Elevating Pesticide Discussions and Actions

Elevating Pesticide Discussions and Actions

By Janet May, Pesticide Free Ontario – Great Lakes Basin

What happens when local organizational representatives from all over Ontario are combined with media experts from the Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society (IMPACS)? The result is an informative, hands-on workshop that provides practical training for volunteers with no media experience – volunteers who find themselves on the evening news or Talk Radio or being interviewed by local journalists.

Thanks to financial assistance from the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund, Pesticide Free Ontario held a half day workshop to train pesticide activists to write media releases and develop effective messages. In addition, activists participated in videotaped mock interviews and panel discussions, which were replayed and critiqued. After the video camera was packed up, participants said that the session had increased their confidence about their abilities and had provided valuable tips to improve their performance when the media spotlight beckons. Some of these tips included preparing for an interview by having specific facts available to back up answers to questions, dealing with a hostile interviewer, controlling negative facial expressions and body language during a television interview and staying on message.

“Because my passion for a healthy community in which to raise my children forced me into activism, I had no experience in working with the media,” said Sari Merson of York Region Environmental Alliance. “I found the workshop very helpful because it was so focused and gave me specific advice.”

Writing an Effective Press Release

The workshop was the kick-off event for Front Page Challenge: A Coordinated Media Campaign that utilized press releases and fact sheets.

Because participating local groups consist primarily of volunteers working towards getting pesticide bylaws for their communities, there is rarely time available to write and distribute press releases. Throughout the project, Pesticide Free Ontario wrote regular press releases that included space for local organizations to insert their own quote and contact information. The press releases included:

  • Water sampling results from several Ontario rivers showing levels of some lawn care pesticides exceeding government water quality standards;
  • An announcement from Loblaws, a major grocery retailer in Canada, that pesticides would no longer be sold in their seasonal garden centres;
  • Pesticide bylaw victories in several Ontario municipalities.

“The press releases were very useful in keeping the pesticide issue on the public radar screen”, said Susan Koswan of Get Rid of Urban Pesticides (GROUP) in Kitchener. “By distributing pre-written press releases from Pesticide Free Ontario, I was able to reach more media outlets in my community.”

Media Fact Sheets

To increase the capacity of local organizations, Pesticide Free Ontario produced several fact sheets with necessary tools to help them work more effectively with the media. These fact sheets, which can be found on Pesticide Free Ontario’s website (www. pesticidefree.ca), explain how to work with journalists, how to write media advisories and press releases, and how to organize media events. Samples of media advisories and releases are also included.

“I use the fact sheets quite a lot”, says Sari Merson. “Having a template makes a press release easier to write. And, now I know that by sending out press releases, I am increasing the chances that the pesticide issue will be covered by the media as well as raising the profile of my group.”

Front Page Challenge: A Coordinated Media Campaign was beneficial for local pesticide campaigns. Pesticide Free Ontario is regularly sent draft media releases from member organizations to review and regularly receives clippings from local newspapers featuring local activists commenting on the environmental and health hazards of lawn pesticides. Since the media workshop in November 2003, training has become a regular feature of Pesticide Free Ontario meetings. Training workshops in 2004 featured:

  • A communications expert who presented a workshop on messages around the pesticide issue that resonate with both the general public and decision makers; and,
  • A pesticide bylaw expert from the Province of Quebec who provided information about rational, enforceable bylaws.

Pesticide campaigns in communities around Ontario continue to show how effective small groups of people can be in convincing local governments to put protection of human health and the environment above profits. Seven Ontario municipalities now have pesticide by-laws and many other communities are working towards restrictions on these unnecessary chemicals.

By Janet May, Coordinator
Pesticide Free Ontario
2781 Hwy 7, Suite 207
Concord, ONT L4K 1W1
905.660.9782 • janet@yrea.org

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