The public relations elite are brainstorming ways to keep what they call the “crazy little old ladies” and “gays who do naughty things to whales” quiet. Industry and government representatives have paid $600 each to learn the tricks of the trade from Canadian PR consultant, Ross Irvine, the self-styled Svengali of anti-activist activism.
Irvine graced our shores with his presence in April 2005, running a seminar for the Public Relations Institute of Australia. In attendance were 29 people, including then Federal Treasurer Peter Costello’s adviser, as well as PR reps from Rio Tinto, Shell, Dow Chemical, Avcare, the Victorian Farmers’ Federation, Dairy Australia and Bayer. Irvine’s trip was funded by the Institute of Public Affairs, a group which lobbies against the activities of non-profit and non-government organizations (ie. community and environment groups).
Irvine’s reputation preceded him. His outlandish claims include calling sustainability an “extremist position”, and labelling corporate responsibility “a weakness”. According to journalist Katherine Wilson, who was at the workshop, most of those in attendance shared Irvine’s views. The group apparently spent most of the seminar discussing the best ways to silence public opposition to their various destructive but profiteering causes.
So what ingenious methods have this motley crew settled on? Irvine told the group the way to go is to “fight networks with networks”. Astroturfing – the creation of bogus “community” groups to endorse industry practice – is high on his agenda. He also encouraged his avid listeners to think of activists as the “enemy”, as much of a threat to industry and government as your run of the mill terrorist.
Irvine’s pupils put forward strategies. They also suggested publishing bogus “research” to back up industry claims and even considered “working out ways to break the law” to avoid, for example, conducting environmental impact statements.
These sinister methods have been practiced in this country for years but experts say astroturfing is on the rise. As a result, political debate is being is being hijacked by industry PR.
Activists beware. As though the battle to challenge industry and governments wasn’t enough, if your voice is now heard, it may be drowned out by someone who’ll convince the public that you’re a dangerous “tree-hugging, job-destroying, baby-eating, terrorist”.
Read more in the PDF Katherine Wilson article Grassroots or Astroturf?