About 15,000 km of rivers and streams in Switzerland are heavily overdeveloped. Since 2011, the Water Protection Act has obligated cantons to ecologically upgrade parts of these waters; for example, by creating habitats for plant and animal species typical to the area. It is also hoped that wider riverbeds will help reduce the potential damage caused by flooding. Despite these positive developments, renaturalization can be controversial, since, inter alia, it often requires the use of cultivated land and restricts the use of stretches of water for activities such as energy production. Participatory procedures, in which affected parties can put forward their point of view, can help resolve resource conflicts as amicably as possible. Since relatively few people participate actively in this process, the general public tends to form its opinion predominantly from press reports. Thus, the manner in which the media presents the restoration of rivers and streams plays an important role in a number of public objectives.
In order to gain a better understanding how the media reports on naturalization, WSL researchers systematically assessed about 700 articles published between 2000 and 2013 in three newspapers in the cantons of Bern and Valais. They investigated, among other factors, which stakeholders voiced opinions and the arguments put forward. “Coverage is characterized by surprisingly favorable arguments,” explains Helena Zemp, who was responsible for the evaluation. A possible reason for this could be that critical points of view do not reach the journalists. Furthermore, says Zemp, the arguments relayed by the press were for the most part little differentiated and gave no grounds for the conclusions. Finally, some topics were scarcely analyzed in any of the three newspapers; for example, how the measures affected agriculture or the use of hydropower. In a recently published WSL report, the authors therefore recommend that project leaders inform the public about topics neglected by the media through means of panel discussions and newsletters. “More background information,” says Zemp, “would allow the general public to come to a more informed opinion on the planned renaturalization projects.” (Martin Heggli, Diagonal 1/16)