Save the Whalers

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This article was first published as "Save the Whalers", PR Watch, Volume 8, No. 1, First Quarter 2001. The original article was authored by Bob Burton and is used here with permission. As with all SourceWatch articles, feel free to edit and revise.

When the International Whaling Commission (IWC) came together for its annual meeting in July 2000, Alan Macnow swung into action.

Macnow's New York-based PR firm, Tele-Press Associates (TPA), has defended the Japanese whaling and fishing industry for more than two decades, but his vigorous campaign against an initiative to create a whale sanctuary in the South Pacific may have reached new lows of unethical behavior. As executive director of a hastily-concocted coalition called "Friends of the Whalers," he lashed out at targets including elected officials in New Zealand and Australia.

"Your country is trying to make all of the world's waters a whale sanctuary," Macnow complained in a letter addressed to New Zealand Minister Helen Clark that was published in one of the country's leading newspapers. "What we're saying is if whales increase in abundance, there shouldn't be any reason not to utilize them in order to keep their populations in balance with the fish population," Macnow told a journalist from The Australian.

It is an argument rejected by Australian government scientists. "There is no evidence that whale populations have direct impacts on commercial fish stocks," said Environment Australia, the government environmental agency. "Differences in feeding behavior and migration patterns largely preclude direct competition between whales and fisheries in the South Pacific Ocean. ... Overlap with commercially fished species is relatively low as much of their feeding is in waters that are not exploited by fisheries," they wrote in a report assessing the claims by the whaling industry.

In Adelaide, Australia, where the IWC annual meeting was held, Macnow also spent approximately $20,000 to broadcast a pro-whaling TV ad on all three commercial Adelaide television stations during the week of the conference. "It's broken. The International Whaling Commission is broken, unable and unwilling to do its job," the advertisement warned in dire tones, claiming that IWC member countries were "caving in to anti-whaling, fund-raising groups" and that "the IWC holds science in contempt."

These self-serving statements would of course have drawn a skeptical reception if the ads had correctly identified the whaling industry itself as the sponsor of the ads, but Macnow had that under control. Under Australia's Broadcasting Services Act, political TV advertisements are required to include a disclaimer which identifies the sponsor, but Macnow's ads said, "Authorized by Andrew Tibault for the Natural Resources Study Center (NRSC), Westport, Connecticut."

Who exactly is the Natural Resources Study Center? Questioned by a journalist, Macnow said that NRSC was one of his clients. But when PR Watch asked where NRSC could be contacted, he gave a vague response. "They are a sustainable-use group in Connecticut," he said. Pressed further to provide a contact name and phone number, he turned evasive. "You can look them up in the phone book," he tersely suggested.

Connecticut phone books, however, have no listing for the group. Nor is NRSC listed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit organization. John Horkel, a long-time resident of Westport and executive director of the Nature Center, which is based there, has never heard of them either. Nor are they registered with the Secretary of State on the Connecticut State Register, where nonprofits are required to list their street address and office bearers.

Asked a second time for a contact, Macnow once more declined. "I'm afraid not," he said, claiming that he "didn't want them attacked by the vicious anti-whaling groups. If you want to find them, do the research to find them." Asked whether they actually exist, Macnow tentatively said, "I think so." Do they have an office? "Yeah," he said after a pause. Paid staff? "Yes, I get checks from them." Are they registered as a non-profit with the IRS? "I don't know. They don't collect funds from the public," he said.

When we pointed out that there is no evidence the organization actually exists, Macnow nonchalantly said, "Well, I can't help you with that."

Shigeko Misaki, a spokesperson for the Japanese Whaling Association (one of Macnow's clients), said she knew about the ads but thought they were done by a group called the Natural Resources Study Foundation, based not in Connecticut but in Washington, D.C. "Tele-Press happens to be the PR agent for them amongst many other clients," Misaki said. "They have been pursuing the sustainable utilization of wildlife over the years. They saw it as a good opportunity for them to make it clear they are on our side." However, the Natural Resources Study Foundation is not listed in the phone directories of Washington, D.C., Maryland, or Virginia.

Macnow's $20,000 advertising campaign for a group that doesn't exist neatly exploited a loophole in Australian law. If he had been advertising a product, the ad would fall under the jurisdiction of the Trade Practices Act, which provides for fines of up to $120,000 if a company is found guilty of false and misleading advertising.

Political advertising, however, is not covered under the Trade Practices Act, so it can say whatever it wants. The only penalty that might apply to Macnow's ads would be a slap on the wrist to the owners of the television stations for failing to rigorously check the bona fides of Macnow's bogus group.

Friends for Hire

Macnow's other front group, "Friends of the Whalers," is nearly as ephemeral as the Natural Resources Study Center. Macnow, who calls himself the group's executive director, admits that Friends of the Whalers is not a formal incorporated organization but an informal network of individuals. "They are a group of people that would like to see sustainable whaling, including groups like the Global Guardians in Japan, people in the U.S., members of the Japanese Whaling Association, and Icelandic film-maker . . . Magnuss Gudmundsson," Macnow said.

Gudmundsson is well known to British journalist Andy Rowell, who describes him in his book Green Backlash, as someone associated "with the Icelandic and Norwegian governments, whalers, sealers, fishermen, the nuclear industry, the "wise use" movement, associates of Lyndon LaRouche, the International Wildlife Management Consortium, and various right-wing think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation."

In preparation for the July 2000 meeting of the IWC meeting, Macnow also commissioned a legal opinion from William Burke, a retired professor of law and marine affairs at the University of Washington. Burke argued that the proposed South Pacific whale sanctuary would be illegal.

"Australia and New Zealand offer no scientific finding justifying a new sanctuary and disregard the requirement that deference be given to existing regulatory measures conserving whale stocks," Burke said in a statement that was quoted in news media throughout the world, such as Agence France Press, which described him as "an American legal expert" who "has thrown doubt on the validity of the initiative."

Canadian anthropology professor Milton Freeman (not to be confused with conservative economist Milton Friedman) also entered the fray, criticizing New Zealand Minister Helen Clark for supporting protests by Greenpeace against Japan's whaling activities.

The July 2000 IWC meeting was not the first time that Burke and Freeman have joined together to support Japanese whalers. Just prior to the previous year's meeting of the IWC, they joined with William Aron, a professor at the University of Washington, to author a 3,600-word article for the Atlantic Monthly, railing against the governments and environmental groups that oppose commercial whaling. "By spurning all attempts at compromise, today's anti-whaling crusaders have the potential to disrupt the large scale environmental legislation of tomorrow," they wrote.

Titled "Flouting the Convention," The Atlantic Monthly article argued that the IWC's ban on commercial whaling violates the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, a legal agreement that was negotiated in 1946 by whaling nations. Failure to authorize the official resumption of commercial whaling, the authors claimed, would jeopardize all international conventions that require international cooperation, such as the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases. "No possible interpretation of the convention allows for putting an end to whaling when credible scientific opinion supports the sustainable use of abundant whale resources," they stated.

What the 1.1 million readers of Atlantic Monthly were not told was that Burke was a regular consultant to the Japanese Whaling Association, a fact which Burke himself openly admits. "Yes, sure, sure," he said when asked.

While the Atlantic Monthly has guidelines for its authors, it does not request them to disclose any financial or other interests. Asked if its readers have a right to know whether authors have such interests in a topic that they are writing about, senior editor Michael Curtis responded cautiously. "Our readers should expect every assertion of fact to have been rigorously checked for accuracy," he said.

Regarding potential conflicts of interest, however, he believes the onus to disclose such conflicts lies with the authors themselves. "We expect contributors to be forthright in acknowledging potential conflicts of interest," Curtis said.

Japanese Whaling Association (JWA) spokesperson Shigeko Misaki prefers to portray Burke as an enthusiastic volunteer rather than a consultant. "He just offered his services, thinking he might re-align the thinking trajectory of the IWC, not as a consultant. We never paid him anything," she said. "He just happened to appear at the IWC at Aberdeen [in 1997]. . . . He just turned up and called up in our delegation room and said, 'Here I am. I have written this article,' and gave us a copy," she said. "So he has never been engaged by money," she insisted.

However, the minutes of the IWC meeting record Burke as having had made his entrée to the IWC in 1996, the year before Aberdeen conference. The IWC chairman's report noted, "Japan introduced a legal opinion from Prof. W.T. Burke of the School of Law, University of Washington, which argued that the establishment of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary did not conform to Article V of the Convention. Japan therefore questioned the legality of the decision."

Burke himself says he went to the Aberdeen meeting, not on a whim, but after being offered work as a consultant by TPA's Macnow. "I did the work on it for the Japan Whaling Association," he said.

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