Timberlands Worked To “Neutralise" Greenies
SECRETS AND LIES
The anatomy of an anti-environmental PR campaign
News release 17 August 1999
TIMBERLANDS WORKED TO “NEUTRALISE” ENVIRONMENTALISTS
The main priority of the Timberlands public relations campaign was to “neutralise” the effect of the environmental groups that threatened its logging plans. The book Secrets and Lies, released today, reveals the anti-environmental agenda behind Timberlands’ “sustainable management” public image.
A secret Timberlands PR strategy states that a “primary objective… must be to limit the [environment] movement’s ability to influence public and policies”. (see p. 30)
The tactics employed to undermine environmental opponents included:
monitoring groups (including arranging infiltration of environmental groups);
targeting their sources of finance (including concerted actions against the Body Shop); and
making numerous legal threats to deter people from joining conservation protests (these are all detailed in Chapter 2).
“Timberlands followed deliberate strategies to discredit environmentalists. For example, it repeatedly claimed that the groups opposing Timberlands were small, extreme and spreading misinformation,” said co-author Nicky Hager, “although the company was aware that almost all the large environment groups opposed the logging, including Forest & Bird, ECO, Greepeace, Federated Mountain Clubs and Native Forest Action.”
The book reveals that Timberlands’ main PR firm, Shandwick New Zealand, was paid to monitor all opposing actions and media statements and devise ways to counter them. Secrets and Lies reproduces dozens of internal papers showing the efforts Shandwick went to counter every critic of its client. It employed tactics as varied as attempting to create problems for critics with their employers, to legal threats, to writing articles and letters to the editor attacking the motives of the critics and their statements.
“The effort to stop criticism of the company even extended to paying contractors to remove graffiti and posters from walls and lamp posts in the capital city (see Chapter 4). The companies showed no respect for freedom of speech,” Mr Hager said.
“The nastiest tactics were direct actions against the tree-sitting protesters in Charleston Forest in 1997.” Chapter 3 reveals details of “Operation Alien” (“alien” being the term for protesters in the internal papers), in which Timberlands launched an aggressive logging operation suddenly one morning in the middle of the protest area.
Timberlands’ own minutes of the operation record the attempted destruction of a tree-sitter’s platform using a 5-tonne log swinging under the logging helicopter – without checking to find out that one of the tree sitters was under the tree. The action put her life seriously at risk. Later Timberlands denied the potentially lethal event occurred and paid Shandwick to lobby the Civil Aviation Authority informally during the official investigation into the near accident. The final CAA investigation appeared highly inadequate and the helicopter pilot was not prosecuted on a technicality.
“As a state-owned company, Timberlands should be censured for its actions by its shareholder, the government, on behalf of the public of New Zealand. Shandwick should also be held to account by the public relations industry for its unethical PR practices,” said Mr Hager.
“All their tactics, ranging from keeping issues secret to directly attacking critics, were part of an attempt to exclude people from legitimate political activity which is highly questionable in a democracy.”
For more information, contact Nicky Hager and Bob Burton at 04 384 5074