An outstanding feature of anti-forestry activist campaigns for over 35 years has been their strategy to harness the mass media. In addition to reporting the news, some journalists and editors have manipulated information and interviews to support the activist point of view.
A number of complaints of bias and breach of standards made by forest managers against and other industry bodies against the ABC and other media bodies have been upheld. It is important to understand that the personal bias of journalists can affect news reporting in all forms of media.
Disappointingly, the ABC 4 Corners program has been found wanting on more that one occasion. In addition to the links below, the SETA website will provide more background on some of the biased reports from “award winning” journalists and bring a local perspective to the content and quality of forest industry reporting.
A variety of media outlets seem to have a strong affinity with activist charities, activist academics and anyone else opposed to active management and protection of our native forests from devastation due to high intensity bushfires and management by neglect.
It is clear these same media outlets will take issue with any organisation that dares put a counter argument to their wilderness mindset. The items below provide some background to allegations of astroturfing made by Michael West Media in May 2021, against a new forest communities representative body, Forest and Wood Communities Australia.
ANU Freedom of Information (FOI) & ANU SE NSW Industry Closure
SETA Freedom of Information Request Makes National Headlines.
The Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and other outlets published an article regarding a freedom of information (FOI) request lodged by the South East Timber Association on 28 April 2021. The initial request was for emails and letters between Professor David Lindenmayer and 17 journalists and 4 other parties.
The request was refused, as the ANU identified at least 2,200 documents that appeared to fall within the parameters of the SETA request. The request was refined to include four journalists and three other parties. The request was again refused for practical reasons, as more than 500 documents, with a conservative estimate of 1,600 pages had been identified.
After reducing the request to cover two journalists from the Fairfax print media, being Miki Perkins and Mike Foley, the request was accepted. This matter has not been finalised, as the full content of the 28 emails released under this request had been redacted (blanked out). Consequently, an appeal has been lodged with the Information Commissioner.
ANU Lawyer and an Economic Consultant Attack the Southern NSW Native Forest Industry
The fatally flawed report:
- Rips about $100 million in forest product sales a year, out of NSW south coast economies;
- Claims $80 million a year in avoided harvest, haul and processing costs as a “saving” to government, when it is actually a part of the $100 million economic loss and is paid for by local log processors.
- Claims that about $20 million a year in native forest carbon trading revenue will be generated, when there is currently no legal basis for native forest carbon trading. In Australia the only type of forest that is currently eligible for carbon trading is defined as ‘reforestation’.
- Ignores the extra land management cost to government, as forest product royalties will not be available to contribute to the cost of managing and protecting the state forests.
ANU FOI documentation
ANU SE NSW Industry Closure documentation
It seems Forest and Wood Communities Australia (FWCA) has struck a raw nerve within the activist community. A journalist, Natasha May, from Michael West Media contacted Justin Law at FWCA with a number of questions and opinions about FWCA. She was tight lipped about what triggered her interest, but the information and questions provided made it clear a hatchet job was on the go.
Do Leading ABC News and Current Affairs Programs Exhibit Bias Against Native Forest Managers and Businesses Using Logs Supplied From Native Forest Harvesting Operations?
A review of just three ABC reporting efforts over the past 28 years may help to answer the question.
5 June 2007 - ICRP Response 7.30 Report
On 5 June 2007, the 7.30 Report broadcast a program called “Pulp Mill Could Taint Catch : fishing industry.” The ABC again received complaints, including from Timber Communities Australia. On 6 November 2008, the convenor of the Independent Complaints Review Panel, in closing, recommended:
“While considerable time has elapsed since the broadcast went to air, the Panel believes that ongoing public interest in this development means that continuing reliance on the corrections stated on ABC Online is not, in the circumstances, adequate and that these corrections should be supplemented by an appropriate on-air correction. This correction should refer to the findings of this report and address the matters referred to above. It should be broadcast during a 7.30 Report segment, on an occasion when the program is again dealing with issues relating to the pulp mill development.”
16 February 2004 - Lords of the Forests – ABC Corrections
The Four Corners “Lords of the Forest” broadcast on 16 February 2004 was also subject to a raft of complaints. The ABC was required to make belated corrections to web site content. The Australian Communications and Media Authority found that “the program failed to make every reasonable effort to ensure the program was impartial – citing presentation style including language, tone and footage.”
18 June 1990 - The Wood for the Trees
On 18 June 1990, Four Corners ran a program called Wood for the Trees targeting the then Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management. Consequently, there was a raft of complaints alleging bias.
Among issues raised was the fact that the ABC journalists had time for an in depth interview and broadcast of the opinions of an art gallery owner on the failings of forest management, but had insufficient time to interview a forest ecologist to get a scientific perspective. A total of 44 separate instances of factual error, misrepresentation, bias and selective editing were described.
Four Corners presenter Andrew Olle broadcast an apology in which the a number of false assertions and incorrect statements in “The Wood for the Trees” was admitted.
Despite the apology, the Four Corners journalist who anchored the program, Mark Colvin, was subsequently given a series of plum overseas assignments.