Over the past 12 months Nature Needs More has tried to interest the mainstream media (MSM) in the story of how the flaws in the regulation of the legal trade in endangered species are enabling the illicit trade to thrive. Several angles have been tried, when contacting investigative, environmental and business journalists through to editors and editors-in-chiefs.
Whilst conservation media does some great investigative pieces, these stories don’t reach the general public. And, we cannot rely on social media, which in the first instance was simply too noisy and is now not trusted, given the levels of fake news and orchestrated disinformation campaigns aided by algorithms which take the echo-chamber effect to new orders of magnitude.
We could get no traction with the MSM about the scale of the legal trade in endangered species (over US$320 billion annually), the flaws in the CITES trade and monitoring system and the lack of core funding to the impoverished CITES regulator (US$4.7 million annually, given signatory country arrears). The fact that businesses are pocketing hundreds of billions of dollars from the trade in endangered species while contributing only token amounts for permits held no interest for MSM; it simply wasn’t a story they wanted to pursue. The businesses benefiting from this trade (some of the wealthiest and biggest brands in the world such as LVMH and Kering) deserve as much scrutiny as the fossil fuel industry, but they are flying under the radar and have done for decades.
We found the journalists and editors we managed to get access to remain fixated on running stories about isolated incidents of individual wrongdoing and narrow issues, not investigating systemic problems in the whole industry of trade in endangered species. Time-and-time-again we were told that readers wouldn’t be interested in the story of systemic failure to protect wildlife, it was too dry, it was too complex – where’s the cute animal, where’s the hero, where’s the villain? Maybe the funniest (or most frustrating) response was “If you can get a business to make a financial contribution to fixing the CITES legal trade permit and monitoring system, for the endangered species trade, we will write about it”; yes, that way around has always worked!
But should we really be shocked that MSM’s investigative and business journalists don’t see the scale of this story? Let’s face it, they have missed so many important stories in the recent past. Some examples they have failed to notice, or ignored, include:
- Enron – a company based on accounting fraud and its US$63 billion bankruptcy in 2001, taking with it Arthur Andersen (founded in 1913), formerly one of the Big Five accounting firms, who voluntarily surrendered its licenses to practice as Certified Public Accountants in 2002 as a result of the Enron scandal.
- The near collapse of the global financial system and bankruptcy of the companies including Bear Stearns (founded 1923) and Lehman Brothers (founded 1850)
- The three decades of Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme
- The personal and business ‘dealings’ of Jeffrey Epstein
- The lack of reporting on the ‘activities’ of Harvey Weinstein, which has been accepted, since the scandal broke, as open knowledge in the entertainment industry for years
- White collar crime in general, for example the ease and ability to launder vast sums of money through the Australian banking system
- And yes, it took until climate change arrived in people’s everyday lives, by virtue of extreme weather events in the last couple of years, for the MSM to finally challenge the fossil fuel industry and be ‘committed’ to keeping climate change in the news; something that should have started 40 years ago.