Interview: Journalism and farming life

Agriculture and farming life are topics that are seldom covered by mainstream media and when they are talked about, it is often in a somewhat uninformed or cliché way.

In answer to that, some farmers have decided to use the social media to speak directly to the public but in there is also a new generation of journalists who want to change things.

Charlotte Peyronnet

Charlotte Peyronnet

Charlotte Peyronnet (@charlypeyronnet) is a student at the Journalism School of Sciences Po in Paris. Before that she studied Agriculture Engineering. She tells us her view on the media coverage of farming life:

First of all you can’t put everything in one basket. There is the specialized press and the mainstream media. The specialized press offers an amazing coverage, they are really at the forefront of what’s happening and they understand the issues very well but the problem is that they target a specific readership, people within the farming world and are difficult to access for non – expert readers. On the contrary, mainstream media is very accessible to a wider audience but they over simplify things. The aspect that bothers me the most is that they don’t link things together. 

For example, they speak about Russia’s ban on EU pork but they don’t really explain why thins is happening and what impact this s going to have. Farming matters are actually related to most of the issues that we are faced with on a daily basis be it foreign policy like in the case of Russia’s pork embargo or stock exchange prices.

How do you think the French media portrays farmers?

Again there is two answers to that. On the one hand when I see for example the coverage of the Paris Agriculture Fair, I’m happy to see that journalists talk about farmers but there is always a slightly condescending approach to it, especially in Paris.  It’s almost as if they were talking about a completely different world, aliens. “Maurice has two cows and three tooth”… 

What are farmers really like these days?

Most of them have achieved higher education! Today running a farm no longer simply means breeding animals and picking apples, it’s like running a company. Farmers bet on stock exchange prices, they use a lot of technology on their exploitations, they are connected… And they’re proud of what they do. Outside of Paris when a farmer buys an expensive machine, the people around envy him!

We often see farmers being portrayed carrying out violent actions: they spill cow shit in front of ministries, milk in supermarkets, they block roads with their tractors and attack McDonalds restaurant… Are farmers angry people?

No (she laughs). But there was almost a fashion at one point to carry out actions like this and of course the media picked up on it. This movement was mostly centered around José Bové but now he doesn’t have much of an impact anymore.  I think it’s mismanagement from both sides, farmers jumped in both feet with that strategy and the media didn’t try to see what was behind it.
I’m not saying farmers are super friendly happy teddybears; they have their clichés too. I mean if a farmer gets a call from a journalist in Paris asking him to answer some questions on the spot chances are he will not be very collaborative and carry on working but there are ways to do things differently.

What about the food scandals?

I was too young during the mad cow disease scandal but the horse meat one last year for instance had nothing to do with farmers. This was a fraud. Now that type of fraud shouldn’t be possible. There are tractability measures that are very strict and that work well. When you scan he barcode of your meat package it should correspond to the barcode of an animal.

But we have all seen those terrible documentaries where animals are being sent to the slaughterhouse without ever having seen day light, chicken being raised in boxes, pigs living on top of each other, that can’t be fraud right?

Sure, but that’s not representative of farmers in France. That’s another problem with the media, they usually show farmers that are on the extremes like the super modern eco-friendly farmer versus the dirty tyrant. In fact 99% of the farmers are in between.
Regarding how animals are being brought up, frankly, France imposes a very strict set of rules regarding animal well-being.

What do you think of shows such as l’Amour est dans le Pré (French version of Farmers wants a Wife) ?

At first I was against it, I thought it wouldn’t tell people anything about the reality of farm life. But after watching it, I think the farmers who participate are representative of the profession, what they show of their daily lives is very close to reality. Some of my farmer friends like it a lot. On top of that it’s a good way to speak about the difficulties farmers face in finding a partner. That is a real issue.

How would you change the way the media covers farming life?

I think that to cover farming life appropriately; journalists who are interested should receive some training on these issues. Just so that they can understand the technicalities of the work and be able to speak the correct language to farmers. Once the journalist understands what the issue is, he can simplify it for the audience without losing the substance. 

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