TV presenters Steve Backshall and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall head a growing list of high profile individuals supporting a call for responsible shark journalism by Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation.
The UK shark charity says that decades of news headlines labelling sharks as ‘monsters’, ‘killers’ and ‘beasts’ — language typically used to describe rapists, terrorists and paedophiles — has created a climate of fear and loathing that is thwarting shark conservation initiatives.
Bite-Back’s view is underpinned by a recent survey that revealed 46% of Brits think sharks are more terrifying than spiders, snakes and rodents combined and nearly two-thirds (64%) would prefer sharks not to exist.
Patron of Bite-Back, Steve Backshall, said: “It’s time that journalists understand how these sensational headlines and falsehoods are perpetrating a hatred of sharks that ‘justifies’ their boundless slaughter. In many ways, I think the media is complicit in one of the greatest deliberate exterminations in our planet’s history.”
An estimated 73 million sharks are slaughtered every year and Britain ranks in the top 25 shark fishing nations in the world. As a result, populations of key shark species, including the great white, hammerhead, oceanic whitetip and thresher, have fallen by 90% in the past 60 years.
Chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “Sharks are getting a bad press they simply don’t deserve. Decades of sensational headlines have stripped sharks of their status as vital marine species and all too often left the public frightened for little reason. I’d welcome any move by the media to fairly report sharks rather than default to tired and inaccurate click bait captions.”
In the past six weeks most UK print, online and broadcast media outlets have run sensational shark stories — many using language including ‘ferocious’, ‘terrifying’, ‘killer’, ‘invasion’, ‘blood-thirsty’, ‘lurking’ and ‘deadly’ to describe sharks. Yet the truth is that, on average, each year British cows kill more people than all the sharks in the world combined.
Bite-Back has also achieved support for this appeal from ocean ambassador Wendy Benchley, widow of Peter Benchley, the author of JAWS. She said: “While the cinema is a place of entertainment, newspapers and media channels are a place for facts. For far too long the news press have blurred the boundaries between fact and fiction and got away with reporting sharks as man-eating monsters when it’s simply not true. I believe this constant portrayal of sharks as the bad guys rather than our ocean heroes is hindering shark conservation efforts.”
In a bid to make Britain the first country in the western world to ban shark products by 2022, Bite-Back has already successfully campaigned for ASDA, Iceland Foods and MAKRO to end the sale of shark steaks. The charity has also spearheaded an 82% fall in the number of restaurants selling shark fin soup across the UK and prompted Holland & Barrett to end the sale of shark cartilage capsules.
Campaign director for Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation, Graham Buckingham, says: “No other creature on this planet is described with inflammatory language intended to spread fear, panic and hate. As a result, the mere presence of a shark in the sea prompts sensational, attention-grabbing headlines. We’re simply looking for the press to represent sharks accurately, fairly and in a way that doesn’t jeopardise our blue planet.”
The charity is now hosting a series of meetings to present its brand new Media Guidelines document to key press.