Allain Bougrain-Dubourg: “We have laid the foundations of our ecological commitment” | INA

Journalist and activist, Allain Bougrain-Dubourg has been a central figure in the animal and environmental cause since the 1970s. He has hosted programs such as “Des Animaux et des Hommes”, “Terre des Bêtes” and “Animalia”. He is now the President of the League for the Protection of Birds and is invited to debate for the INA Monday devoted to the media and biodiversity which will be held at La REcyclerie in Paris on September 26th. For the INA, he recounts the role played by television in raising awareness of ecological issues

INA – Who were the pioneers of ecology on television?

Allain Bougrain-Dubourg – In the 1960s, there were prestigious ambassadors who were the pride of our company. I would describe them as “savoiruriers”. I am thinking of Paul-Émile Victor, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Alain Bombard and Haroun Tazieff. I was close to them and saw how they shook society. Sometimes with great clumsiness. Cousteau, for example, considered the climate question to be an obsession of nascent political ecology. All were invited on television sets and helped to educate viewers and programmers.

INA – What were these broadcasts like?

Programs of the time such as Claude Darget’s “The Life of Animals” played on the sensational and often told nonsense. Then François de La Grange arrived with “The Animals of the World” in the early 1970s. He brought animals to the set, which would be unthinkable today, and asked scientists to tell their stories. Subsequently, Christian Zuber staged himself around the world in “Camera in hand”. And in my turn, I started with “Animals and men” and “Land of beasts”. Eliane Victor, the wife of Paul-Emile Victor, who was a journalist and producer, almost got me into television. We shared the feeling of a weakened planet.

INA- Have these programs had a real impact on public opinion?

ABD- At that time, we laid the foundations of ecological commitment. We were starting to denounce certain things, but we were careful. The viewers themselves called us to order. You have to put things in context. For example, if we showed a predator that was going to pounce on its prey, we cut at the last moment so as not to see the blood. It was all the paradox: to show without shocking. Then, Nicolas Hulot arrived and revolutionized the audiovisual landscape.

INA – What was its contribution?

ABD- At first, “Ushuaïa” was described as an “extreme magazine”. Nicolas Hulot paved the way for challenges and the incredible. There was a spectacle dimension. Just like Philippe de Dieuleveult with “The Treasure Hunt”. Nicolas Hulot then understood that this planet which served as his playground was fragile. This is where “Ushuaïa Nature” was born, a program committed to the beauty of images showing the nature that could disappear and not by the activism of violent images. Nicolas Hulot is also a very good speaker who knows how to share his emotions. He also used new technologies and had colossal resources.

INA – However, some of these programs are strongly criticized today…

ABD- Again, you have to put things in context. Cousteau was strongly attacked while some of his films like The silent world received the Palme d’or in 1956 and the Oscar for best documentary. He killed dolphins to feed sharks and film them. He sent grenades to the coral reefs to show off certain species. It is inconceivable today. At that time, there was a formula that said “bring them back alive”. It was about capturing animals and exhibiting them in zoos and everyone was in awe of their work. Similarly, Yann Arthus-Bertrand was strongly criticized for having used the helicopter in The earth from the sky. However, all these films and books have undoubtedly helped to show the beauty and fragility of nature. There is an evolution of society and morals, and that’s good.

INA – Does television still have a role to play in raising public awareness of biodiversity issues?

ABD- I have the feeling that television is becoming the poor relation in terms of raising awareness among the general public. There is a real change in mentalities. Ecology is at the heart of the debate. Society is on the move. But it seems to me that it goes through youth and social networks. We talked a lot about Greta Thunberg. But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Gretas today. Many young people who are aware of environmental issues do not vote, but they act differently. Their choice is made directly. For example, Zevent 2022, the great charity marathon for online streamers, raised more than 10 million euros in one weekend for four ecological associations, including the LPO (League for the Protection of Birds, of which Allain Bougrain Dubourg is president). . It’s extraordinary. We go from alert to engagement. And that, the youth understood it well. I am overwhelmed by the dynamism, commitment, creativity and determination of young people.

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Allain Bougrain-Dubourg: “We have laid the foundations of our ecological commitment” | INA