Volume 4, No. 19 July - August 1999
Arab Environment News, 12 - World Environment News, 26 - Environment Market, 40 - Consumer tips, 51 - Green Library, 63 - Environment & Development Forum, 64 - Calendar, 66 - English Summary, 68
FROM THE EDITOR
Boycott The Environmental Circus
by: Najib Saab
Around the World Environment Day this time of the year, environment becomes a popular subject in mass media and among the public. This verbal momentum needs to be encouraged if it supports spreading environmental awareness through lectures, debates, radio and TV programmes and field activities. But exploiting environmental occasions for the promotional campaigns of certain commercial ventures is a practice that should be rejected and exposed. Even worse, certain sectors of the media have become victims of commercial campaigns camouflaged by environmental mottoes, designed to tame the public opinion.
A big waste collection company in a major capital has launched a huge advertising campaign to counter a series of scandals concerning its performance and contracts. Millions of dollars were paid in few weeks on newspaper and TV commercials, promotional public relations articles and TV advertorials in the form of "documentaries", using environmental slogans. This culminated with full-page advertisements in newspapers on the World Environment Day, promoting a campaign launched by the company to plant 10,500 trees all over the country in July. Do they expect the populace to be so ignorant to believe that a tree planting campaign can be successfully implemented in the summer? Or is the fact that the urgent commercial interests of the company cannot wait for the planting season in winter? Do readers know that "planting" full pages of advertisements in newspapers costs many times more than planting the mere 10,500 trees, most of which will die any way in the heat of the summer?
This same company, which pretends to safeguard the environment, has threatened in an interview that the country will be flooded with waste if anyone dares question its performance or contract conditions. The same company has been carrying out an "emergency plan" for waste management since 2 years, costing US$ 106 per ton, equivalent to the cost in New York. However, we are dealing with a city in the Third World, and an emergency plan that collects waste and transfers the problem from one site to another. Nonetheless, this company dared take a whole country hostage to waste, to prevent discussing its contract.
Another comic misuse of the occasion is an award for "environmental reporters", announced and promoted as if it were equivalent to Nobel Prize. A group of reporters from major news media were invited to receive this award. To their surprise, they discovered that the organizing company, which they thought was a charitable scientific establishment, was in reality a major manufacturer of chemical products. Not one of those invited was aware of this prior to posing for promotional photos during the celebration. Some were even so naive to publish the photo in their newspaper, ignoring the nature of the donating company, and offering cheap promotion for its name. Had they only checked the name of the "environment-friendly" company on the internet, they would have obtained a complete list of the chemicals it produces, with extensive record of pollution and contamination incidents. Again, we affirm that all businesses and industries, including producers of harmful chemicals, should support environmental work. This is the least they can do to compensate for some of their misdeeds and crimes against the environment. But using the press cheaply to polish their image, without revealing the true nature of their activities, is shameful and detestable.
Earlier, a whisky brand launched a big advertising campaign under the pretext of saving the forests. When the campaign was over, all promises to plant trees and extinguish forest fires evaporated. Forestation campaigns should be organized and followed up by public institutions capable of providing professional care, which go beyond mere planting ceremonies designed for the press and TV cameras. Moreover, the problem of forest fires cannot be solved by providing obsolete equipment to transport water, which could not be used on board of the available helicopters, for which they were intended. The project ended in a photo session attended, once again, by a crowd of "consultants" and journalists. Since then, nobody asked why the promises were not met.
A mineral water bottling company called for a press conference, attended by four ministers and some twenty consultants, to advertise a new plastic bottle that "protects the environment". However, the country has no technology to recycle these bottles and, after all, the environmental solution lies in using bottles that can be refilled rather than dumped or crushed to reduce the size.
Journalists and environmentalists should be cautious and reject temptations of the environmental clowns who utilize news media for cheap commercial promotion. They should oppose this environmental circus, by exposing and boycotting its guardians and initiators, just as Environment & Development magazine does.
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