Balancing gimmicks and arguments

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

March 21, 2007 Ed Cartoon

Last weekend, protesters at the University of California, Berkeley made headlines when 78 nudists joined them to stop a stand of oak trees from being cut down to clear space for new buildings.

The fact that they fought for their beliefs and attracted attention is commendable. It’s difficult for activists to get media coverage when they aren’t perceived to have the same credibility as the officials and scientists journalists routinely depend on.

Their efforts were successful in that they received international media attention and voiced their concerns. The university will have trouble ignoring the protest now that it has become so publicized.

However, most news stories written about the protest focused on the nude “tree-huggers” and treated the event as a colour story. The underlying issues on the effects of removing the forest weren’t given priority.

The sensationalization of such coverage perpetuates negative stereotypes of environmentalists. People fighting for environmental causes must overcome such stereotypes to avoid being dismissed as crazy hippies.

Thus, it’s questionable whether the protesters’ actions and the resulting stories brought legitimate attention to the issues at stake.

However, it’s difficult to know what type of activisim, be it radical or reserved, works best in which situations. In certain cases " especially if the protesters have no other way of garnering attention and accessing the public " radicalism might be the best course of action. In other cases, extreme measures might alienate mild supporters and the public and hurt the cause.

In recent years, environmentalism has made significant strides with more moderate actions to involve previously uninformed citizens, overcome stereotypes and increase awareness and action.

At Berkeley, activists secured an injunction, delaying the deforestation until at least the trial. Looking up laws and battling in court can effect change without sensationalizing one’s cause.

Environmentalism has also been aided by visionaries like Al Gore and David Suzuki, who have voiced their plights using intelligent discussion and facts.

Regardless of whether or not they had intelligent arguments to support their protest, the Berkeley protesters and nudists might have harmed the recent progression of the environmental movement by distracting people from the important points.

We need a balance between attention-grabbing gimmicks and effective actions to work directly for change. The two can even work together so media attention attracts other individuals and resources to fight for change.

It’s also important the media doesn’t sensationalize issues and treat them like jokes or funny stories. Journalists have a responsibility to report news as objectively as possible. It’s not their role to decide how the story should be perceived.

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