How Journalism Fails Non-Human Animals
In this paper, researchers discuss strategies used by the New York Times and El País—a Spanish newspaper—to mask or otherwise obscure the issue of speciesism in the global diet. Specifically, they use a method known as critical discourse analysis to look at how non-human animals are represented in articles from these outlets, focusing on the language used and how the articles frame the human-animal relationship. Ultimately, they find intense speciesism in both the papers, but distinguish between the “crude speciesism” in the latter versus the “camouflaged” variety in the former.
In conducting this study, the authors set out to answer three questions:
- To what extent does news media coverage reinforce speciesism?
- To what extent is speciesism challenged?
- To what extent are there differences in the media coverage between the two newspapers [New York Times and El País]?
In so doing, the authors collected a sample of 30 articles from each paper over a two-year period, searching for pieces that focused on how these animals were exploited for human purposes during their lifetimes. This allowed the authors to focus on the suffering the animals actually experienced and how this was treated by the media. Khazaal and Almiron’s main findings are twofold: first, that the bulk of the attention of most of the articles focused on legal regulation, rather than reform, of animal rights; secondly, that speciesism is, at worst, a necessary evil and at best, simply part of life.
As mentioned, the authors distinguish between “crude” and “camouflaged” speciesism. As it manifests, El País relied heavily on crude speciesism, using alarmist language meant to instill fear of economic collapse should animal welfare improve through legislation. Additionally, El País obscured the experiences of non-human animals used for food by misrepresenting their living conditions, naming them only by their purpose to humans (e.g. “milk cows” or “laying hens”), and valorizing humans who worked directly in the agriculture and aquaculture industries (e.g. by referring to tuna fisherman as “Fishing Warriors”).
By contrast, the New York Times employed camouflaged speciesism by portraying the industries of animal consumption more ethically than, in fact, they are. As the name implies, this strategy is more subtle. It uses methods such as giving animals more charming, human names, emphasizing marginal improvements introduced begrudgingly by the meat industry, and depicting the lived experiences of non-human animals used for food to be much rosier than the reality.
Despite the necessarily pessimistic tone of this article, Khazaal and Almiron do find some causes for hope. While El País only tepidly challenges the status-quo, the New York Times has been much stronger, questioning the ethics of egg harvesting, highlighting the mounting scientific evidence of consciousness and suffering in non-human animals, calling for the end of clearly indefensible practices such as Japanese whaling, critiquing Ag-Gag laws in the U.S., and shedding light on intolerable practices within factory farming, such as de-beaking hens.
Ultimately, the media at large has fallen short in its ethical responsibility to preserve “the right of the public to truth… not to suppress essential information… to be aware of the danger of discrimination being furthered by the media, and… to do the utmost to avoid facilitating such discrimination.” (Set forth by the International Federation of Journalists in 1986). To end—not merely decrease—speciesism in all its forms is a moral imperative, one that the institution of journalism can and should advance with its considerable power to influence public discourse.