Now everyone knows there is a certain amount of spin doctoring when it comes to advertising and media campaigns. The manipulation of data or the selective use of particular data is an effective tool that can be used without ACTUALLY lying.
But the latest ads that have come out to support the coal industry via the Queensland Resources Council [QRC] are a novena to the art of tap dancing around the point, misleading dissemination of data and partisanship on the behalf of the coal industry disguised as ‘giving the public the facts about the reef‘. In all my years in Public Relations as well as involvement in the political side of life I have never seen such a blatant misuse of public funds except perhaps the Strong Choices Campaign currently being run by the same government.
The data in the most recent commercial claims that the loss of coral is attributed to a number of sources none of which are related to coal or shipping. The basis for the statistics in the two QRC ads come from an excellent 2012 peer-reviewed paper, “The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes”, published in the international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.The paper found, just as the ad shows, that 48% of coral death was attributed to cyclones, 42% to crown of thorn starfish and 10% to bleaching BUT the way that those facts are used in the ads is highly misleading. [The Conversation]
The data in the 2012 study come from coral reefs predominantly on the mid-shelf of the Great Barrier Reef – that is, 30 to 100 kilometers from the coast. The study does NOT address the causes of death and decline among inshore reefs, seagrass meadows, dugongs, turtles and inshore dolphins. All these ecosystems and species are also in decline, with inshore coral reefs – those found up to 40 km from the coast – sea-grass and dugongs in severe decline in most of the reef south of Cooktown.
It is misleading for these ads to selectively quote one study that only looks at coral mortality on mid-shelf reefs, and then claim that shipping and port activity has no impact on “the environmental health of the Great Barrier Reef”. It also ignores completely the fact that the reef is not solely coral and contains a myriad of marine life existing in a delicate balance.
Protecting mid-shelf coral reefs is important BUT unlike the QRC ads, most studies on threats to the Great Barrier Reef consider threats to the complete range of species and ecosystems that make it so unique. The main water-quality threats to these ecosystems are sediment, nutrients, pesticide, toxic metals and hydrocarbons from the land. These come from agricultural activities and from coastal development – including ports.
The video clip below is a wonderful parody of the latest ads put out by the QRC courtesy of The Guardian and in all honesty a parody is better than the original deserved but if you would like to see the ad presented by the QRC just follow the link in the first paragraph and you will find it on its site.