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
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! Its 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
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.
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.”
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 Walkleys 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
The Whodunit bit
We did not ram the Japanese boat, because we eschew violence. It would also be ineffective.
have nothing to do with the Sea Shepherds because our philosophies lead
to irreconcilable differences about tactics. No matter how passionate
Greenpeace activsts get about stopping whaling, they would not blow up
a Japanese boat.
As the SMH and 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 two 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
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 Stave 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 but 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.