Studying various reports of the France circus animal & marine park ban

by Lewis Hyden

Marine mammal parks, which combine the noble effort of wildlife conservation with the not-so-noble for-profit business of public theme parks, have been controversial almost since the first SeaWorld opened in the mid-1960s. The ethics of SeaWorld’s practises, along with those of other for-profit marine wildlife parks, are the subject of an ongoing debate around the care and treatment of intelligent marine species. As an issue that attracts global attention, news relating to animal welfare in marine parks is covered by a wide variety of news organisations, from classic news publications like The Independent to social-media-savvy news sites like Vox and the PETA news team. Therefore, it’s an interesting endeavour to review these organisations’ approaches to the same topic and compare them to one another in order to gain more insight into their reporting practises, as well as the story itself.

On 29th September, France’s environmental minister announced that keeping dolphins and killer whales in captivity in marine parks, as well as using a variety of intelligent animals in travelling circuses, would be banned “gradually” in France. Barbara Pompili, France’s Minister of Ecological Transition, said that bears, lions, and elephants would be forbidden from travelling circuses “in the coming years”, according to coverage by The Independent. A more immediate ban has also been imposed preventing the breeding or purchase of cetaceans in marine parks. The story was widely covered due to its importance in the ongoing battle against mistreatment of cetaceans in marine parks. 

UK coverage: The Independent

The Independent provides a clear recollection of the events on the 29th, providing excerpts from the succeeding news conference with Barbara Pompili. The article comes pinned with a single image of orcas in captivity for referencing. The article is straightforward and reads like a standard newspaper piece, outlining the “5 Ws” and providing a clear explanation of the ban, as well as the measures the French government has taken to enact it safely. A Tweet from @Independent advertising the article is constructed in a similar hard-facts manner, with the aforementioned image providing an inoffensive but nonetheless eye-catching companion to the headline above it. The Tweet conveys the ‘bottom line’ of the story in only a few words, skipping over unnecessary facts such as the mink fur trade to convey an incredibly concise, easy-to-digest version of the story, outfitted especially for fast-scrolling social media users who don’t necessarily want to read a full article on the topic. Using only the headline here conveys the story quickly and effectively to the reader – essentially spreading the news in as streamlined a way as possible, with no “fluff” or arguably unnecessary content.

The Independent offers a straightforward, stripped-back approach to reporting.

France & UK coverage: PETA

Among the first to cover the story, along with The Independent, were the respected animal rights organisation PETA on the News section of the PETAUK website. A world apart from the straightforward, hard-facts reporting from The Independent, PETA’s article openly celebrates the ban as “momentous news” and praises the PETA France team for their success in raising awareness. In particular, the article focuses heavily on the success of PETA in overseeing the awareness movement which led to the ban, as opposed to the ban itself. It touts the popular movements which lead to the ban of fur-farming and marine captivity as the stars of the story, using a selection of emotive images of protestors dressed up in attention-demanding outfits. Many of the images they use are framed in a way which inspires an emotional reaction from the viewer; the first, angled up towards protestors from the ground with the Eiffel Tower behind, is used to create an atmosphere of triumph and unity.

A similar article was published in French on the PETA France website. Most notable are its accompanying Tweets from the PETA France team: two are used with eye-catching, emotive visuals and verbiage to command the reader’s attention. Of particular importance are the prominence of celebrities, including one of Pamela Andersen, to draw public interest. The captions read “THANK YOU @barbarapompili” and “Champagne corks are popping here at PETA” – emotive language designed to evoke emotion in the reader, and unlike The Independent’s, very similar language to that of the full article.

PETA’s approach has been significantly more media-intensive than The Independent’s, with eye-catching visuals and celebrity endorsements.

Global coverage: France 24

Another mainstream publication to cover the story was France 24, a major international news organisation. Their coverage was divided across various media channels, including television spots and YouTube summaries – they may have offered the story more publicity than PETA themselves, in fact. Interestingly, while the original article was written in French, English, Spanish, and Arabic for the sake of global accessibility, their social media and video coverage of the topic is primarily in English. This is likely because English dominates social media in Europe, and so using it in a broadcast guarantees that it will be digestible to a large audience split across a variety of regions – each with their own native languages, but all with English taught as an essential skill. The original France 24 coverage in French has been dubbed in English, with interview segments and quotations subtitled for English speakers.

Unlike The Independent, who are a UK-based publication and produce content in English, France 24 covers this story in a variety of languages in their principle article on the matter to make it accessible to readers who speak different languages. They are also the only publication covered here to have video content supplementing their original article – something which has not been seen much outside of France and its French-speaking news organisations. On Twitter, the publication tweets in separate accounts for English, French, and Spanish – but only the French and English accounts provided coverage of the story. They also refrain from mentioning PETA and its campaigns which supposedly led to the ban, instead providing an unbiased assessment of the events with no special mention to celebrities or public awareness. Reputable individuals who are ‘close’ to the story are cited in their place, including marine park management and the politicians behind the legislation.

In this sense, coverage of the story has been much stronger in France, with French platforms investing more care and attention in its reporting; other publications like The Independent have stripped it back and preserved only the key details, especially on social media.