Hunters and The Media
by Gerhard R Damm
The number of TV productions with negative news about hunting and hunters is increasing. “Normal” wildlife productions often include insinuations how “bad” hunting is for wildlife; documentaries about African wildlife contain remarks about “how hunting lead to the extinction of species”! Antihunting articles also pop up with increased frequency in the printed media.
Some hunters criticize their organizations for not acting against negative portrayals of hunting and hunters. “We are paying annual subs, and therefore the associations are obliged to prevent negative reporting!” is an often-heard argument.
It is not quite that simple. Luckily, one might say, since the Freedom of Press is one of the most important pillars of a democratic society. Nobody has the power to prevent any TV production being aired or article being printed, however one sided and factually incorrect they may be. The enemy pictures of “media against hunters”, or vice versa, should, however, give room to rational and factual approaches to represent true conservation and effective scientific wildlife management.
Viewing the problem not only when the public discussions boil over after a particularly abhorrent anti-hunting piece - but from a long term angle, we quickly discover that the only one way to have a certain influence on media reporting are frequent and well-established contacts to the media and to individual journalists.
The media representatives have to be convinced that the hunters are competent partners in discussing environmental issues. Secondly, a constant flow of relevant information from the hunters and their organizations to the media should assist in bringing topics of importance to the forefront. Strong alliances with non-hunting conservation associations, like the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Endangered Wildlife Trust, etc. will also have a positive effect. These organisations usually have extremely good and strong media relations. Hunting organizations would certainly be well advised to use the good will of these non-hunting conservation associations.
Having said this, we must not forget however that “Good News Are No News”. The media companies are looking for news of interest for the broad non-hunting public! This news must satisfy simultaneously the requirements of topicality and of sensationalism. Because of the public’s receptiveness, emotions are of high communication value in conservation news.
We must learn that it will be our advantage, if we occupy and exploit the entire spectrum of news, which conservation and hunting offer. We must not relinquish the leadership in public opinion forming to the anti-hunting segment. Unfortunately, the facts today show that we have done so! Therefore the urgent need to start engaging the media in constructive dialogues, without shying away from uncomfortable truths and facts is imperative.
Communication, workshops, hands-on press conferences, joint projects with non-hunting conservation associations and participation at grass-root level, as well as “events” will assist in raising and captivating the interest of the media and the general public alike. This approach creates more than fleeting interest and will induce some journalists to delve deeper into the topic.Hunters and hunting associations have nothing to hide. We must seek an uninhibited contact with the media.
It is a deplorable fact that we seem to have a media relationship, which could only be described as hostile. Frequently articles are critical and biased and often show a distinct lack of knowledge about sustainable use of natural resources and conservation biology. It should, therefore, be a noble task of the “official” representatives of the hunting associations and of each individual hunter not to ignore such contributions. Sanctimonious replies by hunters, ignoring obvious misdeeds of their peers, or hunters’ replies with a similar lack of conservation biology knowledge, however, neither do justice to the hunting case, nor do they contribute to a civilized and democratic dialogue.
We could convince journalists to participate in some hunts! Why don’t we show them – in the field – how hunting contributes to conservation and human well-being at rural community level? Let us also bring them to institutions of higher learning, like the Centre of Wildlife Management at the University of Pretoria, the Southern African Wildlife College or the Pretoria Technikon and show them how conservation and hunting complement each other.
We must show the reality of hunting and we have to unearth the relevant topical information for the journalists! Together with the field trips, they should be given information packages about the connection between hunting and conservation. Some readers will say that journalists would twist the facts and show only negative sides of hunting. I do consider this a counterproductive stance and, most importantly, a stance, which would confirm to the journalists and the public that hunters indeed have something to hide! Boycotting the media is no solution! Everybody in today’s world communicates - also those who prefer to remain silent. And even those “silent” hunters take a stance – they only leave the interpretation to others!
Let us be objective: – if journalists uncover unsavoury and unethical hunting practices, we should be the first to be thankful! “Bad press”, as hunters frequently complain, is often the result of the actions of individual hunters, who for a variety of reasons, forget or ignore not only legally prescribed
standards, but also ethical standards as set by the rich tradition of hunting.
It requires substantial courage that hunting associations ostracize these “black sheep”, by throwing them out, thus demonstrating sincerity to society and the media. This is the only way to achieve and maintain credibility.
Journalists are the multiplicators, who can influence public perception and opinion. We must cooperate with them! The antis certainly do and we should not relinquish the battlefield to them!
However, a goal-oriented public relation effort does not exhaust itself in communication and information. The associations representing the hunters have to coordinate their strategies and measures. Marketing a product or a service is not too different from marketing the activity “hunting”. The individual hunters have to understand and accept the broad PR
policy of their organizations. Hunters have the obligation to know and understand what (the activity hunting)
, how (through press and TV)
and why (the rationale for hunting)
we are marketing! Our image is mostly of our own making!
Let us face the hard facts – what are the topics of hunting related accounts and articles in the general media? Canned shooting, unethical behaviour of hunters, hunting accidents, hunters killing protected animals without permits, etc. – bad news and black sheep, as far as hunting is concerned! There is no journalist in the world willingly foregoing such topics, since the public loves to abhor! Bad news is good news. I do not consider that an outright disadvantage for us– since thousands of inebriated drivers have not yet achieved to give driving a bad name, unethical medical doctors do not bring medicine in disrepute, etc.
We usually forget the basic law of good public relations: “The best PR
for hunting is how the individual hunter acts in and out of the hunting fields!” This basic truth also contains a bitter drop – that it is the individual hunter who actually contributes a major share towards the unfavourable picture of hunters in society. There was a time in history, where hunters formed a respected part of society. People connected hunting with certain attributes like courage, toughness in following ones objectives, and most of all with a deeply rooted knowledge about animals in particular and nature in general. Is it not obvious that we have to find our way back to our roots again? If we want to know how the public sees us hunters, we have to see and evaluate ourselves first. And we most likely discover that our own perception of the hunters’ image and the reality of public perception do not converge. Let’s work together to change that!