Pandas&Microbes: sustainability becoming an issue in Spanish media.

Posted By on 15 September, 2014

In recent weeks, and in almost all Spanish TV channels, reports and news on the impact of economic activity on ecosystems and society appear. It seems that we begin to realize that the culture of “disposable goods”, that fuells the rampant turnover of products, the  innovations that contribute to nothing but buying,  – and the culture to renew when you do not need –   is beginning to be replaced by a new culture, the culture of sustainability. The media have a key role in this process. Many of the environmental and social problems are not experienced directly by the people. Global warming, water shortages in some remote regions, soil pollution, child labor and unacceptable working conditions in developing countries are the problems that many people can not relate to in their daily lives . The impact of production activity and consumption on the environment and human health are discovered by science and broadcast by the media. Since public attention is a scarce resource, environmental and social issues must compete with other topics to grasp. According to the cycle of public attention, the public rarely focus remains a problem for long. Usually, the media take a topic and discuss it for a period until the public’s attention moves on to another topic.

However, attention to the environment has been fairly high on the public agenda since 1970. One of the reasons for the persistent high level of customer service is that a host of new environmental problems from local toxic pollution global threats such as climate change, have been blended to create a sense of gradual and continued deterioration of our ecosystem. Another reason may be that environmental organizations have been very successful in presenting environmental problems, and they usually do in dramatic and quite persuasive terms. Environmental activists like Greenpeace, for example, have succeded to disseminate symbolic images of environmental media problems. The controversy over the sinking of the Brent Spar oil installations in 1995 created an atmosphere of genuine drama. The meeting between Greenpeace and oil giant Shell was perceived by the public in a manner similar to the struggle of David versus Goliath, as good versus evil – regardless of the evidence and arguments in discussion. However, the continuous bombardment of environmental messages can eventually also lead to saturation and dramatization of these problems.

The media influence the perception of environmental and social problems in two ways. First, the media have the power to choose what type of messages appear in the public arena (first order selection). Many people assume that the media take note of the issues objectively, based on their relevance to society. This is not necessarily so. Some problems are too complex to explain, others are difficult to synthesize images. Take the pandas and microbes. The panda is on the verge of extinction. It is a seemingly nice and charming mammal draws much public attention. Therefore, an important part of the conservation effort is poured into creatures such as this. In contrast, small and seemingly insignificant things such as soil microbes, of which the world depends, are some of the lesser known species. Microbes may appear in special programs on the Discovery Channel, but are not present in the media for the simple reason that they are very small and are not news.

In addition to selecting items according to newsworthiness and “friendly” with the media, the media also decide how environmental and social problems (second-order selection) are presented. In 1980 and 1990, the media often exaggerated the environmental and social problems. They also showed the pioneers of sustainability from a very positive light. Over time, this approach loses its informative and novelty value. Later there have been approaches and different versions that have gained the attention of the media since the beginning of the century, for example, deny or downplay the socio-ecological problems, information about “black sheep” in the flock “sustainable” and the presentation of the pioneers of sustainability from a perspective somewhat negativa.Como result, many consumers are becoming skeptical of the claims of ecological and social products. The media has in this sense a huge responsibility. We need informatioon and media attention both to Pandas and  microbes. Look  at  The Guardian Sustainability. A great example. Pandas and microbes every day.

From   Belz/Peattie/Gali  Sustainability Marketing: a Global Perspective, Wiley.  (Modified and adapted to post)

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