Media Sets The Range of Animal Advocacy Debates
In the quest to get animal issues into mainstream consciousness, advocates often have to rely on media outlets to communicate their messages and disseminate images and materials to a wider public audience. Different media outlets, however, have their own agendas and ways of framing issues. Likewise, when choosing which voices they will represent, the media will often select those that fit within certain parameters to suit them, setting the limits of the debate at those edges. This study looks at this media phenomenon using coverage of the live export debate in Australia as a case study, with the aim of understanding how an animal welfare position is given more space and precedence over an animal rights perspective. This, the authors contend, narrows the debate and misrepresents the range of thought about the issue. They also note that, because there is considerable debate within the animal advocacy movement about whether a welfare or rights based approach is more effective, it is worth knowing which is being covered more favorably, and understand why that might be the case.
This study looks at a particular moment in the coverage of the live export issue: a special episode on the popular Australian current affairs program Four Corners, entitled “A Bloody Business.” It showed graphic footage of cows being exported from Australia to be slaughtered in Indonesia. Engaging in a content analysis of this show, as well as subsequent newspaper coverage of the story in major Australian newspapers in the days following the broadcast, the researchers looked at if and how the media presented animal welfare and rights positions, and how the debate was defined overall. This particular television program, they contend, “was one of the most, perhaps even the most, striking examples of the suffering of other animals reaching mainstream consciousness in Australia.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found that found that “an animal welfare perspective dominated commentary across a variety of media outlets.” While there was a wealth of coverage in the aftermath, and a “rush to comment” about the issue, the researchers contend that “an animal rights frame was not present in either ‘A Bloody Business’ or the newspaper coverage. […] There were debates and disagreements, but all within the confines of an animal welfare frame.”
For animal advocates, this study presents an interesting case for further discussion. The authors emphasize that “the frame promoting the idea that the Indonesian slaughter shown on ‘A Bloody Business’ was being carried out in the ‘wrong’ way is just one viewpoint from which to understand the issue.” They also state that “the alternative animal rights frame, presented by some smaller AAOs, expounding the horrors of all animal slaughter and exploitation was ignored. […] These organisations did not have the finances or perceived legitimacy to be able to contest the dominant animal welfare frame in the mainstream media.” This tension between welfare and rights, and the idea that welfare is more palatable to a mainstream audience, is the subject of a great deal of debate within animal advocacy. The contention that a rights-based message is excluded because it is seen as illegitimate or less financially backed, however, is something that is talked about to a lesser extent, but offers interesting food for thought.