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World Press Freedom Day: How Ag-Gag Limits Animal Photojournalism

by | May 3, 2023

Investigation with Animal Equality. Spain, 2009.

Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equality / We Animals

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on 2 May 2022 and has been updated for accuracy.

On World Press Freedom Day (May 3) we commemorate the importance of press freedom around the globe and highlight the work of the individuals bringing some of the most critical issues of our time into the public eye.

“World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom.” – UNESCO

Our mission as animal photojournalists is to expose the stories of animals that are kept hidden from the public through political and economic agendas; investigative journalism is the main way of doing this. These stories matter and the brave efforts of investigators, journalists, and other media workers worldwide are ensuring they get told.

A pregnant sow lies on a floor slick with feces and urine in a cage in which she cannot turn around. This industrial farm in northern Italy housed thousands of pigs in this condition. Italy, 2015. Jo-Anne McArthur / Essere Animali / We Animals

A pregnant sow lies on a floor slick with feces and urine in a cage in which she cannot turn around. This industrial farm in northern Italy housed thousands of pigs in this condition. Italy, 2015.

Jo-Anne McArthur / Essere Animali / We Animals

An activist documents conditions for hens in an egg-laying barn. Spain, 2017. Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equality / We Animals

An activist documents conditions for hens in an egg-laying barn. Spain, 2017.

Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equality / We Animals

In recent years and in response to animal photojournalists, advocates, and whistleblowers, powerful lobbying efforts on behalf of large corporations have ushered in what are known as agricultural gag (ag-gag) laws, designed to dissuade and criminalize the documentation of animal industries.

Animal advocates are currently challenging the growing number of ag-gag laws in Canada, which, in recent years, has followed suit with the United States despite the fact that multiple US states have since ruled ag-gag bills as unconstitutional and a violation of freedom of expression. 

“Not only does the ag-gag law infringe the rights of journalists, advocates, and researchers who engage in these important activities, but it also violates the public’s right to know how animals are treated behind the closed doors of factory farms.” – Kaitlyn Mitchell, Animal Justice Staff Lawyer

WAM's Senior Fellow Selene Magnolia and Founder Jo-Anne McArthur by our storyboard at the SIPA 2023 exhibition.

A photojournalist documents a calico or marble fox dwelling inside a barren wire mesh cage at fur farm in Quebec. Foxes raised on fur farms spend their entire lives in cages such as these. They are used for breeding or will eventually themselves be killed for their fur. Canada, 2022.

We Animals

WAM's Senior Fellow Selene Magnolia signing the SIPA 2023 'Beyond the Lens' photo book.

Sows look out from gestation crates at an industrial pig farm in Quebec. Canada, 2022.

Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

The provinces of Alberta, Ontario, PEI and Manitoba have all now passed provincial legislation increasing penalties or creating new penalties for advocates photographing or engaging with farm animals on transport vehicles, at farms, in slaughterhouses or anywhere these animals are kept. In 2021, Animal Justice filed a charter challenge to Ontario’s ag-gag law and continues to work tirelessly, challenging existing ag-gag laws in court.

“Ag-gag turns the attention towards journalists and activists who hope to expose animal cruelty, and away from the cruelty itself. It’s urgent that industrial farming be exposed and drastically curbed; billions of animals are suffering every moment of every day.” – Jo-Anne McArthur

Though courts typically overturn these laws, this takes time. During this time, journalists and advocates who attempt to document what happens inside factory farms can face stiff and frightening penalties simply for attempting to acquire information. The long term effect of this can be a chill on free expression and investigation, which benefits industries that prefer keeping their processes hidden.

Read more about the impact of ag-gag laws on our work as animal photojournalists and advocates in this Sentient Media interview with Jo-Anne McArthur.

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