Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why this sudden change in the West Australian's reporting of the Atlas oil spill?

After ten weeks the West Australian finally has a front page piece on the environmental catastrophe occurring off the Kimberley Coast where the PTTEP owned West Atlas oil rig continues to leak massive amounts of gas and oil into the Timor Sea.

In the period since the spill the West Australian's coverage has been piecemeal and minimised its seriousness, extent and impact. The West has sought or provided little detail on the spill and its reports have been well back in the body of the paper. There has been no coverage of the local, regional and international consequences.

So why this sudden change of heart? Well it's known as corporate damage control and the West Australian is a key player in the resource industry's damage control strategy.

The West's report today suggests that the resources industry is concerned that the Atlas oil spill is damaging its reputation at a time when a growing number of multinational resource corporations are seeking massive expansion in offshore exploration, drilling and processing off the WA coast. Faced with the damage the spill is causing to their reputation, the industry has reportedly offered assistance to PTTEP.

So the industry's concern is not about the damage done to the environment, but a desire to repair the damage to the industry's image. And here's where the West Australian comes in.

The West's decision that the story is front page news does not reflect any real concern about the environmental destruction resulting from the spill or the negligence of the company involved. Rather, it reflects the West Australian's closeness to the resources and mining industry and its sensitivity to industry concern about damage to its reputation.

After all the West Australian is a major beneficiary of the resources industry. It's not something that is written or spoken about here in the West, but there are good reasons to wonder if an unhealthy level of closeness between the West Australian and the resources industry has influenced the paper's coverage of the Atlas oil spill.

No comments: