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Media beat-up on pulp mill exposed

November 19, 2011
Sunday, October 25, 2009 – 11:00
By Tim Dobson, Hobart

On October 10, a hole was burnt in the doormat of Gunns Limited chairperson, John Gay. Some crude graffiti was also drawn on his fence.

Police said there was no evidence to indicate it was politically motivated. However, this didn’t stop some of the most rabid supporters of Gunns’ proposed pulp mill in northern Tasmania’s Tamar Valley from trying to link the vandalism to the anti-pulp mill campaign.

Gunns wants to build the billion-dollar pulpmill, despite wide opposition throughout Tasmania because of serious pollution concerns.

Former Tasmanian premier Paul Lennon, a big supporter of the mill while in office, launched an extraordinary attack on the anti-pulp mill campaign in the October 12 Launceston Examiner.

“I caution the public not to be conned by the statements from anti-pulp mill campaigners, which have been cleverly crafted to distance themselves from the disgraceful vandalism at the Gays’ family home”, he wrote.

“Anybody who seriously believes this latest attack against John and his family was not orchestrated by the anti-pulp mill campaigners is kidding themselves … This sort of vigilantism has been part of the tactics of anti- pulp mill activists for some time. I and my family have suffered … virtual home invasion at the hands of expertly trained anti- pulp mill operatives.”

Forestry Tasmania was quick to join the anti-environmentalist frenzy. In an October 12 statement it said the “condemnation of the attack on the private residence of the Gunns Limited Chairman” was a “setback” for the “the anti-forestry movement.”

The vandalism beat-up elicited pages of comment in the corporate media. The October 11 Sunday Examiner dedicated its front page to the “story”, which even speculated that anti-mill campaigners had attacked the Gays’ home with a “smoke bomb”.

However, two days later Lennon, Forestry Tasmania and the corporate media were made to look extremely foolish.

Acting Detective-Inspector John Parker told the October 14 Hobart Mercury: “Investigations have established that the damage [to the Gay residence] caused was in relation to a prank involving several males and involved a level of intoxication.”

A 20-year-old West Launceston man was charged. “He has no connection with any anti-pulp mill group”, the Mercury said.

Bob McMahon, a spokesperson for one of the anti-pulp mill groups, TAP into a Better Tasmania (TAP), told Green Left Weekly the media’s reaction to the incident “was part of a concerted campaign” to demonise the anti-pulp mill cause.

The mainstream media “all universally jumped to the conclusion that the attack was orchestrated, planned and executed by hit squads from the anti-mill groups”, he said.

Meanwhile, the media have largely played down allegations of intimidation carried out against anti-pulp mill campaigners. TAP activist Buck Emberg told GLW that he and his family had been victimised because of his prominent role.

In one incident a “deer’s head was thrown into my driveway”, Emberg said. He said he had been followed by cars and found fish stuffed into his letterbox. Trucks had forced him off the road three times. “It’s hard to feel safe when you’ve got logging trucks running you off the road”, he said.

Emberg stressed he did not accuse Gunns of organising any intimidation, but he said anti-mill campaigners deserve equal treatment under the law.

Police carried out a forensic examination of Gay’s house, but Emberg said police failed to fully investigate his allegations of intimidation.

Despite the recent media beat-ups, activists say they are determined to win the campaign. McMahon told GLW that TAP was “going to continue to target the politicians, especially with a state election coming up.

“We’re also putting work into the local government elections and there’s a whole bunch of candidates, especially [in northern Tasmania], who are anti-mill. We favour them and we make that clear on our website. We’ll be pushing very hard come the state election.”

McMahon said the anti-mill campaign would also draw attention to media bias. “In relation to the Examiner, I think the editor of the Examiner understands the Latin expression quid pro quo”, he said.

“That is, if that newspaper targets the community, then they can expect that the community will react and target the Examiner. They won’t get off this scot-free.”

From GLW issue 815

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