Tasmania has been an environmental battle ground for four decades, beginning with Lake Pedder’s flooding in 1972. The Franklin River campaign began in the late 1970s and ended with 1983’s federal election. This begat The Wilderness Society (as The Tasmanian Wilderness Society) and saw Bob Brown named Australian of the Year 1982 (while he was still in prison following a blockade).
Forestry campaigns continue today, with opposition to Gunn’s pulp mill and clearfelling in Styx Valley the most recent clashes in an ongoing crusade.
Over time, the environmental movement, the media, and wilderness and forestry stakeholders grew up. And they use the publicity machine differently these days.
“The growth of the public relations, promotions and strategic communications industries has had a profound impact on the Tasmanian wilderness conflict” writes Libby Lester in Giving Ground. Industry and government newly attuned to the political force of the symbolic has learned to whack the environmentalists with their own weapons. A flow of journalists between newsrooms and large public relations organisations encourages tilted representation within the media.
With both audience and participants possessing increased media sophistication, it takes more for either side to get ahead in the fight.
Giving Ground analyses well known newsmaking tactics, such as protest and use of iconic images by both timber industry and environmental organisations, and also some more creative ones, such as the naming of key wilderness areas: During the Franklin campaign, an outcrop beside the Franklin River was named Fraser Cave in the hope that the then Prime Minister would take a greater interest. This was subsequently renamed Kutikina by the Tasmanian Government’s Nomenclature Board in a conscious move to depoliticize.
More recently, moves towards embracing the culture of celebrity by exploiting celebrity endorsement have been made by both sides of the forestry debate.
Covering concepts such as fatigue at direct action, ‘framing’ of language and symbols, and the symbiotic relationships of interest groups and stakeholders, Giving Ground is a weighty title about environmental politics and media power relations. It will principally interest analysts/students of media, communication and environmentalism, but its audience deserves to reach further afield.