Last week, the Mercury’s chief political reporter, Sue Neales, described
the Greens Franklin candidate, Adam Burling, as an “anti-forest campaigner” [sic]. Clearly Burling, who has been campaigning for the protection of forests for years, was supposed to be described as “anti-forestry”. Less than two weeks earlier, another Mercury story by another journalist had labelled Burling as “anti-logging”.
Are these accurate descriptions of Burling’s views? If not, how is it that such pejorative logging industry terms have come to be adopted by mainstream journalists and presented as fact in a news article?
Burling says that he wouldn’t describe himself as either “anti-forestry” or “anti-logging”. Those are terms, he says, which “place me in a negative light, as though I am against a legitimate business, without providing any reason why I am supposedly against it.” Instead, he identifies himself as being “a campaigner who works for the protection of Tasmania’s native forests.”
Of course, journalists shouldn’t necessarily adopt self descriptions simply because they are preferred by those written about, but any political tag needs to have a basis in fact and be a fair representation of the subjects views. If Burling isn’t against all forestry or all logging, as the terms imply, why has he been tagged that way?
The terms “anti-forestry” and “anti-logging” have long been employed by the Tasmanian logging industry as a way of exaggerating their critics’ positions and polarizing public debate. Making pejorative terms like those stick is a part of a strategy aimed at marginalising critics and trying to deprive important public debates of oxygen. (Just imagine the reaction if a journalist tagged a spokesman for Forestry Tasmania, Gunns or the Minister for Energy and Resources, David Llewellyn, as ‘anti-forests’.)
Successfully selling the idea that environmentalists are opposed to all logging and want the abolition of the entire industry is a theme intended to help undercut public support for change in the management of the industry and dovetail in with the “extremist” tag which the logging industry and its supportersalso promote by supporters of the logging industry.
While the use of these terms are primarily aimed at the broad public, a crucial secondary audience for the logging industry are those who work in the timber industry itself.
The tobacco industry, having lost the debate over the impact of its products on consumers health, tried to rally support from smokers and other companies by employing the ‘slippery slope’ argument—that if smoking and tobacco promotion were restricted, other industries, such as alcohol and food, would be next.
The Tasmanian logging industry is in a similar predicament to the tobacco industry. As its public legitimacy has dwindled, the logging industry’s political power base has become ever more fragile. Those dependent on logging in the most contentious areas of native forest have become less influential within society and even within the timber industry itself. The use of the “anti-forestry” tag though, is aimed at making those involved in the least contentious aspects of the industry so fearful of the domino effect that they help defend native forest logging.
So it is understandable, but not defensible, that groups such as the Forestry Industry Association of Tasmania resort to propagating terms such as “anti-forestry” and “anti-logging”.
Why mainstream journalists would embrace the use of these terms is less explicable.
At best they may simply be one-off unthinking slips made under the pressure of imminent deadlines. While that is possibly a contributing factor, it is more likely that the use of these terms in news articles reflects the degree to which these forestry industry terms have insinuated their way into public debate and then been uncritically adopted by journalists. (It is rather ironic that newspaper journalists and editors agonise over what declining or static newspaper sales means for the future of journalism while continuing to use terms that alienate a significant part of their readership). The continued use of the terms may also reflect the degree to which environmentalists have avoided or just become weary of challenging the use of such pejorative and inaccurate descriptors.
Whatever the reason, journalists who use terms such as “anti-logging” and “anti-forestry” are very unlikely to challenge the use of such inaccurate terms by government agencies such as Forestry Tasmania or the Minister for Energy and Resources, David Llewellyn. And public servants and government Ministers should be challenged on their use of misleading terms which reflect and perpetuate a deeply entrenched culture of hostility to those advocating different policies.
The General Manager, Corporate Relations and Tourism for Forestry Tasmania, Ken Jeffreys, did not respond to a request for his definition of what he meant when he usesthe term “anti-forestry” or which organisations he thinks espouse these views. Nor did a spokesperson for David Llewellyn respond to questions on what their definition of “anti-forestry” is or which groups they are referring to, such as when he recently railed against “anti-forestry groups undermining the industry by targeting Tasmania’s customers with misinformation.”
Instead of so readily using such tags, journalists would do better by actually talking to Burling and others and ascertain what their views actually are. Instead of being described by a negative, Burling says he sees his “work as very positive.”
“I am standing up for the many endangered and rare animals, as well as the wilderness forests. I am acting as a voice for the voiceless, and I believe working for a life-affirming position of protecting these incredible ecosystems,” he says.
Instead of describing Burling as “anti-forestry” or “anti-logging”, perhaps journalists should settle on using the more neutral ‘environmentalist’. At least it would be accurate.
Picture: Ken Jeffreys, left. He did not respond.