“Fake news,” as U.S. president-elect Donald Trump and his detractors have taken to calling it, isn’t new.
It spreads more quickly these days, thanks to social media that allow people to tailor a brief message for emotional reaction, or simply promote a false story to people who wish it to be true.
It flourishes in an age where conventional news organizations have reduced revenues, shifted to Facebook and Google primarily, and more pressure to report quickly.
The visit of 79-year-old Hollywood actor Jane Fonda to fly over the oil sands of Fort McMurray last week is an example. Seeing the mining sites made her feel like her skin was being peeled away, she said, and this is clearly someone who has had work done on her skin.
Orchestrated by Greenpeace, this celebrity smear followed the script created for elderly rocker Neil Young three years ago. Like Young, Fonda was accompanied by Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam, who repeated unsubstantiated claims about rising cancer rates in his community.
That’s the really damaging fake news. Adam continues to call for further medical studies, knowing that intensive studies have been done, and they contradict him. TV news airs it because, hey, he’s with a celebrity.
Here in B.C., a lower-profile example unfolded last week. A carefully staged news conference in Vancouver introduced two Gitxsan hereditary chiefs, filing the latest lawsuit alleging lack of consultation on the Pacific Northwest LNG project. They claim the project is a threat to salmon runs.
Cue the quick-and-dirty media coverage: aboriginal opposition continues to mount against liquefied natural gas project, Gitxsan opposed, etc.
Their stated focus is the shipping terminal proposed for Lelu Island near Prince Rupert, but a closer look tells a different story.
First, Gitxsan territory is inland. Lelu Island is in Lax Kw’alaams territory, and its membership voted in favour of the terminal project last spring.
This is the fourth similar lawsuit, and all appear to be orchestrated by groups called Skeena Wild and Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, which are funded by U.S. foundations. I wrote about their antics at the Lelu Island protest camp last summer, featuring a rifle-toting guy claiming to have spiked trees all over the island, slick videos that create an impression of destruction, and so forth.
The environment groups maintain websites that feed out news releases, high definition video and photos from their news conferences. It’s just the thing for time-starved newsrooms, guiding them along a narrative of greedy, reckless resource development.
Meanwhile, nine of 10 Gitxsan hereditary chiefs who approved the gas pipeline route sent a letter to their members at the end of the year. It describes four years of study, the hiring of independent experts, and accommodation for one Gitxsan house group that refused to participate.
It notes that there has been a buried gas pipeline through the territory since 1968, through Telkwa, past Smithers to Terrace. It has operated without harm to salmon, wildlife or Gitxsan traditions. But that pipeline was built without consent of the Gitxsan, unlike the current project.
For the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline, there are commitments of work for four Gitxsan companies, with 120 people already trained, and a trust fund for future generations.
The letter describes the principles of Gitxsan law, forbidding outsiders influencing activity in each house territory. A blockade in the Suskwa Valley, commonly known as Unist’ot’en, run by Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, is described as “trespassing without consent.”
But what most people get is fake news about a strong and growing grassroots opposition.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @tomfletcherbc