State Company’s Dirty Tricks Exposed
SECRETS AND LIES
The anatomy of an anti-environmental PR campaign
News release 17 August 1999
STATE COMPANY’S DIRTY TRICKS EXPOSED
A cynical campaign of deceit and manipulation of public opinion, conducted on behalf of and funded by a state owned enterprise, is exposed in a new book published today.
The book, Secrets and Lies, documents the secret public relations tactics and political lobbying by the state-owned logging company, Timberlands West Coast.
It details how Timberlands used millions of dollars of SOE money to lobby its own shareholders (the government) and orchestrate a political campaign to supports its logging and attack its critics.
The book, by New Zealander Nicky Hager and Australian Bob Burton, provides an unprecedented inside view of public relations strategies and tactics and is set to become an international case study of anti-environmental politics. It is based on hundreds of pages of leaked PR documents – including the minutes of dozens of secret PR strategy meetings, large quantities of letters and memos and detailed strategy documents prepared by Timberlands and its two PR companies.
Together these documents spell out in detail the cynical components of an anti-environmental campaign.
“Timberlands has been caught out engaging in unscrupulous tactics that most New Zealanders would have doubted occurred in this country. And their strongest political ally through all this was the Prime Minister, who recently denied any involvement with the company’s PR strategies”co-author Nicky Hager said.
“The public occasionally hears snippets about PR campaigns - such as the recent stir about mussel cancer cures or Communications Trumps’ campaign to promote genetically-engineered salmon. What makes this book different is that it is the first comprehensive case study of the whole range of public relations tactics that can be used to manipulate governments, the media and public debates. Timberlands’ campaign to maintain its native forest logging is a blatant example of the manipulation in the name of public relations that has changed the face of New Zealand politics.”
The book reveals the relationship between Timberlands and its chief political ally, Jenny Shipley, who, far from maintaining an appropriate distance from the state owned enterprise (SOE), approved of and became personally involved in the dirty campaign waged by Timberlands (both when she was SOE minister and as Prime Minister).
The book shows various other government and Opposition MPs playing their parts in the company campaign. It is a classic story of the tail wagging the dog.
There has possibly never been such a comprehensive leak of inside documents revealing a public relations campaign. The Timberlands story is set to become an international case study of anti-environmental public relations. The book has already been accepted by a US publisher for a North American edition and the authors have had various approaches from overseas journalists.
John Stauber, editor of the US investigative journal PR Watch, says in his foreword that the book is “unique and invaluable… one of the most important political exposés you will ever read.” Bill Ralston describes the book as “A stunning work of all too rare investigative journalism.”
The book reveals that Timberlands’ spent $650,000 on public relations in 1998 alone. Its PR work included:
Establishing and controlling the activities of a pro-logging West Coast “community” front group (see separate press release and Chapter 9);
Working systematically to attack opponents of the company's native forest logging. This included monitoring environmental groups, targeting their finances and using legal threats and other heavy tactics to deter non-violent protesters (Chapters 2-4);
Campaigning to influence the policies of its own government, with thwarting Prime Minister Jim Bolger and other pro-conservation Ministers as much part of the campaign as countering environmentalists;
Working frantically to reverse the Labour Party’s anti-logging conservation policy (Chapter 10). To do this it used its West Coast front group, some Labour MPs and other industry and environmental allies (Chapters 6 and 7). The leaked PR strategy plans name these people and groups and the roles designed for them (see separate press release); and
With its PR companies carefully cultivating (and compromising the independence of) public service allies close to key ministers or in influential roles to gain their assistance in the company PR strategies (Chapter 11).
“Timberlands only acted these ways because they thought the PR campaign would remain secret, highlighting the crucial role of unauthorised leaking of information to ensure democratic accountability,” Nicky Hager said. The book includes an eight-page guide to leaking and encourages individuals in private companies and government organisations to consider leaking in the public interest.
The book discusses the impact of PR campaigns and business activism on democratic politics and proposes what is needed for society to deal with the negative effects of these activities.
The book is being published by Craig Potton Publishing.
For more information, contact Nicky Hager and Bob Burton at 04 384 5074, for interviews, press copies of the book and illustrations of the leaked papers.