Misunderstood and endangered sharks given bad press

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2001, 12:00am

The article headlined 'Is this the summer of the sharks?' (South China Morning Post, June 2) was a piece of shameless, tabloid sensationalism.

It did not successfully inform or educate the reader about either the real risks of shark attacks in Hong Kong or the threat to the existence of these misunderstood and endangered species. Instead it served to create fear and hatred of sharks in a community that is already party to decimation of the shark population.

The content of the article, at times, gave the appearance of trying to bring a balance of views on the topic. The words of some very creditable experts in the field were used. These were, however, mired in polemic.

Running a Jaws-inspired picture of a great white shark on your front page and in extra gory detail on the cover of the Features section can only have been intended to strike fear into the reader.

The great white also featured top of your 'Jaws watch' list, and this is a shark that has no confirmed sightings in Hong Kong.

The photo headline, highlighted quote and standfirst of the story all reinforced the message, 'Be afraid. Be very afraid.' As many people will not read beyond these, the message that this piece will carry to the majority of your readers will remain 'Sharks are a danger to be feared'.

Given the overreaction shown by the authorities to this season's two supposed sightings, surely you should be trying to quell fears rather than provoke them.

In the same edition, there was a letter from a representative of the World Wide Fund for Nature dealing with the threats posed to sharks by shark fisheries and by the lack of research into their behaviour and growth.

This letter was an appeal for understanding. Your article, however, was toned to inspire fear, which will in turn produce a lack of understanding or concern for the sharks' survival or extinction. In a city not known for its care and concern for environmental issues, this was an example of highly irresponsible journalism.

Scaremongering such as this will mean that calls for change to the participants and consumers of the shark's fin trade, calls that appeal against the wasteful treatment and dwindling numbers of shark populations, will be scoffed at.

One quote in the article says the perception of sharks as dangerous killers 'may never change unless we can convince the younger generation that sharks have important roles in the ocean and should be respected as top predators and not demonised as mindless killers'.

The Post has done nothing to help change that perception through this article.