The Haze: Quick to Accuse, Slow on Getting the Facts!

Source: BBC


Politics is everything.  Political maximization includes everything: the things we eat, the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, what we believe in, and who we like to blame. Sadly, the haze that portrays the “devil on two feet,” as Goebbels described his propaganda ministry, is today alive and well. We have fallen quickly into the trap of it because we have been too quick to accept the blame assigned by political interest groups like the WRI (World Resources Institute), Greenpeace, and the WWF. Even seasoned politicians are not spared from the quick-to-blame-game and the ubiquitous dearth of fact checking. Too often are we all mesmerized by the fancy maps and Kodak moments produced by the NGOs, which serve only their own purpose and agenda, and we do not take time to check the facts on the ground.

An amazing array of political issues surrounding the haze drama has diverted everyone’s attention from one fundamental, simple fact:  We had a fire and nobody bothered to extinguish it. So, despite the recent sing-song by Greenpeace to lull the outgoing president of Indonesia, the fact is that everyone missed the boat of the annual haze event.

As is often the case, by the time the government responds to any crisis it’s already over.  But at least everyone who was able to scream did so and the outcome was little action taken. The fire continued and companies ended up mobilizing their fire teams to extinguish fires because the corrupt government of the current president does not have enough resources to maintain a credible fire service. Funny enough, the same companies that stand accused of complicity in the fires were actually the first ones to on the ground to respond.  One company, according to a local media report, mobilized 665 men and machines to fight the fires.  Another destroyer of forests, since its surrender to the wimps of Greenpeace, also was quick to deploy resources to fight fires. Both corporate entities took action for which was actually the responsibility of the local government. It is disingenuous to argue that companies responsible for starting the fires would be among the first responders to extinguish them!  It is even more difficult to believe why these companies would have set fires in the first place since the fires destroyed the fiber required to produce their products, including our daily paper!

So through the haze we saw one thing and one thing only.  They all named to blame and they all came to yell. Greenpeace yelled the loudest along with WWF, WRI, and Friends of the Earth via its local outfit. WRI didn’t cover itself in a lot of glory since the maps it produced seemingly don’t add up.  In its defense, WRI was quick to point out it needs more accurate maps, hence begging the question of why WRI was accusing firms of setting fires in a particular geographic area when the accuser (WRI) didn’t even have a handle on what area was set alight! In the legal context if you can’t back up the data on which your accusation is based then are you not subjected to the legal charges of slander and defamation?  Which by the way, in Indonesia are criminal charges, not civil ones. Funny enough, despite all the noise none of these groups did anything to solve the problem.  Instead they stuck to the old saw blame game.

Rather than venturing into territory outside their comfort zones and seeking an actual solution, it was much easier for the yellers to just blame big business for the haze. A BBC report on 25 June 2013 gave the impression that big business (while not naming names, but we all know who is who) authorizes, endorses, or supports locals who burn their land to cultivate palm oil.  In fact, the logical explanation that a paper company does not burn the wood that provides its livelihood gets lost in the journalistic logic vacuum. But then why bother about the truth when good old yellow journalism sounds a lot better?  Scandal sure sells a lot more papers!

The media, whether by willful omission or by sheer journalistic laziness, did not even bother with providing the details that one “guilty” palm oil company was actually APP, the lovey-dovey pal of Greenpeace, while the other, APRIL is actually producing paper. APRIL has recently been in the news because it thumbed its nose at the FSC by declaring the organization not credible and saying, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, it didn’t want to be a member of a club that’d have it as a member.  APRIL had finally had enough of being the butt of the blame game orchestrated by an organization that is perceived by many scholars to be part of a transnational movement rather than a certification body and deeply entrenched with the WWF and Greenpeace agenda. So much for unbiased certifications. The Director General of the Ministry of Forestry in a not so surprise move agreed. Why bother about a voluntary, blackmailing green-sticker that is not legally enforceable if the Indonesian companies comply with the legally, binding bilateral, legally enforceable certification of the government?

No offense to our European brethren, but some of the data presented of what is claimed to be destroyed fails to even convince my six-year old. Good graphics though, we must admit, and excellent U.S. marketing strategy of using pictorials to frighten us into submission. After all, APP bought it, negotiating a secret fund to pay into the coffers of the Forest Peoples Programme or other foreign NGOs. Greenpeace’s skill is to appear to be a dragon, whereas it continuously gets arrested for breaking the law and trying to baffle the public consciousness to subscribe to the theory that breaking the law is legal. This is laudable but dangerous since in Riau, Indonesia Greenpeace’s “Do I Care?” campaign has nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with politics, hence interfering with the internal politics of the state. This is a dangerous route, when UK Greenpeace strategists are listing their profession as “special ops,” thereby making them sound more like swashbuckling commandos than environmentalists. Greenpeace is no SEAL Team Six. Neither do they have the legal authority to interfere with business. The de facto endorsement of Greenpeace by the outgoing Indonesian president makes him appear like he is trying to apply for a job with Greenpeace.

With the haze choking Singapore and Malaysia into anger, the accusations and calls to find the proverbial black sheep went wild within a very short time span. Singaporean officials went unusually ballistic and plotted to hold public crucifixions and drag offenders to the Kadi.  Apparently crucifixion was the preferred method of execution since burning the guilty on the stake would contribute further to the haze and be considered by the Green groups to be environmentally unfriendly.  Meanwhile, more radical members of the newly emerging counterculture in Indonesia actually suggested beheading victims while they hung on meat-hooks, as was their mantra to deal with all “corruptors” a few years ago on Facebook.  This same lot is today part of the Greenpeace, WWF environmental collation in Riau, one of whom is in jail for eco-sabotage and under investigation for murder. But I digress.

This whole affair started with the WRI, a WWF front, making the initial allegations.  Kuntoro, a soon to be ex-minister after the 2014 elections and NGO guru, jumped the gun and onto the band wagon and publicly blamed two Indonesian companies that actively pay their taxes and employ a large number of Indonesians rather than getting his facts straight. But again, playing the blame game is easier than having your data verified. Kuntoro, like his Singaporean buddies, based his position on a WRI image that allegedly came from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Why did he place his unquestionable trust in the same U.S. satellites that gave us the rubbish data claiming Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destructions? Why do we still trust the country that has created two wars and crashed the worldwide economy? If this would have been a pedantic, boring German or Japanese satellite it would have been more credible. After all, we all drive German or Japanese cars and they never break down. About 48 hours after the allegations the first signals of a diplomatic back-peddling of statements appeared, blaming the Indonesian “friends” of having given the Singaporeans “confusing information.”  This was only later confirmed by the president himself. Later it emerged that the eight named companies were in fact Malaysians and not Indonesians.

Next into the fray came Greenpeace on its white horse, jumping its guns and accusing APP, its current bosom buddy, but more aggressively arguing that APRIL was also to be blamed. The Greenpeace propaganda tool, the Indonesian version of, blasted pictures and circulated YouTube videos of people blaming one of the companies owned by APRIL as being responsible for all evil things.  There were only a couple of problems with this Kodak-moment. The guy taking the picture was not some lone activist but was a well-known local agitator. The guy writing the piece was his long standing buddy. Both are part of the gang that is being investigated for the murder of above mentioned activist. Again, everything is politics.

So what are the lessons from all this mess?  First, the global NGO machinery with Greenpeace at the lead, which thanks to support from the current president in his usual fashion immediately politicized the blame game.  But while the NGOs are quick to assign blame, they are eerily quiet when it comes to offering a credible solution.  Despite the rhetoric in the upcoming Consumer Goods Forum, another U.S. Government initiative lacks the actual value added to society. Paddling around the seas with former Soviet naval ships has very little to do with actual work but is a waste of money.

Second, political leaders today are too quick to call for action without having the real data and they over rely on notoriously incompetent Indonesian ministers like the environmental minister and the much admired but biased head of the UKP4.  These ministers’ quickness to assign blame while lacking the actual data points to support claims made has discredited them.  It is evident that the ministers have not read the recent Edelman report, which states the Indonesian public does not trust the NGOs as being credible or trustworthy. With the recent example of the blame game in the haze we know now why.

The global machinery of fear and its purveyor of doom, while they mean well, suffer from the fanatical, ideologically driven motivation of righteousness and they agonize from the lack of credibility of data replacing facts with smear. The public in Asia is staring at a new phenomenon, the rise of the global NGOs driving home that politics is everything. The clothes we wear the food we eat, the water we drink, the products we buy, and the data we read. Unfortunately the latter seems to lack in accuracy and as such serves to fuel the fires of rage and sometimes hate.

By: Scott H. Gray

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