New Matilda Lynas Investigation: Parts 1 & 2

Several weeks ago. I was invited to meet a delegation of Malaysian citizens who came to Australia to spread the word about their campaign against Australian company Lynas’s rare earth LAMP plant which is just cranking up to process its first feedstock from the company’s Mount Weld mine in Western Australia. The event was hosted by Greens MP Jamie Parker on the same day that the group had demonstrated outside Lynas’s annual general meeting for the second year in a row.

The visitors spoke passionately about their concerns about the Lynas rare earth plant. These Malaysians, who were supported by individual Australian Malaysians and Friends of the Earth Australia, hadn’t even been consulted before Lynas was granted a construction license in 2008. Knowing how angry our community felt a couple of years ago when we heard a coal seem gas drill was coming to Tempe in inner Sydney, I listened carefully to what they had to say and decided to investigate further.

Up until that time, I knew little about Lynas. Once I started looking it was not hard to find material and sources although much of the information was contradictory and confusing at first. I wanted to interview Lynas CEO Nick Curtis but as he was not available, I had to settle for a ‘spokesperson” who regrettably preferred not to be named.

Here are the first two parts of my investigation:

Part One: The Toxic Waste’s that’s not in our backyard. New Matilda Dec. 17, 2012

Part Two:Lynas’ Waste Plans a Toxic Pipe Dream. New Matilda Dec 19, 2012

If you are interested in this story, here are some sources worth reading and following:

For Malaysian coverage, Malaysiakini is good news site. It is more independent of the government than the Malaysian mainstream media. It publishes regular updates about the controversy and the campaign. You can subscribe ( including a free trial) but many stories go up free here. I was pleased that Malaysiakini followed up on our New Matilda investigation. here and here.  Here is their latest update following my second story.

Here are some other stories. This list is a reminder of the important role independent journalism in increasingly playing in Australia.

2012

A comprehensive feature by Joel Tozer in Global Mail: What a Battle Over Rare Earths Has To Do With Your iPhone July 20, 2012

The progressive US magazine Mother Jones has also just done a big feature, Your smart phone’s dirty radioactive secret on rare earths including the clean up of radioactive waste at an old Mitsubishi plant at Bukit Merah in Malaysia, as well as Lynas.

2011

A Backgrounder from New Matilda, May 2011.

Crook, A. Lynas cops heat from protestors, shareholders over Malay refinery plansCrikey April 18, 2011

Crook, A.  Fresh Protests as focus turns to Lynas’s radioactive dump. Crikey, May 13, 2011

Here are three important New York TImes articles including reports about how concerned engineers working on the construction were about structural defects in the building. The engineers leaked documents to the New York Times. This was a breakthrough in the Lynas story.

Bradsher, K. Taking a risk for rare earths. March 8, 2011.

Gooch, L. Environmental protest becomes rallying point In Malaysia, June 18, 2011

Bradsher, K. Fear of a toxic rerun June 29, 2011

The Campaign

Green Left supports the campaign against the Lynas LAMP and has many reports, including video on their site. Here are two but the best way to find more is to search Lynas at Green Left.

Boyle, P. Malaysians resist Oz toxic company’s toxic plan. GreenLeft, June 18, 2011

Boyle, P. Malaysia: Stop Lynas campaigners challenge company’s licence to operate. GreenLeft, August 29, 2012

Peter Boyle has also taken many photos.

Stop Lynas protest. Photo by Peter Boyle

Stop Lynas protest. Photo by Peter Boyle

Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas campaign was formed in March 2011. Its site provide links to current coverage relevant to the campaign.

The Australian Stop Lynas campaign started in response to protests in Malaysia.

Friends of the Earth Australia are also campaigning against Lynas.

The company

Lynas company site tells the story from its point of view.

You can follow  Lynas share price and company announcements, including annual reports on the Australian Stock Exchange site.

I’ll be tweeting on Lynas and expect to do more reporting on this issue.

As a reporter, this was the first time I had experienced hate messages via twitter. These were posted by Lynas supporters. I can understand why shareholders and employees could be anxious but that doesn’t mean that the truth should not come out about the LAMP project. I guess this is just part of reporting in the 21st century. I don’t like it but prefer it to verbal threats.

I’ll do another blog post soon about some of the issues raised in the Lynas campaign.

 

 

 

 

Green Left Weekly interviews me about media job cuts and Gina Rinehart

This week, Green Left Weekly’s Jay Fletcher interviewed me about the big job cuts and changes in the Australian corporate media.

In the interview, I talk about how the biggest shareholder in Fairfax and richest woman in Australia, Gina Reinhart has refused to sign the Fairfax Charter of Editorial Independence.

Here is what the Charter says:

1. That the proprietor(s) publicly declare a commitment to the fundamental and longstanding principle of editorial independence.

2. That the proprietor(s) acknowledge that journalists, artists and photographers must record the affairs of the city, state, nation and the world fairly, fully and regardless of any commercial, political or personal interests, including those of any proprietors, shareholders or board members.

3. That editorial staff shall not be required to work other than in accordance with the Australian Journalists’ Association code of ethics.

4. That full editorial control of the newspapers, within a negotiated, fixed budget, be vested with the editors of the papers and that the editors alone shall determine the daily editorial content of the newspapers.

5. That the editors alone shall hire, fire and deploy editorial staff.

6. That the editors shall not sit on the board of the owning company or companies, or any non-publishing subsidiary companies, and shall not be directly responsible to the board but to its appointed management.

7. That the editors must at all times carry out their duties in a way that preserves the independence and integrity of the mastheads.

Adopted by Age staff, March 28, 1988

Adopted by the Board of John Fairfax Limited, May 2, 1988

Adopted by Sunday Age staff, December 1990

Adopted by The Sydney Morning Herald, Sun-Herald and Australian Financial Review staff, February 21, 1991

Role for government in protecting independent journalism ?

I was asked to submit 400 words to the Sydney Morning Herald as part of regular feature which puts the same question to four people. I was the ‘academic”,

The question was: Should governments protect independent journalism?

Here is my reply.

AUSTRALIAN governments need to do more to protect independent journalism. If they had done more in the past, the task would not be so urgent now.

Independent journalism will not flourish without diversity of ownership. Governments can pass laws designed to protect that. Our failure to set up adequate rules has led to the most concentrated media in the developed world, with News Ltd and Fairfax Media (the publisher of the Herald) controlling 86 per cent of circulation.

Gina Rinehart, who wants more influence at Fairfax, has so far failed to recognise the right of journalists to report independently. News Ltd already has a more compliant journalistic culture. These two big companies, one controlled overseas, are in a battle for survival. This calamity has been delivered by market forces.

Over the past 30 years, various inquiries have warned that concentration could lead to the abuse of private media power, just as grave a threat as government interference. Governments failed to act because they were wary of media companies who scream ”censorship” as soon as intervention is mentioned. It needs to be understood that the interests of the public and independent journalists are not the same as the interests of media owners.

As companies seek to bolster profits by restructuring and cutting operations, the diversity, quality and quantity of independent journalism are further threatened. Faced with this crisis, governments should consider using tax-payer funds to support a more diverse public interest journalism, as is done with the arts.

The Greens suggest that charters of editorial independence could be statutorily entrenched. Again, instead of shoving the idea aside, we need to finally take the task of providing a framework for independent journalism and democratic media seriously.

The Finkelstein report outlines ways in which diversity and public interest journalism have been protected by subsidies elsewhere. Academics, including myself, submitted an idea for tax deductibility on donations for non-profit investigative journalism. Such journalism could be published in partnership with major companies as well as to support smaller independent media. Some people warn that such schemes could be politically influenced by decision makers. But if schemes have worked elsewhere, they should be considered here.

In submissions to Finkelstein the big media owners all rejected any role for government intervention. But their interests are different from those of journalists and the public. Governments should play a role in supporting journalists in producing diverse and independent journalism.

Wendy Bacon is a professor of journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney.

You can find the other three replies here.