News - June 28, 2011

No guarantee pictures tell the truth

The campaign group Ongehoord took pictures illegally in the stalls of 26 pig farmers and placed distressing images of crippled and dead piglets on the Internet. An effective means of exposing abuses? 'No', says communications professor Noelle Aarts.

'These images were obtaining illegally, violating the privacy of the pig farmers. That is not correct behaviour. You must operate within the law, otherwise you don't really have much right to say anything in my opinion.  The pictures undoubtedly have some element of truth but you don't need them to expose the abuses in intensive livestock farming.
The saying goes: "A picture is worth a thousand words". Pictures have a huge impact but there is also a danger in that. Pictures seem to speak the truth but images are selected and manipulated like nobody's business. You need the context to understand images because they could have many different meanings.
On top of that, this protest has the opposite effect to what is intended. The photos and clips give everyone the feeling that they were right all along. The opponents of intensive livestock farming will say: there you are, just look how terrible it is. And the farmers will say: there they go again, that scum with their protest campaigns. There is a big risk of these images actually increasing the gap between the two groups.
I would like to see a constructive dialogue between people with conflicting opinions about intensive livestock farming, aimed at arriving at shared values. That is not easy and at the very least you need a really good discussion leader. If you want to find out more about the diversity of opinion concerning this subject, you only need to look at the discussions on the Internet. You will see all the arguments for and against, but there is never any discussion, or if so it's one-way only. If you want a proper dialogue, you will have to sit down together and be motivated to really achieve something.'