An outstanding feature of anti-forestry activist campaigns for over 30 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 by forest managers and other industry bodies have been upheld.
While this website will predominantly deal with media relevant to South East NSW and East Gippsland forest industries, it is important to understand that the personal bias of journalists can affect news reporting in all forms of media. SETA will provide local examples, as well a national examples of lazy and at times biased reporting.
A review of just three ABC reporting efforts over the past 28 years may help to answer the question.
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.
ABC management was repentant. Four Corners presenter Andrew Olle broadcast an apology in which the litany 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.
Tall Trees & Taller Stories at the ABC The Australian 23July1990
ABC Apology to CALM 250391
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.”
Lords of the Forest – Australian Communications & Media Authority Findings
Lords of the Forests – ABC Corrections
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 TCA. On 6 November 2008, the convenor of the Independent Complaints Review Panel, who 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.”
ICRP Response 7.30 Report
In February 2011, the Bega District News reported on an unusual start to a Bega Valley Shire Council meeting. Councillor Keith Hughes was late to the meeting. Some ratepayers had come to provide Councillor Hughes with some direct action feedback.
Keith Hughes Put on Notice
Following a protest at a harvesting operation near Bodalla, Lisa Stone, representing South East Forest Rescue claimed that the life of a tree-sit occupant was put at risk, as unknown individuals silently axed the tree supporting the tree-sit. More interested in a sensational headline than the facts, the journalist failed to ask the logical question: How do you silently axe a tree?
Narooma News – Unknown Individuals Silently Axe a Tree
The ABC South East Radio and Bombala Times have run several stories since 10 July 2015, following the blocking of 3 log trucks using the Tantawangalo Road near Cathcart, by a disgruntled local farmer. South East Timber Association member Norm Wilton has put in a response to the Bombala Times. Norm has asked many questions that the media to date have failed to ask. A few more questions may well have lead to a less sensational and more balanced coverage of the issue.
The disgruntled farmer was caught in the act of blocking the road with a farm tractor, which is suspected of being unregistered. By capturing these types of incidents, as the truck driver did in this case, highlights the safety risks forestry workers are exposed to by direct action protests. While the farmer is seeking support to have the section of the road near his house sealed, the irony is, the less traffic carried by any road, the less justification there is to spend extra funding to improve that road. Click on the You Tube link above to see more video of the blockade.
Norm Wilton Letter to the Bombala Times re the Tantawangalo Road Blockade