I was really happy to read Christian Kerr’s spray about Greenpeace because it’s
exactly the media debate I think we should be having in this country. Who can be
trusted? Who is telling the truth? What are the big crimes that go unpunished?
Where are the bodies buried (See Whodunit below).

But firstly to Ben Oquist’s spot on point about
the IPA’s anti-environmentalism and the whole Southern Ocean “whodunit”
question. I have recently subscribed us to the IPA magazine so I can testify
with heart on hand. They do say all sorts of antediluvian nonsense about how
pollution is good for you, energy saving is bad for you and greenies are
communists out to get you! It’s an embarrassing reflection on the level of
political thinking in Australia that IPA has such influence, but it does. The
coal pact meeting this week in Sydney provoked a plague of articles by
IPA-styled climate sceptics, who get more than their fair share of the media
space, so I understand Ben’s frustration completely.

The big questions behind Christian Kerr’s initial
rave on the high seas Whodunit truly do deserve a good debate – is Greenpeace a
media organisation or a campaigning organisation? Is the credibility of a media
story about Greenpeace activists in the Southern Ocean dependant on a level of
trust between the outlet and the activists? Should activists be telling the
story and providing the images as media?

The short answer to these questions is that
Greenpeace sees itself as a media campaigning organisation. We oppose the
policies of those who hold economic and political power and make them
accountable for their crimes against peace and the environment. The mode of
opposition is action itself – a citizen of the planet putting themselves in the
way of the bulldozer or the nuclear test and broadcasting this to the global
village.

For us to succeed in stopping whalers or exposing
coal’s crimes against the climate, Greenpeace gathers images and testimonies at
the site of the protest action and sends them to the media.

Conny Boettger, the photo editor of Greenpeace
Germany, put the media or activism question well in the official history
Greenpeace, “From the start, bearing witness [to environmental crimes]
was understood among Greenpeace’s protestors, some of whom had considerable
experience with the media, as something to communicate to the general public.”
Her argument is that “Greenpeace can be regarded as an organisation with
photography as its vital medium”.

The alarming thing is that the simple act of
communicating the truth about the powerful to the general public has become a
radical and difficult act. On the day of the Walkley’s this year, the national
and international journalists’ unions (MEAA & IFJ) sponsored a conference on
Free Media in a Democratic Society. We heard that the media are finding
it increasingly hard to report the truth because of commercial and news-room
pressures at one end and government lies and legislation at the other end.
Sexing up, sedition laws and FOI restrictions are the norm for governments
everywhere, particularly since 9/11.

Aiden White, General Secretary of the
International Federation of Journalists summed up the threatening trends
undermining the media globally and put it simply, “Media is activism”.

And Whodunit? We did not ram the Japanese boat, because we
eschew violence. It would also be ineffective.

We have nothing to do with the Sea Shepherds
because our philosophies lead to irreconcilable differences about tactics. No
matter how passionate Greenpeace activists get about stopping whaling, they would
not blow up a Japanese boat.

As the SMH and The Age reported, the most recent
Japanese ramming of a Greenpeace ship happened while Expedition leader Shane
Rattenbury was on the satellite phone to Fairfax’s Southern Oceans expert,
Andrew Darby. It happened that Andrew had called Shane for an update and so he
was able to publish the blow-by-blow account of the incident as it unfolded.

In the spirit of blogging, we rapidly published
personal accounts on the site for our year-long oceans campaign.

One blog was written by an eyewitness to the event
(Shane) and 2 by crew who interviewed other eye witnesses. All three accounts do
in fact match up, and are backed by the video evidence. Only the tone and
emphasis in each is different – as you would expect of people honestly
expressing themselves.

The Japanese whalers have a history of ramming our
ships and claiming victim. In 1999, the international Lloyd’s (ship) Register
recorded that, in a similar incident, the Nisshin Maru had in fact rammed a
Greenpeace vessel after claiming in the media that Greenpeace was the aggressor.

Greenpeace has of course been treated much worse
by other environmental criminals, as our new CEO Steve Shallhorn can testify. In
1989 Steve was protesting a US Trident nuclear missile test when US Navy vessels
rammed his ship repeatedly. In 1990 a Soviet warship actually fired live
ammunition at Steve and the rest of the crew on the MV Greenpeace.

Luckily this recent ramming by the Japanese did
not hurt anyone, but that has not always been the case. Crikey’s younger readers
may not know that twenty years ago French spies blew up the first Rainbow
Warrior,
killing our photographer. Media scrutiny is some of the best
insurance that this does not happen again.

Peter Fray

72 hours only. 50% off a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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