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Spinwatch Congratulates Reuters For GM Corrections

SPINWATCH CONGRATULATES REUTERS FOR CORRECTIONS TO REPORTING OF GM LOBBY

Reuters - the influential news agency whose wire service stories appear in print, broadcast and web media outlets - has made a series of important corrections to an article on GMOs in Africa, following a complaint from SpinWatch, an organisation that monitors PR and spin in the public interest.[1]

The article, originally published in late October under the headline "Africa seen accepting GMO crops more in future", has now been republished by Reuters[2] with a new headline and changes that are intended to clarify the affiliations of the source of the story - Dr Florence Wambugu and her lobby group Africa Harvest.[3]

The original article[4] reported "a Kenyan biotech expert" as seeing greater acceptance of GMOs emerging in Africa as a result of "homegrown" African GM projects. Resistance to GM in Africa was attributed by the "biotech expert" to the involvement of foreign corporations. The main example given of a "homegrown" project was a GM sorghum project that Dr Wambugu and her Africa Harvest group were developing with various collaborators.

The article as republished by Reuters makes clear that the views that are described are not those of a neutral expert but those of a "GMO advocate" who "promotes biotechnology"; it also no longer describes Africa Harvest as a "non-governmental organisation" and it makes plain the organisation's collaboration with a subsidary of the American GM giant DuPont.[3]

According to Prof David Miller, co-founder of SpinWatch, "Wambugu's spin in the original article about 'homegrown' African GM projects, as opposed to ones driven by foreign corporations, appears suspect once one knows the real affiliations of those involved. The GM sorghum project is unimaginable without DuPont's multi-million dollar involvement and yet their involvement was not even mentioned in the original article."

Richard Mably, Reuters' Editor for Commodities and Energy, has thanked Prof Miller for helping Reuters "meet the highest standards of objectivity". He also told Prof Miller that, "as you point out, our story does not make clear those affiliations so we have corrected the story to all our services and removed the previous version from our databases."[5]

Prof Miller congratulated Reuters on having the courage to admit the problem and on acting to remedy it.

SpinWatch has for some time been tracking the advocacy activities of Dr Wambugu and her Africa Harvest lobby group because of concern that their corporate affiliations were not always being made clear to journalists and others. For instance, on Africa Harvest's website[6] it is not immediately apparent who the organisation is funded by. In fact, the global federation of the biotech industry - CropLife International - is known to have funded the group's "communication activities" in the past. Wambugu, who has previously worked for Monsanto, is also a DuPont advisory panelist.[7]

Complaints about Dr Wambugu's media work are not new. In July 2003 Rankin McKay wrote in Australia's Herald Sun newspaper, "is it too cynical to suggest that having a black African as the face of a multinational chemical company is a spin doctor's dream? This seems to have lobotomised some journalists who have treated her views like the tablets from the Mount." [8] Academic researchers have also challenged many of Dr Wambugu's statements in support of biotechnology, arguing that the scientific evidence often shows them to be the exact opposite of the real facts.[9]

SpinWatch, which is encouraging journalists to bring more investigative power and rigour to their reporting, especially where there may be undisclosed affiliations and other vested interests, is making available detailed profiles of GM lobbyists like Dr Wambugu[10] that journalists can use to help them check out this kind of background information as well as relevant affiliations.[11] The full correspondence can be found on Spinwatch HERE

References

[1] Spinwatch is edited by a team of independent researchers who have extensive experience of researching the PR industry, corporate PR and lobbying, front groups, government spin, propaganda and other tactics used by powerful groups to manipulate media, public policy debate and public opinion. The editorial board of Spinwatch includes academics, activists and freelance journalists. http://www.spinwatch.org

[2] http://za.today.reuters.com

[3] In the article as republished on 23rd November 2005, the corrected headline reads "GMO advocate sees more acceptance in Africa" (The October 18 item was headlined "Africa seen accepting GMO crops more in future). In the first paragraph the corrected text now reads, "a Kenyan scientist who promotes biotechnology" instead of "a Kenyan biotech expert". In the third paragraph the corrected text now reads "foundation" instead of "non-governmental organisation". In the sixth paragraph the corrected text now reads, "including Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a subsidiary of U.S. chemicals company DuPont Co". The original text made no reference to DuPont or any other US companies, referring only to "two American groups".

[4] The original article is archived here: http://www.absp2.cornell.edu/newsroomarchives/dsply_news_item.cfm?articlei d=296

[5] Personal communication, 23 November 2005.

[6] http://www.croplife.org

[7] Africa Harvest's previous funding information page is still accessible via an Internet archive and this confirms the funding by CropLife International: http://web.archive.org/web/20041010205547/www.ahbfi.org/funding.asp For more on CropLife International: http://www.spinwatch.org/modules.php?name=Encyclopedia&op=content&tid=69 . Africa Harvest's previous funding information page is still accessible via an Internet archive and this confirms the funding by CropLife International: http://web.archive.org/web/20041010205547/www.ahbfi.org/funding.asp For more on CropLife International: http://www.spinwatch.org/modules.php?name=Encyclopedia&op=content&tid=69 For more on Wambugu: http://www.spinwatch.org/modules.php?name=Encyclopedia&op=content&tid=280

[8] GM science can be blinding, Herald Sun, July 30, 2003: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=1234

[9] See, for instance, the report by Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, 'Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa' http://allafrica.com/sustainable/resources/00010161.html ; or the report by Dr James Smith, an African Studies specialist at the University of Edinburgh, 'The Anti-politics Gene - Biotechnology, Ideology and Innovation Systems in Kenya', http://assets.innogen.ac.uk/assets_innogen/dynamic/1121332705303/Innogen-W orking-Paper-31-Final.doc

[10] http://www.spinwatch.org/modules.php?name=Encyclopedia&op=content&tid=280

[11] http://www.spinwatch.org/modules.php?name=Encyclopedia


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