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Scientists find media sensitisation helps decrease sensationalism in reportage of human-wildlife conflict incidents
| October 13, 2017
Constructive dialogue with the media through workshops encouraged more balanced reporting of human-wildlife conflict issues
Workshops aimed to de-sensationalize coverage of negative interactions and provide more fact-based information to the public
New study highlights how proactive engagement with the media can lead to positive changes in how wildlife conservation issues are covered
BENGALURU, 12 OCTOBER 2017 – Mass media plays an important role in shaping perceptions of the public. It is an important conduit to influence people’s reactions to human-wildlife interactions. The area in and around Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai, India has been the site of periodic leopard attacks that has continually sparked a high level of media interest.
In a new study, scientists have found that proactive engagement of expert biologists and the forest department with the media has positively influenced the way local media reported human-leopard interactions, leading to informed reportage rather than mere sensationalism.
The study, recently published in the Journal of Urban Ecology, is authored by a team of researchers and managers from the Center of Leadership in Global Sustainability, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Virginia (Ryan Hathaway, Ana-Elisa Bryant, and Megan Draheim), the Wildlife Conservation Society - India (Prerna Vinod and Vidya Athreya), in collaboration with the Maharashtra Forest Department (Sunil Limaye).
“Media reportage of human-wildlife incidents can affect the way communities deal with the human-wildlife interface and subsequently impact people’s lives and livelihoods” says co-author Dr. Vidya Athreya, Senior Conservation Biologist at Wildlife Conservation Society-India, who was also a resource person for the media workshops.
Starting in 2011, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park Administration, Mumbai proactively engaged with the media in collaboration with expert biologists, citizen groups and press clubs to hold a series of workshops for local reporters as part of an initiative aimed at resolving human-leopard conflicts. The workshops informed the media on basic ecological and sociological characteristics of the nature of human-leopard interactions in Mumbai.
To evaluate whether the media sensitisation workshops had any effect on the quality of reportage, in the period following the workshops, scientists pored through news headlines, identifying the tone, content, and characterizations of leopards and human-leopard interactions in the Mumbai area.
Interestingly, reporting of attacks increased after the workshops were started; even though, there were fewer leopard attacks on people. Media coverage was less sensational, and instead of passing blame, realistic solutions were presented. Reportage provided more detail on the setting and context of leopard attacks. There was a decrease in leopards being portrayed as the aggressor, rather, the welfare of leopards was considered more often.
Headlines increasingly portrayed leopards to be behaving either naturally or having been victims of either human aggression or circumstance and more emphasis was placed on how humans can prevent attacks.
“Encouraging fact-based reporting in regards to wildlife issues is vital, especially in situations where emotions could run high, which is common with large predators” adds Dr. Athreya.
The scientists used Qualitative Content Analysis to analyse headlines to assess the impact of media workshops on the reporting of human-leopard interactions in Mumbai. Analyzing headlines is faster and cheaper than reviewing entire articles, and allows for a smaller team of conservationists to understand the effects of media across a large region.
The scientists recommend that scientific knowledge on the ecology of leopards as well as traditional knowledge systems needs to be obtained and communicated to media and other stakeholders in an inclusive and transparent fashion that it decreases fear of the animal and instead increases an understanding of the issue.
The study highlights how proactive engagement with the media, even over contentious issues, can lead to changes in how wildlife conservation issues are covered, thereby reducing conflict. This in turn can aid in the conservation of the species and, in this case, even the welfare of people.
The full article can be accessed here: https://academic.oup.com/jue/article/doi/10.1093/jue/jux009/4431017/From-fear-to-understanding-changes-in-media?guestAccessKey=bad7c596-9a1b-419d-ae4d-25db097bc1a5
Wildlife Conservation Society India Program.
WCS India Program, based in Bengaluru, has combined cutting-edge research on tigers and other wildlife, with national capacity building and, effective site-based conservation through constructive collaborations with governmental and non-governmental partners. WCS India Program is committed to saving wildlife and wild lands, nurturing and inspiring positive attitudes towards nature in people through its scientific and conservation endeavors.
Visit: wcsindia.org Follow: @WCSIndia, @wcs.ind