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GIVING VOICE TO THE “VOICELESS”

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As part of journalism's commitment to truth and justice by providing a diversity of relevant points of view, journalists have an obligation to provide the perspective of nonhuman animals in everyday stories that influence the animals’ and our lives. This essay provides justification and guidance on why and how this can be accomplished, recommending that, when writing about nonhuman animals or issues, journalists should: (1) observe, listen to, and communicate with animals and convey this information to audiences via detailed descriptions and audiovisual media, (2) interpret nonhuman animal behavior and communication to provide context and meaning, and (3) incorporate the animals’ stories and perspectives, and consider what is in their best interest. To fairly balance animal-industry sources and the anthropocentric biases that are traditionally inherent in news requires that journalists select less objectifying language and more appropriate human sources without a vested interest in how animals are used.
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GIVING VOICE TO THE “VOICELESS”
Carrie Packwood Freeman; Marc Bekoff; Sarah M. Bexell
First published on: 11 January 2011
To cite this Article Freeman, Carrie Packwood , Bekoff, Marc and Bexell, Sarah M.(2011) 'GIVING VOICE TO THE
“VOICELESS”', Journalism Studies,, First published on: 11 January 2011 (iFirst)
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/1461670X.2010.540136
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GIVING VOICE TO THE ‘VOICELESS’
Incorporating nonhuman animal perspectives
as journalistic sources
Carrie Packwood Freeman, Marc Bekoff, and Sarah M. Bexell
As part of journalism’s commitment to truth and justice by providing a diversity of relevant points
of view, journalists have an obligation to provide the perspective of nonhuman animals in
everyday stories that influence the animals’ and our lives. This essay provides justification and
guidance on why and how this can be accomplished, recommending that, when writing about
nonhuman animals or issues, journalists should: (1) observe, listen to, and communicate with
animals and convey this information to audiences via detailed descriptions and audiovisual
media, (2) interpret nonhuman animal behavior and communication to provide context and
meaning, and (3) incorporate the animals’ stories and perspectives, and consider what is in their
best interest. To fairly balance animal-industry sources and the anthropocentric biases that are
traditionally inherent in news requires that journalists select less objectifying language and more
appropriate human sources without a vested interest in how animals are used.
KEYWORDS animals; diversity; ethics; news; source
Introduction
One of the missions of professional journalists is to provide a voice for the voiceless
(Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ), 1996). While this tenet was primarily intended to
incorporate into public discourse the perspective of marginalized human groups, the spirit
of the code could easily be expanded to include other marginalized living beings, namely
our fellow animal species whose voices often go unheard regarding issues that directly
influence their lives. To believe the expansion of this code is important, one must accept
that other animals have interests, desires, thoughts, feelings, and points of view
concerning what happens to them and that we can understand and explain their
cognitive, emotional, and moral lives.
Available and rapidly accumulating data support claims such as: an elk has an
interest in having adequate space in which to live and forage, a mother cow wishes to
nurture and nurse her calf, a fox wants to keep his fur and freedom, and a dog enjoys
playing with other dogs (Bekoff, 2007, 2010). Wild and domesticated animals can
appreciate the good things humans do for them as well as naturally share an interest in
how they are negatively affected by their use for research, food, clothing, and
entertainment, and how their lives are influenced by deforestation, pollution, militarism
and landmines, and human overpopulation and consumption (Bekoff, 2010).
Empirical research has clearly shown that other animals have interests, desires, and
cognitive, emotional, and moral intelligences (see, for example, Balcombe, 2010; Bekoff,
2007, 2010; Bekoff and Pierce, 2009; Bekoff et al., 2002; de Waal, 2009). And while we can
use scientific evidence to support claims about animal sentience and our ability to
Journalism Studies, 2011, iFirst Article, 118
ISSN 1461-670X print/1469-9699 online
2011 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/1461670X.2010.540136
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interpret accurately their behavior, it is also self-evident to people who live with a
companion animal that dogs, cats, parrots, rabbits, rats, and hamsters, for example, have
desires and a viewpoint they convey to us, often quite persuasively. So, in this sense, it is
important to recognize that animals really are not voiceless or unable to communicate
what they want and need. In many species complex systems of communication involving
various modalities have evolved, but too often we simply do not pay attention to how
animals are expressing their intentions and desires (Bekoff, 2010). This dismissive attitude
also applies to marginalized humans.
With the exception of our companion animals, most humans will likely not pay much
attention to the needs and desires of countless other animals unless conveyed to us by
others, especially through media. We rely on the media, particularly journalism, to inform
us of important issues and events locally and globally and to set the agenda for what we
and policy-makers consider priorities (McCombs, 2005). While news is produced for and by
humans primarily to help citizens become informed members of society, it has an
obligation to inform us of all the ways our actions affect both humans and nonhumans so
that we can make educated, responsible, and fair choices. This involves better under-
standing animal behavior and knowledge of how we influence the larger ecological
community to which we belong and upon which our survival depends.
This essay goes beyond simply asking that journalism cover animal protection and
environmental issues. We take as our premise that as part of journalism’s commitment to
truth and justice by providing a multiplicity of relevant perspectives, journalists have an
obligation to provide the perspective of nonhuman animals (NHA) in stories that affect them.
We show how this can be accomplished by allowing NHAs to speak for themselves, especially
through audiovisual media, identifying how and when to provide appropriate, unbiased
human sources to speak on behalf of NHAs, and selecting less biased, respectful language. To
set the context for this discussion, we first provide background on media coverage of NHAs
and journalism’s ethical obligations, as well as considering what moral philosophy and
science have to tell us about NHA cognitive abilities and our ethical obligations to them.
Literature Review
Journalism Ethics and Obligations to Animals
As professionals, journalists are obligated to seek truth, minimize harm, and be inde-
pendent, fair, and accountable to the public. They must demonstrate virtues such as hon-
esty, integrity, and courage (SPJ, 2006). Fundamental ethical issues of truth, fairness, and
minimization of harm are all relevant to how journalists choose to cover the animal kingdom
and human’s place in this vast and diverse group of organisms. Consider how the SPJ’s (1996)
code of ethics discusses truth in relation to inclusion and diversity in the following codes:
. Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when
it is unpopular to do so.
. Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
. Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orienta-
tion, disability, physical appearance or social status.
. Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
. Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally
valid.
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While these codes were written with humans in mind, they are relevant to helping
journalists get closer to the truth about any animal individual. When one considers ideas of
diversity, open exchange, and giving voice to the voiceless, these principles apply not only
to allowing humans to advocate on behalf of other animals but also to embracing fully the
concept of diversity by including the animals own voice and perspective. Similarly, social
movement and postcolonial scholars have advocated for increased voice and participation
of ‘‘Othered’’ humans, or the ‘‘subaltern’’ (Spivak, 1994 [1988], p. 78), whose voices have
historically been silenced, unappreciated, or mocked (Campbell, 1989; Charlton, 2000).
Bolstering SPJs mandates for openness and diversity, the social responsibility theory
of the press advocates for a ‘‘comprehensive’’ view of the news that fairly represents all
constituent groups and serves as a ‘‘forum for the exchange of comment and criticism’’
(Peterson, 1956, pp. 878). Journalists can question if they are fairly representing the views
of NHAs and their advocates, even if those viewpoints are seemingly radical or
nontraditional.
Although the SPJ code prohibiting stereotyping does not indicate a category for
different species, one could consider physical appearance, disability,
1
or social status as
categories relevant to protecting other animals from narrow and misleading portrayals.
While stereotyping could have been included in the codes section on minimizing harm, it
is in the section on truth where it is noted that when journalists oversimplify individuals by
assuming they possess certain traits, they are possibly misrepresenting their individuality
by failing to portray them accurately as who they are. Because stereotypes are so
naturalized within a culture, often based on power relations in representation, they can
function as taken-for-granted assumptions about groups that may impede understanding
and social justice (Hall, 1997). If journalists uncritically perpetuate stereotypes and
dominant perspectives about human superiority and other animal species, they are
imposing their cultural values and anthropocentric biases on the public. This discrimina-
tion is so naturalized that routine NHA exploitation or marginalization can masquerade as
facts that are simply indicative of ‘‘the way it is’’ rather than being perceived as cultural
constructs for journalists to question.
In addition to truth-seeking, SPJ codes for minimizing harm also have applicability to
NHAs. Consider the following code: ‘‘Treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human
beings deserving of respect. Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely
by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced
sources or subjects.’’ While the subjects in question are specified as human, the emphasis
is on showing compassion and sensitivity, presumably based on respect for sentient
beings. Sentient individuals should be protected from unnecessary harm, including
innocent and non-consenting beings who may be unfairly taken advantage of, such as
children, people with developmental disabilities or psychological impairments, and NHAs.
This view fits with and expands upon Christians (2005) claim that ethical communicators
represent universal values of protecting the innocent, avoiding violence, and sustaining
life. In an era of globalization, universalism is enhanced by multicultural sensitivity
(Christians, 2005) that could be conceived as including nonhuman animal cultures.
News Coverage of Nonhuman Animal Subjects
Choices made by journalists are important, as news has been shown to exert
agenda-setting influence on animal-related public policy. Jones (1996) finds that passage
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of pro-animal ballot initiatives or humane legislation was positively correlated with the
amount of supportive media coverage the issue received. Yet a content analysis of the
first three-quarters of the twentieth century reveals that American newspapers generally
support the status quo use of other animals, and, favoring humans, were less likely to
cover NHA issues during wartime (Kellert and Westervelt, 1982). News most frequently
expressed a utilitarian attitude toward NHAs, and although this trend declined over time
in urban newspapers, the most rarely expressed attitude was moral opposition to
exploitation and cruelty.
The news tends to cover NHA welfare in response to activism, such as media
campaigns of the animal welfare/rights movements and counter-movements against
industries in which animals are used and abused (Jones, 1996). For example, when it came
to the debate over using NHAs for research, American news coverage in the 1980s and
1990s did not routinely discuss the issue within its bevy of scientific research stories but
primarily only in response to anti-vivisection activism. News framed anti-vivisection
activists more negatively than pro-vivisection activists or biomedical scientists (Kruse,
2001). Kruse finds that ‘‘those supporting continued experimentation were significantly
more likely to be presented as professionals or experts’’ (1998, para. 1), enhancing their
credibility in contrast to animal activists.
In past American news studies, sources for wildlife tended to favor government
officials more than environmental conservation groups (Corbett, 1992; Nelkin, 1987).
Corbett explains:
A typical news story about wildlife features a large game animal that is the focus of a
management action, and a state wildlife official speaks for the animal. Again, this reflects
the powerful role of state wildlife officials in defining wildlife issues, which is evident in
the news emphasis on game species and hunting. (2006, p. 206)
Urban and rural Midwest newspapers focused more on animals who are hunted by
humans, rather than on endangered species in need of help (Corbett, 1995). The inclusion
of wild animals, especially large mammals and birds, in reporting on the environment and
outdoor recreation results in wild animals receiving more coverage than domesticated
animals, outside of human-interest stories (Corbett, 2006).
When it comes to national news coverage of domesticated animals and fish killed
for food, Freeman (2009) finds that news organizations in the early twenty-first century
tended to focus on bodies not beings, objectifying farmed animals via three discursive
practices: commodifying them, discussing them en masse not individually, and failing to
incorporate their interests or perspective (particularly in crisis coverage). When coverage
did focus on animals themselves, not just human use of them, it privileged animal welfare
(such as ‘‘humane farming’’ practices) over animal rights (such as rights for life, freedom,
or ownership of ones body). Freeman concludes that the news is not serving as a diverse
public forum, as they favor industry and government perspectives and largely support
anthropocentrism and status quo utilitarian views of certain animals.
News can also be anthropocentric in designating certain animals, such as pigeons,
primarily as ‘‘problems,’’ perpetuating a natureculture dualism that defines urban spaces
as human domain (Jerolmack, 2008). In general, NHAs become most newsworthy when
they come in conflict with humans or cross a humananimal boundary that is supposed to
separate them from humans (Corbett, 2006).
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Animal Ethics and Society
Western culture reflects its historical philosophical origins heavily influenced by
humanism, Judeo-Christian worldviews of human superiority and dominion, and the
Cartesian humananimal dualism (Taylor, 1981). But ideologically, we are entering a
posthumanist era that may no longer be defined solely by a liberal humanist outlook that
privileges the human as the central subject of concern and considers all other beings as
natural resources (Calarco, 2008). In this age of industrialized animal exploitation, mass
extinction of species, and climate change, justice concerns that form the basis of human
rights have extended to incorporate the interests of other animal species and ecosystems
via the fields of animal and environmental ethics. These fields challenge anthropocentrism
and its constructed binaries of humananimal and natureculture to blend these
categories and demonstrate the inherent, not instrumental, value of what David Abram
(1996) calls the ‘‘more-than-human world’’ (Zimmerman et al., 2005).
Western culture has historically demonstrated various levels of concern for the
welfare of NHAs, depending on the species, narrowly defining cruelty as actions causing
wanton suffering in excess of what is necessary to benefit human well-being (Linzey and
Clarke, 2004). An animal welfare perspective can be considered mainstream, especially in
showing concern for reducing the suffering of companion animals and other charismatic
species, but concerns for animal rights are a greater challenge to historical humanist
worldviews. Animal rights is a duty-based ethic that views other animals as fellow subjects
of a life, not mere objects, and therefore grants them the right to freedom from human
exploitation. Rightists seek an end to the domestication, exploitation, enslavement, and
property-status of NHAs (Francione, 1996; Regan, 1983). Philosopher Peter Singer (1990)
proposes that a beings moral relevance is not based on intelligence or rationality but on
sentience*the ability to experience pain and pleasure and be aware of their own
existence. Singer asserts that all sentient beings deserve to have their interests given equal
consideration. To discriminate against other sentient animals simply because they are not
human is considered speciesism.
Speciesism involves assigning individuals to general groups (in this case their own
species) and ignores individual variation. Thus, speciesism is easily associated with racism
and sexism, as there are strong parallels in how women and people of color have been
stereotyped, discriminated against, and exploited just for failing to be white and male,
often by being compared to so-called lowly and irrational animals (Adams, 1990; Singer,
1990; Spiegel, 1997). Journalism played a role in the history of anti-discrimination
movements, such as womens rights and civil rights, not merely reporting on them, but
often helping to shape, aid, or hinder their success (Streitmatter, 2008), and the same is
true for journalisms role in current movements to bolster respect for nature and other
animals.
Animal Cognition and Communication
Rene Descartes seventeenth-century declaration that animals were unfeeling,
soulless automatons paved the way for animal use to expand with minimal regulation
or critique, especially in science (Linzey and Clarke, 2004). This false representation became
a taken-for-granted assumption in science, making anthropomorphism a dirty word.
Charles Darwins theory of evolution helped to challenge the strict distinctions made
between humans and other animals by demonstrating evolutionary continuity and
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showing that differences among species are often of degree rather than kind. Yet the
prominence of behaviorism in the early twentieth century, in which discussions of mental
processes were discouraged, curbed some of the comparisons between humans and other
animals, mandating that scientists express NHA behavior in different, more clinical terms,
separate from terms used to describe humans as intelligent, emotional beings. These
distinctions were based on notions of humans as ‘‘higher’’ and other animals as ‘‘lower’’
species.
Renowned scientist Donald Griffin is credited with rekindling interest in the study of
animal cognition (often called ‘‘cognitive ethology’’) that recognizes the rich ability for
animals to think, feel, and communicate with one another (Bekoff, 2007; Friend, 2004).
Research over the past 50 years clearly shows that NHAs feel pain and experience many
other emotions once reserved for humans. Many NHAs also show complex systems of
communication, manufacture and use complex tools, use complex reasoning, and even
demonstrate moral intelligence (Balcombe, 2010; Bekoff, 2007, 2010; Bekoff and Pierce,
2009; Bekoff et al., 2002; Fouts with Mills, 1997; Griffin, 1992).
Philosopher Bernard Rollin (1998) critiques the separation between the scientific
viewpoint on NHA cognition and the commonsense notions of people such as farmers
and companion animal guardians who more openly acknowledge the emotional and
intellectual capacity of nonhumans as part of their daily experience of dwelling with them.
Science also prefers to look for universal characteristics, tending to group all species as a
type with similar behavior. But, as with the human animal, there is much variation among
individuals within all animal species, so reductionist and normative generalizing is often
inaccurate and misleading (Bekoff and Pierce, 2009; Rollin, 1998).
Individuality can be seen in the realm of moral decision-making. Bekoff and Pierce
(2009) argue that social animals other than humans also practice their own versions of
morality that are context-specific. Members of various species exhibit various levels of
fairness, empathy, compassion, kindness, and trust. Individual animals vary in how closely
each chooses to honor the ethical codes of their group, indicating that animal behavior is
not all instinctual and inflexible, but rather incorporates choice and agency. This is
especially so when social organization and/or environmental conditions vary and
individuals have to adapt to local and immediate circumstances.
NHAs communicate their own perspectives, even if we are not capable of fully
comprehending them. However, when we pay careful attention to the various ways in
which animals communicate, we are actually quite good at predicting what they will do in
certain situations (Bekoff, 2007). Our ability to make accurate predictions is a measure of
how well we can assess what animals want and what they are feeling. As science has
slowly begun to overcome its biases against NHA cognition and our ability to understand
animals, Tim Friend, author of the book Animal Talk, hopes that we will ‘‘begin to
appreciate the possibility that more than one way*our way*exists to conduct a
conversation’’ (2004, p. 249). Friend notes that continuity among animals can help us
understand each other via a universal language of sorts, where fundamental ideas and
interests are commonly communicated:
Humans and animals alike, regardless of race or species, talk about the same things every
day*that is, sex, real estate, whos boss, and whats for dinner. The whole earth does
have one language with few words, and all species, including humans, continue to use it
every day. (2004, p. 32)
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Modern humans in industrialized nations are often trapped within purely human
realms of communication, virtually illiterate to signals emanating from animals (Abram,
1996). In addition to Abrams important recognition of the more-than-human world, his
work flips the mindbody dualism, asking us to privilege the senses of the body*a source
of wisdom used by other animals*as an enhanced way of learning information.
Discussion
Nonhuman Animals as a News Source
How might journalists best incorporate the NHA voice as a legitimate source or
perspective on a particular issue? Obviously, journalists cannot place a squirrel in front of a
microphone and pummel him with questions. NHAs cannot adapt to fit the human model
for how a source is interviewed and featured, so journalism must adapt to their ways of
life.
2
To view the NHA as a source with their side to a story requires that journalists
attempt to: (1) observe, listen to, and try to communicate with NHAs in their own
environments and allow the audience to share in this experience via detailed written
descriptions or audiovisual means, (2) interpret NHA behavior and communication and/or
consult an expert for interpretation, and (3) consider and incorporate the NHAs
perspective and interests (sometimes by consulting human representatives). We will
discuss each of these options in more detail.
1. Observe, listen to, and communicate with NHAs. Just as journalists would spend time
with human sources and try to get a feel for their personality and the environment in which
they operate, the same courtesy should be given to NHAs. The optimal situation would
involve the journalist visiting the NHAs home, whether a wilderness area, human residence,
or captive facility. Journalists should ask permission to observe places such as agribusi-
nesses, zoos, or laboratories. If permission is denied, which may be common in research
labs, farms, or environmental disaster areas, the rationale given for denied access must be
communicated to the public. It certainly enhances a story to gain first-hand access to an
animals environment so journalists can independently verify, observe, and describe their
living conditions and behavior without having to take the word of the owner. Greater
access and time given to observation will yield greater depth, as some animals may not
behave naturally at first due to fear or mistrust, and their behavior will vary based on
situations or routines (for example, feeding time, play time, nap time, or work time).
As activists have discovered, undercover methods of investigation may become
necessary if access to animal-use facilities is repeatedly denied or severely limited, or there
is evidence of illegal or abusive behavior that is denied by the people using the animals.
Often stories about animal abuse are broken by animal protection organizations not by
journalists, so opportunities exist for greater proactive cooperation between reporters and
animal advocates in investigative reporting.
Observation of animals in the wild may be more difficult to conduct firsthand.
3
In
these cases journalists can use wildlife documentaries/videos as a secondary source of
observation, although the communication would only be one-way. Reporters should also
be extremely cautious about using zoos and aquariums as a primary source of information
about a species natural behavior, as behavior is often dramatically altered by artificial
captive environments (Bekoff, 2010; Marino, 2010; Marino et al., 2010). In many captive
situations the cages in which individuals are kept are small and impoverished and the
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groups in which animals live are unnatural so they are unable to express much of their
normal behavioral repertoire (Bekoff, 2010).
When it comes to communicating with NHAs, it is easiest when dealing with familiar
companion animals who are accustomed to human company and language (e.g., dogs,
cats, parrots). With companion animals, two-way communication with the journalist is
easier and may be more verbal and tactile. With non-companion animals, the journalists
communication will likely be more nonverbal or rely more on listening quietly and
patiently observing, perhaps even from afar. With wild/free animals, it may not be
important, advised, or humane for the journalist to communicate with the animal, as
observation may suffice.
Observation, the first option in using NHAs as sources, should result in careful and
detailed descriptions of behavior, whereas the next two avenues of inquiry involve
interpretation and explanation, and in some cases, reasoned assumptions. Interpretation
and assumption may make journalists uneasy as it might not be as factual or
straightforward as description, but it can be made more credible and legitimate by
acknowledging that these interpretations are based on reasonable common-sense
judgment and available data. Additionally, including a variety of perspectives for audience
consideration creates greater depth and context.
2. Interpret NHA behavior and communication. To complement the description of
animal behavior, in situations where uncertainty exists, journalists should attempt to
convey various interpretations of what particular behavior patterns might mean in terms
of the animals intentions or their mental and physical state. This may be made easier
when human forms of communication have been taught to captive individuals, including
parrots, dolphins, dogs, and great apes, some of whom have memories of traumatic
experiences including capture, experimentation, or witnessing the death of friends and
relatives (Fouts with Mills, 1997). For other animals, especially non-mammals who bear less
resemblance to humans (i.e., amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates), we should give them the
benefit of the doubt that they have some level of sentience and cognition, as
accumulating scientific data support this practice (Balcombe, 2010; Bekoff, 2010; Bekoff
et al., 2002). Consider also how scientists have recently come to appreciate the sentience
of fish (Braithwaite, 2010) or the cognitive skills of mollusks such as squid and octopus
(Mather et al., 2010). Numerous examples of ‘‘surprises’’ stemming from scientific research
concerning the cognitive and emotional lives of animals are detailed by Balcombe (2010)
and Bekoff (2010).
In many cases, the journalists common-sense judgment can accurately assess basic
animal emotions when self-evident, as much NHA communication is straightforward and
extremely transparent. For example, reporters can interpret the bellowing of a mother cow
as mourning when she has suffered separation from her calf at the hands of dairy workers.
Another example is a New York Times photograph showing ducks in the foie gras industry
cowering against each other in the corner of their pen while a worker begins to force-feed
them via pipes. It does not seem a stretch to interpret the ducks behavior as fear and
dislike, as feeding time should normally be welcomed. Yet in contrast with the
photograph, the article uses clinical terminology to underestimate the ducks response
by claiming ‘‘there were no visible signs of distress’’ (Brown, 2003, p. D4).
In cases where a species communication is not as easy to interpret, journalists may
need to consult experts or guidebooks. Just as good journalists would educate themselves
about the culture of a human community they were charged with covering, journalists
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should learn the cultural cues and codes of animal societies with which they are unfamiliar.
For example, for a story involving dogs, chimpanzees, ravens, or bears, even consulting
nonfiction childrens books such as Animals at Play (Bekoff, 2008) can help explain the cues
for distinguishing between aggression and playfulness and help avoid one-dimensional
demonization of carnivores as vicious ‘‘problem’’ animals. To demonstrate how a journalist
can use ethological data to interpret behavior, consider this example from a New York
Times article by science writer Natalie Angier who contextualizes primatologist Jane
Goodalls findings to build a case for animals capacity to experience grief:
Juvenile chimpanzees display signs of genuine grief when their mothers die. In one
famous case in Gombe, when a matriarch of the troop named Flo died at the age of 50-
plus years, her son, Flint, proved inconsolable. Flint was 8 years old and could easily have
cared for himself, but he had been unusually attached to his mother and refused to leave
her corpses side. Within a month, the son, too, died. (2008, para. 6)
Following Dr. Goodalls interpretation, the journalist acknowledged Flints behavior
in emotional terms ‘‘inconsolable grief,’’ allowed us to see his individuality (not portraying
his act as blindly instinctual), referred to him respectfully and accurately as he not it, and
used familial terms like son instead of the clinical term offspring.
3. Consider and incorporate the NHAs perspective and interests. An assumption implicit
in our view is that it is not in any beings interest to be exploited for anothers gain or to be
used against their will or without their permission. When it comes to human exploitation
or enslavement, the unjustness is more obvious to journalists and news audiences so it can
be openly criticized*a point made easier when laws protect human rights. Yet human
society is heavily invested in exploitation and use of other animals for the proposed
benefit of humankind, and most of this is legal. Thus, NHA exploitation has largely gone
unnoticed or uncriticized as it is taken for granted as routine, normal, or even acceptable
(consider animals used for food, research/education, clothing, entertainment, or service).
Journalism, a human-based institution, naturally has its own biases in favor of
continuing to ‘‘benefit’’ from the use of NHAs. However, based on moral consistency in
applying ethical principles of respect and justice to fellow sentient beings, journalists must
strive to overcome their human-centered bias and acknowledge that other animals have
the right to have their interests in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness considered
in news stories. This would involve more than just a critique of whether industry treatment
of animals is legal or reduces their suffering to a socially-acceptable level. It requires
including a more overt critique of routine animal use and domestication. A paradigm shift
of this sort would test the bounds of journalistic objectivity and fairness more so than
perhaps any other social reform.
For example, rather than framing the European foot and mouth disease outbreak
primarily as an economic crisis for farmers (Freeman, 2009), these agribusiness stories
could include a debate over the right to kill. Some of these stories could portray the
tragedy from the perspective of a single cow slated for killing, adding a personal story and
face to the thousands of animals shown dumped in mass graves. Or stories related to
deforestation, development, sprawl, or hunting could incorporate the perspective of the
animals who are losing their lives or homes.
To demonstrate how articles could include a critique of animal exploitation as well
as tell the story of an emotional NHA individual, consider the following excerpt from
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National Geographic accompanying a photograph of sanctuary chimpanzees grieving
the loss of an older chimp, Dorothy:
After a hunter killed her mother, Dorothy was sold as a ‘‘mascot’’ to an amusement park
in Cameroon. For the next 25 years she was tethered to the ground by a chain around her
neck, taunted, teased, and taught to drink beer and smoke cigarettes for sport. In May
2000 Dorothy*obese from poor diet and lack of exercise*was rescued and relocated
along with ten other primates. As her health improved, her deep kindness surfaced. She
mothered an orphaned chimp named Bouboule and became a close friend to many
others ... Szczupider, who had been a volunteer at the center, told me: ‘‘Her presence,
and loss, was palpable, and resonated throughout the group.’’ The management at
Sanaga-Yong opted to let Dorothys chimpanzee family witness her burial, so that
perhaps they would understand, in their own capacity, that Dorothy would not return.
Some chimps displayed aggression while others barked in frustration. But perhaps the
most stunning reaction was a recurring, almost tangible silence. If one knows
chimpanzees, then one knows that [they] are not [usually] silent creatures. (Berlin,
2009, para. 34)
Similarly, for a demonstration of how journalists empathetically tell the stories of certain
primates used for experimentation, see Seibert (2005) and Lueders (2009).
For a positive example of many of the recommendations made in our essay, see
journalist Charles Sieberts (2009) in-depth article on the plight of whales. Seibert describes
his whale-watching experience as follows:
It wasnt until I got back to our base camp on the day of my first close whale encounter
that I could begin to parse what happened in a calm and coherent fashion: the seemingly
undeniable fact, for example, that the mother whales first pass that morning was a
reconnaissance mission to check out our boat, and us, before offering up her calf for
review: his of us and ours of him. (2009, p. 5)
Not only does Siebert share his personal interpretations of the mother whales
behavior, he credits her with a perspective and a sense of agency, which is also apparent
in the articles title ‘‘Watching Whales Watching Us.’’
4
Human Spokespeople
Because we depend on humans to convey information about the lives of NHAs, the
primary concern is how to determine who has the right to speak on behalf of nonhuman
animals. The best choice would be someone who can represent the animals interests with
credibility, familiarity, expertise, and without any vested interest. It is important to inquire
as to the funding, employer, and lifestyle of sources to help determine their level of vested
interest in animal use. Appropriate sources likely will include ethologists and zoologists,
animal advocates (activists and attorneys), guardians/companions, and veterinarians or
animal psychologists. Notice we have included a much-needed mix of scientific and non-
scientific sources. Scientists can help provide behavioral, evolutionary, mental and
physical, biological, and cultural/social explanations for animal actions. The animals
human companions will likely add more personal details that can help the journalist apply
a human-interest writing style to the story (expanding into a newer genre of the animal-
interest news story), and activists and attorneys can provide the legal and justice angles for
hard news stories.
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To ensure diversity and balance in stories on animals used as a resource, journalists
should consider including the philosophical perspective of vegans (humans who have
made the ethical decision to boycott products taken from or tested on animals and
facilities that keep animals captive). Vegan sources are beneficial not just for ‘‘activism’’
stories, but also for stories focusing on business, policy, health, food/lifestyle, or science.
The latter stories are typically anthropocentrically one-sided, primarily discussing other
animals as economic objects, resources, or en masse, largely ignoring the NHAs
perspective and individual points of view. Across all news story topics, those who
advocate for less exploitative/utilitarian treatment of NHAs and value them more
inherently than instrumentally provide a fair balance to animal-based industry sources
(i.e. CEOs, farmers, trainers, hunters, industry veterinarians, and research scientists).
However, when interviewing animal-industry or government agency sources as part of a
relevant story, they too could be asked to provide their viewpoint on the NHAs interests,
not just human or economic interests.
Media Formats and Visual Culture
While the shift to electronic formats for news has its drawbacks for print
newspapers, it may have reporting advantages for better incorporating the animals
voice. In comparison to print, audio-visual formats, such as broadcast news, are better at
enabling NHAs to communicate to audiences directly via their own body language and
voice. Print news requires a human to interpret the NHAs voice and translate it into a
human written language, where meaning may be lost or less compelling than hearing and
seeing animals speak for themselves. Consider the challenge of adequately expressing a
wolfs howl, a chicks peeping, or a sharks glance in words. Some have argued that
peoples experience of a sublime sense of communicating with the more-than-human
world can leave them speechless, or at a loss for words, particularly in a Western cultural
context (Abram, 1996; Milstein, 2008).
To complement and enhance the communicative power of a written story, print
news can add still photographs to allow for some expression of NHA body language and
eye contact. We suggest this at the risk of visual essentialism that rejects the efficacy of
other signification systems (Bal, 2003), but for many animals this would be a valid
approach. Being the object of the gaze of an animal is part of what enables humans to
recognize animal individuality, perspective, and subjectivity (Balcombe, 2010; Bekoff, 2010;
Derrida, 2002; Ito, 2008; Myers, 2007). Newspaper websites should also add audio-visual
components that provide the advantages of broadcast news media for their readers. As
opposed to still images, ‘‘the moving image is embedded in the sonorous’’ (Cubitt, 2002,
p. 360) and allows the animals agency to personally speak to human audiences visually
and verbally, as it is ‘‘closer to normal perception’’ (Kolstrup, 1997, para. 5). Its dynamism
increases audience attention, emotional response, and ‘‘sympathetic arousal’’ (Ravaja,
2004, p. 110).
Language Choices
English, like most other human languages, tends to reflect its humanist historical
origins (Taylor, 1981). Therefore, even in this posthumanist era, it can be challenging to
find respectful, familiar English terminology to describe the more-than-human world. The
very term animal, when infrequently applied to a human, can be considered either an
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insult or merely a scientific categorical description of our membership in the animal
kingdom (Ingold, 1988). A dualistic misnomer such as ‘‘people and animals’’ perpetuates a
false humananimal dichotomy, when it should more accurately be phrased as ‘‘people
and other animals’’ or ‘‘animals including humans’’ (Bekoff, 2010; Dunayer, 2001). If writers
mean to describe all members of the animal kingdom except humans, rather than just
saying animals, journalists should use more precise terms such as nonhuman animals,
other animal species, animals excluding humans, or specific categories such as farmed
animals, companion animals, or wild animals.
5
The most egregious misrepresentation of other animals is the common practice of
objectifying them via the inanimate pronoun it instead of the gendered she or he
(Freeman, 2009; Stibbe, 2001). The Associated Press stylebook (Christians et al., 2009)
guidelines on animals need to be updated so they no longer dictate that an animal only
receives a personal pronoun (he, she, or who) if he or she has an established sex or a
personal name designated by a human. We suggest if the gender of an individual is
unknown, use he/she or pluralize the subject to be they, as one would with a human.
6
Additionally, other animals, like humans, should be referred to as who/whom rather than
that/which (Gilquin and Jacobs, 2006), and someone or somebody rather than something.
Other examples of objectification occur when journalists primarily use industry
terms that describe animals as products or tools, such as livestock, poultry, seafood,or
game, instead of more objectively calling them by their species name cow, chicken, fish,or
deer. Similarly, rather than defining animals solely by their usefulness to humans or their
utilitarian end, such as beef cattle, dairy cows, lab rat, and circus elephant, journalists could
alternately express a species utility, when necessary, by following their name with a verb
that expresses what humans do to them: cows raised for beef, cows used for dairy, rats used
in research labs, and elephants kept in circuses. This avoids industry-biased euphemisms
and increases neutrality. It also infuses the phrase with proper notions of power and
agency, as far as describing who is doing what to whom and who has the freedom of
choice in the relationship.
Even when we attempt to flatter some species we see as ‘‘smarter’’ than others, we
may inadvertently mislead people and diminish other species when making comparisons.
Therefore, avoid using hierarchical terms such as higher or lower species or describing
some as more intelligent or more developed; this is ‘‘cognitive speciesism,’’ and it is not only
misleading, but it results in potential justification for animal abuse for those deemed
‘‘lower’’
7
(Bekoff, 2007, 2010). Individuals do what they need to do to be card-carrying
members of their species and none is better/higher or worse/lower.
There also are within-species variations in intelligence or learning. For example,
some dogs, fish, or penguins might learn something faster or with fewer errors than other
members of their same species, but even then we need to be careful because animals
likely show different sorts of intelligences just as there are multiple forms of human
intelligence (i.e. linguistic, logical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, special, etc.; see Gardner,
1999). It is also a good idea to keep ones mind open to surprises, such as the discovery
of tool use by octopuses (Finn et al., 2009) or empathy in mice (Mogil, 2006).
Anthropomorphism does not have to be inaccurate. People misleadingly tend to
underestimate rather than overestimate NHA abilities. However, new data on a wide
variety of animals show they possess cognitive, emotional, and moral capacities we
previously assumed were absent (Bekoff, 2010). ‘‘Chickens, for example, have a voice of
unmistakable woe or enthusiasm in situations where these responses make sense,’’ notes
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Poultry Press editor Karen Davis (2010, p. 265). ‘‘When they are enjoying their lives and
pursuing their own interests, chickens are cheerful birds, quite vocally so.’’
Conclusion
Given the enormous amount of press animals are receiving in what might be called
the ‘‘century of the animal’’ (Bekoff, 2010, pp. 301), we should expect those who write
about animals to represent them accurately as the unique, sentient beings they are, not
primarily as who we want them to be, background objects, or as means to our own ends.
Based on scientific data in cognitive ethology, journalism ethics, and a large and growing
literature on animal protection, we have made a strong case that journalism should adapt
to view NHAs as a relevant source whose perspective should be included in any story
about them. Journalists can present the animals point of view by (1) observing, listening
to, and attempting to communicate with NHAs and conveying this to the audience via
detailed descriptions and audiovisual media, (2) interpreting NHA behavior and commu-
nication to provide context and meaning, and (3) considering and incorporating the NHAs
perspective, stories, and interests. Additionally, journalists should use less biased, non-
objectifying language and seek out appropriate human experts who do not have a vested
interest in animal use and can advocate for their interests.
8
By adopting and codifying these guidelines, journalism can escape the limitations
of its humanist bias and produce news that questions societys inherent speciesism so
that status quo and time-worn values and views no longer masquerade as ‘‘objectivity.’’
By incorporating the animals voice, the press can live up to its ideals of being a socially
responsible and diverse public forum, truly serving as a voice for the voiceless. Journalism
can discover greater depth in the SPJ codes of truth, independence, and minimization of
harm by expanding its scope to include fellow animals as beings of our moral community*
a public to whom we have an obligation. Considering our current levels of industrialized
animal use and human-induced mass extinction of species, we owe animals fairer treatment
now more than ever. NHA representations that are more accurate, individualized, thorough,
dignified, and less belittling or ‘‘cute’’ will make their lives better.
9
While American journalism has begun adapting and diversifying to no longer be
solely white, straight, Christian, and male, newsrooms cannot adapt to include nonhuman
staff. So the eras posthumanist advancement in social justice calls upon journalists to be
sensitive and accountable on behalf of those who cannot be among their ranks in
producing the news, but who are certainly affected by it.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The authors would like to thank graduate research assistant Oana Leventi-Perez for her
editing help.
NOTES
1. This is an imperfect comparison. Nonhuman animals are best considered differently-
abled than humans, as most adult animals are able to function at high competency levels
and take care of themselves and their families.
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2. For a parallel news access issue, see Matthews (2005) study on the challenges of giving
children a voice. Also note that when discussing news source equity, his study does not
measure/count the voice of NHAs, even though they presumably existed in the
background of environmental stories on wildlife.
3. Reasons include: if the NHAs environment is harsh/inhospitable, if they are naturally
elusive when it comes to humans, if it is too dangerous (i.e., predatory or venomous
animals), if they are hard to locate (i.e., endangered species), or if travel is just impractical
because of financial or time constraints.
4. Note that the positive newspaper examples we provide in this essay mainly feature
charismatic mammals, such as primates and whales, who tend to garner more human
respect than other animals. We acknowledge this is problematic, and news stories should
diversify to also share stories of less beloved animals, such as rats, chickens, reptiles,
invertebrates, etc.
5. We acknowledge that these terms may seem cumbersome and imperfect, yet they are
more accurate and less problematic than terms perpetuating the idea that humans are
separate from all animals. Alternatively, journalists could initially clarify that by ‘‘animals’’
they mean nonhuman animals.
6. The pronoun it can become more appropriate only when discussing a species as a whole
or in a more abstract sense (e.g., a human parent must care for its children for a longer
period than many other mammals).
7. For language misuse, reference the NPR story ‘‘Ants that Count!’’ (Krulwich, 2009) which
uses the tongue-in-cheek terms makeover, stilty, and stumpy as whimsical synonyms for
leg amputations and additions performed by researchers on ants to suit an experiment,
one that ironically demonstrates ants’ amazing capabilities to count their steps.
Presumably, it is ants’ perceived status as a ‘‘lower’’ species that allows this belittling
language where journalists likely would not have used it to describe amputations on dog
or chimp limbs. This is also an example of a missed opportunity for journalists to
routinely question the tactics of research rather than just report its findings.
8. More openly incorporating a pro-animal viewpoint in relevant stories (often as a balance
to the status quo viewpoints on animal use) will initially likely cause pushback and flack,
especially from entrenched and powerful institutions or individuals invested in the use of
other animals for human gain. Many will be advertisers or news patrons. This resistance
will test the journalistic principles of independence and integrity (SPJ, 1996), as financial
interests will pressure the editorial content of the news to continue to privilege the
status quo power structures, although it may also provide inroads to gaining new
financial supporters. As professionals, journalists must evaluate how vigilant and
courageous they are when investigating both routine and exceptional animal use and
abuse in agribusiness and food retailers, biomedical or industrial research laboratories,
breeding facilities, zoos and other captive entertainment facilities, fur farms, and hunting,
fishing and wildlife management industries. Government agencies at all levels also serve
as key entities exercising power over animals through the regulation of animal-use
industries and hunting and fishing on public lands and oceans, funding of research
grants, military destruction of animals and habitats, management of local animal shelters,
and creation and enforcement of laws governing animal cruelty, protection of wildlife
and habitats, and human activism on behalf of animal and environmental protection
(e.g., Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act). The increased ownership and consolidation of
news organizations by corporations (McChesney, 2008) creates a more inhospitable
14 CARRIE PACKWOOD FREEMAN ET AL.
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atmosphere in which to expect news organizations to challenge paying human entities
to improve their coverage on behalf of other animals who cannot pay. Therefore, media
reform, grants, and subsidies are needed to ensure independence and public support for
quality journalism that takes risks. In the meantime, independent, public, and non-
commercial news organizations may need to take the lead on incorporating the voice of
NHAs.
9. For a positive example, see Horgans (2010) article. It acknowledges humans animality
and references science to dispel myths of innate primate violence to better understand
the nature and culture of human and nonhuman primates.
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Prentice Hall.
Carrie Packwood Freeman, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, Georgia
State University, P.O. Box 4000, Atlanta, GA 30302, USA. E-mail: cpfreeman@gsu.edu
Marc Bekoff, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of
Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0334, USA. E-mail: marc.bekoff@gmail.com
Sarah M. Bexell, Director of Conservation Education, Chengdu Research Base of Giant
Panda Breeding, 1375 Panda Road, Northern Suburb, Chengdu, Sichuan, P.R. China
610081. E-mail: sarah.bexell@gmail.com
18 CARRIE PACKWOOD FREEMAN ET AL.
Downloaded By: [Bexwell, Sarah] At: 18:13 11 January 2011
... Indeed, the longterm harm poses an existential risk not only for humans but for biodiversity in general. There are a growing number of studies that identify factory farming as a significant cause of environmental damage [62][63][64], studies that recommend replacement or reduction of animal product consumption as a better choice for both health promotion [65][66][67][68] and environmental damage mitigation [5,57,67,69,70], and studies on the ethical issues of using animals for food [71][72][73][74][75], in addition to documentaries, books, papers, and activist discourses on popular media that have put this subject on the political agenda [76]. ...
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