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The Globe and Mail as Corporate Apologists: Behind the love affair with Barrick Gold

by Sakura Saunders

Porgeran points to the quicksand valley that is eroding an entire valley. Photo: Damien Baker
Porgeran points to the quicksand valley that is eroding an entire valley. Photo: Damien Baker
Apalaka Village is one of the villages where inhabitants must move further and further up the mountainside to avoid their homes being swallowed by the mine waste, which causes landslides. photo: Sakura Saunders
Apalaka Village is one of the villages where inhabitants must move further and further up the mountainside to avoid their homes being swallowed by the mine waste, which causes landslides. photo: Sakura Saunders

In the rural highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG), a Canadian gold mine operates amongst the Ipili people, who were one of the last major ethnic groups to be contacted by the Australian colonial administration of New Guinea, or "white man", in 1939. Since that date, Porgera was known for its rich gold deposits and eventually became the site of one of the largest gold mines in the world. Today, Porgera is a site of controversy, as it riches are overshadowed by stories of gang rapes and killings of the Ipili people at the hands of Barrick security and police.

Last week, a remediation program proposed by Barrick Gold was criticized by Mining Watch Canada and other human rights organizations for forcing victims of gang rape to sign away their rights to sue the company in exchange for redress. Barrick's offer came two years after a 2011 Human Rights Watch report exposed a "pattern of violent abuses, including horrifying acts of gang rape". Mining Watch's report also criticized the fact that Barrick was offering no compensation to women who were gang raped by PNG Police, despite the fact that the police were housed, supplied and fed by Barrick during their time in Porgera.

The Globe and Mail was quick to react, releasing an editorial entitled "Barrick has done its best to improve human rights at mine in Papua New Guinea." The article praised Barrick while insisting that it seemed "fair" that women receiving remediation could no longer sue the company. Meanwhile, it chastised Mining Watch for failing to acknowledge Barrick's change for the better.

While the Globe acknowledged that is was "regrettable" that Barrick had not acted on the allegations of gang rape before the Human Rights Watch report was released, it failed to acknowledge that Mining Watch was one of the many organizations that had brought allegations of gang rape to the company years before Human Rights Watch was on the case, only to have these allegations repeatedly denied by the company.

This isn't the first time the Globe and Mail has gone to bat for Barrick with fawning editorals immediately following accusations of human rights abuses. In 2011, months after the release of the Human Rights Watch report and just two weeks after 7 people were killed by security at Barrick's North Mara Mine in Tanzania, Barrick announced that it would investigate allegations of rape at their North Mara mine. Apparently, a review of a separate human rights issue at that mine had turned up 10 women who had credible and similar stories of being threatened and coerced into sex by security guards and police near the mine. Surprisingly, after explaining some of the voluntary measures that Barrick and other companies had signed onto, the Globe and Mail concluded that "Barrick and other Canadian miners now deserve praise for their efforts (perhaps overdue) to raise industry standards." Really? So soon?

The Globe editorial went so far as to claim that Canada's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Councillor, Marketa Evans (coincidentally the founding director of the Munk* Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto), monitored the behaviour of Canadian mining companies overseas. However, a review of publicly-available government documents reveals that the Office of the CSR Counsellor had only investigated 3 cases since the creation of its post in 2009. In 2 of those 3 cases, no dialogue process took place because the companies refused to cooperate and the cases were subsequently closed.

Another blind spot in the Globe's friendly characterization of Barrick is the fact that Barrick Gold has repeatedly been singled out by NGOs and Embassy magazine as a major lobbying force against regulatory oversight of the Canada’s international mining industry. According to Mining Watch Canada, Barrick Gold registered seven lobbyists to lobby on Bill C-300, the “responsible mining bill”, and Barrick’s lobbyists met with at least 22 Members of Parliament and 3 Senators. In October, 2010, bill C-300 lost by a mere 6 votes.

To be fair, the Globe did carry out an investigative feature by African Bureau chief Geoffrey York in 2011 that detailed and gave context to the regular killings at Barrick's North Mara mine. However, this feature also departed from journalistic ethics to paint a picture of Barrick as ahead of the pack. Specifically, it misquoted me, protestbarrick.net editor as saying that Barrick "has become 'more transparent' than other miners.”

In fact, nothing could have been farther from the truth. I spoke with York for almost an hour, and if I had to characterize the theme of that conversation, it was that Barrick couldn't be trusted: they lie, they engage in elaborate cover-ups, they sue (or threaten to sue) those that say bad things about them, and they use CSR as a smokescreen to avoid accountability. I even sent York three follow-up e-mails, providing links to stories about Barrick being caught lying in Tanzanian Parliament, using lawyers to threaten activists, and detailing the tactics that Barrick used to cover up a massacre at their Bulyanhulu mine in Tanzania. The Globe and Mail refused me a retraction and even refused me a letter to the editor. It wasn't until I presented the Globe with a Notice of Action pursuant of the Libel and Slander Act that they finally allowed me a letter to the editor to clear my name.

One can only guess why the Globe insists on praising Barrick in times that should be dedicated to somber reflection on an industry rife with abuse. But, in light of this clearly biased reporting, it should raise eyebrows that the Globe and Mail announced a partnership with the Munk School of Global Affairs* late last year. The Munk Fellowship in Global Journalism is turning the typical model for training journalists "on its head" by taking experts in various subject areas and giving them hands on journalism training. These students, which unsurprisingly include experts in aid and corporate social responsibility, will be the freelance journalists of the future. As the Munk School has long been criticized for the overseeing role that it grants Peter Munk's foundation – including annual meetings with the School's director to review the School's program areas – one would be naive not to suspect that these trainees will promote Munk's worldview, which favours foreign investment over aid and corporate self-regulation over mandatory standards of accountability. Additionally, this partnership – which likely includes some financial arrangement with the Globe – hints at a possible conflict of interest when the Globe releases favorable editorials about Munk's company.

Meanwhile, gang rapes continue to be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the abuses that stem from the militarization of Barrick's Porgera and North Mara mines. In both places, people are killed and arbitrarily detained regularly by the police and security. In the Porgera valley, mine waste is dumped directly into the rivers, poisoning hundreds of kilometres of waterways in one instance and turning a valley into a marsh of quicksand in another. The quicksand valley is swallowing up schools and houses to landslides, forcing people to move further and further up the mountainside to live. In North Mara, 40,000 small scale miners were economically displaced for the creation of the mine, left to scavenge for survival in the waste dumps of Barrick's mega-mine. In other words, these mines present human rights crises in themselves, that aren't going to be resolved with a nicely worded human rights policy or a limiting remediation package.

The logic behind the Globe's reasoning is that these mines must operate, and Barrick is doing the best that they can. While many would question if Barrick is actually doing their best, the underlying assumption here is also off. As Geoffrey York concluded his investigative feature of the North Mara mine, "as long as Tanzanians are forced to choose between dying for a living and the potential wealth that they can gain by invading Barrick’s gold mine, the bloodshed at North Mara is likely to continue. Weapons and walls are a poor solution." Will the Globe ever acknowledge that there are some places that should be no-go areas for mining? Areas within which human rights abuses are inevitable? Areas where environmentally responsible mining practices are impossible? (as Barrick will say, the rocky terrain makes it impossible in Porgera to maintain a tailings pond, thus they dump the waste in the river).

It seems that rather than publicly scolding Mining Watch for detailing criticism against Barrick's CSR programs, the Globe would do well to invest some resources and visit Porgera themselves. As Geoffrey York's experience in Tanzania suggests, even a biased observer can recognize a crisis zone when they see one. Until these mine sites are understood in the context of unavoidable conflict we will not be able to soberly analyze the situation. Zooming out, society itself would do well to ask what sacrifices it is willing to make for what amounts to a luxury item with few practical uses. 

*Peter Munk is the acting chairman and founder of Barrick Gold.

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Comments

Sakura Saunders has an

Sakura Saunders has an interesting notion of fairness and bias.  When I wrote about Barrick, I took the trouble to speak to her at length, to ensure that I had her side of the story.  As she acknowledges in her article, I spoke to her for an hour, and exchanged lengthy emails with her, and I took the trouble to review her allegations as part of my investigation.  However, when she decided to launch a public attack on me, calling me "biased", she didn't bother to contact me at all. She didn't give me the opportunity to comment or to disagree with her.  Is this her commitment to fairness?  If anyone in the media had attacked her publicly without giving her a chance to respond, I'm sure that she would see it as proof of bias.

For the record: my story on Barrick was accurate, and I quoted her accurately.  She now denies that she said what she said, but the comments were accurately quoted.

If anyone is further interested in the subject, I encourage them to read my lengthy investigation of Barrick's operations in Tanzania -- not just my long magazine investigation, but also several other investigative pieces in the Globe -- and judge for themselves.

Geoff: you are lying here and I have proof

Geoff, you say that I " decided to launch a public attack on me, calling me "biased", she didn't bother to contact me at all." This is blatantly false, in fact, we had an e-mail exchange on Oct 9, following the publication of your article that misrepresented me. In that exchange (which I have posted, in it's unedited entirety below) it is you who cut off communications with me.

Also, you said in that exchange that "I believe you are misinterpreting the article and failing to understand the limited meaning of the quote, which referred basically to Barrick's increased transparency in 2011 on some issues.  You seem to feel that the quote is much broader than it actually is. The quote doesn't suggest that you don't oppose Barrick, and it doesn't suggest that you aren't critical of Barrick on many many issues." However, your quote in the G&M makes no distinction that I only felt that Barrick was "more transparent" on some issues, and completely ignores the fact that I explicitly went into detail about how Barrick lies and misrepresents themselves regularly (during the phone call and in follow-up e-mails).

So, you admit to misrepresenting me but pretend that you didn't at the same time. I believe that that is why you cut off communications with me, because you didn't want to sit and face the compromises that you made. By the way, you also accepted Barrick's evidence that the health harms at North Mara were not a result of the mine's pollution. You don't mention the fact that Barrick's main "evidence" is a dermatologist from South Africa that was making his assessments based on photographs of the North Mara locals. This is another way in which your article missed the mark in terms of ethical reporting as I see it.

While overall I still very much appreciated that the article you wrote was published, and believe that it made significant gains in shining a light on some of the regalar abuses at North Mara's mine. I still believe, however, that your integrity was compromised by how you represented me and how you reported on the sicknesses at Barrick's mine. All I wanted was a retraction and you refused to help me get that. Now I am shining a light on your bias. The entire e-mail exchange is below, and the other follow-up e-mails are linked above. I will allow the readers to make up their own mind about this one.

Sincerely,

Sakura

SUBJECT: Can we talk?

10/9/11

sakura saunders wrote:

also... the quote itself is more broad than saying that barrick is more transparent on some issues. you said that I said that Barrick is becoming more transparent than other companies. period. not on just some issues, but more transparent [overall]. and yes, I am attacking your integrity as a journalist. I feel like I deserve an apology. I showed no hopefulness that Barrick would improve on their own. I relentlessly attacked them for an hour. Any expression of increased transparency was accompanied by me telling you about how that transparency was canceled out by deliberate lies.

And why rely on your memory, when you have three terrific e-mails from me, filled with my views? because you wanted me to express something else, something that I wasn't expressing in all of those e-mails... so you twisted what I said to make me say a broad statement about Barrick's trajectory towards greater transparency. I'm sorry, but that is not what I consider journalistic integrity, and it does make me question your motives.

It is one thing to be quoted in an embarrassing a slip-up, it is entirely another to be quoted saying something that is the exact opposite of the large majority of the communications that I had with you.

sincerely,
sakura

On Sun, Oct 9, 2011 at 5:51 PM, Sakura Saunders <sakura.saunders@gmail.com> wrote:
What is your phone number?
Sakura Saunders
Skype: sakurasaunders
 

Sent from my iPod. Please excuse any mispellings or (more likely) inappropriate word substitutions. 

On Oct 9, 2011, at 2:14 PM, Geoffrey York wrote:
 
Dear Sakura --
 I would welcome a dialogue, but it's difficult when you use loaded terms such as "betray" which attack my motives and my professional integrity.
  My notes and memory are clear on what you said in our interview.  I believe you are misinterpreting the article and failing to understand the limited meaning of the quote, which referred basically to Barrick's increased transparency in 2011 on some issues.  You seem to feel that the quote is much broader than it actually is. The quote doesn't suggest that you don't oppose Barrick, and it doesn't suggest that you aren't critical of Barrick on many many issues.
  I've been a journalist for 30 years and I'm always careful in how I quote people. I wouldn't publish a quote if it wasn't fully supported by my notes and memory.
   If you want to clarify your views on Barrick, you can write a letter to the Globe, and my understanding is that the Globe would consider publishing it, as Ted Mumford already told you.  You've also stated your views extensively on our website.  The Globe is giving you lots of space to state your views.  This seems pretty fair to me.
    Best regards,
       Geoff York

--- On Sun, 10/9/11, Sakura Saunders <sakura.saunders@gmail.com> wrote:

From: Sakura Saunders <sakura.saunders@gmail.com>
Subject: Can we talk?
To: "Geoffrey York"
Date: Sunday, October 9, 2011, 12:35 PM

Hey geoff,

Well... As you can probably tell, this entire fiasco has enraged me.
They are refusing me a retraction, and I seem to have little power in
how I am being represented in the media.

I am honestly considering a small claims lawsuit, but that seems an
unfortunate outcome of one of the best articles to come out about
north mara (despite its denial of the health harms at the mine).

I would like to talk to you about this to see if we can work something
else out. I simply want a retraction. I can't be represented like
that, as the result of a two-word quote; it goes against everything
that I stand for.

I was actually quite surprised that you would betray me like that,
because so many of my friends in the media have spoken so well of you,
and of course I thought we got along great on the phone.

Best,
Sakura Saunders
Protestbarrick.net
415-287-3737
Skype: sakurasaunders

Sent from my iPod. Please excuse any mispellings or (more likely)
inappropriate word substitutions.


 

--
Sakura Saunders
editor, protestbarrick.net
member, solidarityresponse.net
skype: sakurasaunders
US: 415-287-3737

 
Follow ProtestBarrick.net :: facebook.com/protestbarrick :: twitter.com/stopbarrick :: youtube.com/waysofseeing

"We are attacked continuously and we are attacked often by a very noisy and very articulate opposition," Peter Munk, Barrick Annual General Meeting, 2010

 

Sakura, you don't seem to

Sakura, you don't seem to understand the issues here.  You've written a public article in Toronto Media Co-op in which you accuse me of being a "biased" journalist.  That's a very serious accusation, and it's false and unfair.  Where is your evidence? Why did you fail to contact me for my side of the story?  And why do you feel that it is fair to attack someone publicly without giving them an opportunity to respond?  Under the principle of basic fairness, you should have given me a chance to respond to your allegations, but you didn't do this.

You claim that I "cut off" communication with you. This is completely false.  You know my email address, and you could contact me any time.  I have never "cut off" communication with you, and I would certainly want to be informed if you are planning an attack on me.

What is your evidence that I have "cut off" communication with you? The fact that I replied to several of your emails in 2011 but not all of them?  So, because I didn't reply to every single one of your many emails in 2011, you think this allows you to make allegations against me in 2013 without bothering to give me a chance to respond?  That's very strange logic.

You also claim that I "admit" to "misrepresenting" you.  This is completely false.  As I have said repeatedly and consistently in every email:  I quoted you accurately in my magazine story.  I'm glad that you published my emails from 2011, because they show that I've been very consistent in my points about my Barrick articles.

You should tell your readers the truth: you and I have a disagreement about how to write about Barrick, and I didn't write my stories exactly as you wanted.  That's not proof of bias. That's proof of independence.

 

 

Geoff, I will do my best to

Geoff, I will do my best to answer your questions here.

Where is my evidence?

I accused you of misrepresenting me by saying that I thought that Barrick was "more transparent" than most other miners. The evidence that I showed to refute this claim that that is a fair representation of me is the numerous follow-up e-mails that I sent you within 24 hours of our phone conversation (from which you pulled the two word quote and proceeded to unfairly represent me.) In this e-mail coorespondence, I make it very clear that I think that Barrick is worse than other companies because of their "cover-ups" and I also link to a number of times that Barrick engages in elaborate cover-ups and intimidation techniques to suppress the truth. I unfortunately do not have a recording of our phone conversation or I would post that as well. I remember clearly you asking me a number of times "But shouldn't we be proud of Barrick for admiting to the gang rapes and killings" and every time I would answer "No, because..." and would tell you all of the anecdotal reasons why I don't trust Barrick and was not impressed with their final and forced acknowledgement of that truth.

Why did you fail to contact me for my side of the story?

I did contact you and I very much wanted to talk to you about all of this. You were so nice to me on the phone, even offering to show me around Tanzania when I got there. But you refused to give me you r phone number so that I could call you. And then a day later I tried again to contact you explaining why I wanted to work something out so that I wouldn't have to go a harsher route.... but you still never returned my message to you. I attached this e-mail correspondence in my comment above. I feel like I gave you a chance to respond, I even served the G&M with a notice of Action pursuant of the LIbel and Slander Act! You had my e-mail and you should have apologized to me. I told you that I wanted an apology, but after writing you three e-mails and not getting a response, I decided that you had cut off communications with me. I also didn't take you up on your offer to show me around Tanzania and didn't tell you when I was there (to be honest, I thought that it might endanger me to tell you when I was in Tanzania, that is how far you betrayed my trust.)

What is your evidence that I have "cut off" communication with you? The fact that I replied to several of your emails in 2011 but not all of them?  So, because I didn't reply to every single one of your many emails in 2011, you think this allows you to make allegations against me in 2013 without bothering to give me a chance to respond?

The fact is, you replied to 100% of my e-mails until I started to express that I was upset about how you characterized me. At that point, you answered none of my e-mails. You even sort of alluded to the fact that you would not engage with me if I questioned your ethics. Also, this incident happened in 2011, and I don't know why I would try to talk to you again in 2013 about it. It was not the main featured aspect of the article I wrote about the Globe and frankly is a personal experience that I have the right to relay. You have had such a long time to refect on this and give me an apology of start up a dialogue on a this subject. I had mad it very clear to you that I had felt betrayed by your actions. The ball was in your court.

You also claim that I "admit" to "misrepresenting" you. This is completely false.

You admited that you only meant that I thought that Barrick was more transparent in "some ways". But that is not what you wrote, and in my opinion there is a huge difference between thinking a company is more transparent (period) and thinking that they are more transparent "in some ways". In fact, when looking at my correspondence with you, it is clear that I believe that Barrick lies often. Also, you quoted me saying two word "more transparent", and you attributed the meaning that they were more transparent than other companies. However, this is completely contradicted in my written follow-up e-mails to you, when I clearly state that "Barrick might be worse due to the cover-ups and divide-and-conquer tactics that they employ."

You should tell your readers the truth: you and I have a disagreement about how to write about Barrick, and I didn't write my stories exactly as you wanted.  That's not proof of bias. That's proof of independence.

At the end of the day, Geoffry, I'm happy that you wrote your article overall. I do think that you misrepresented me, but perhaps that is the gimme that you had to give to your editors or Barrick or whoever to get that important story published in the first place. Yes, I wish you could have written more fairly about the sicknesses at North Mara, Yes, I wish that you accurately characterized me as someone who doesn't trust Barrick's self-reporting (however transparent it might seem). But for a mainstream article, it is probably the best we can hope for. And I guess that that is my main point here... I have come to expect little from mainstream media because in my experience, they err in favour of the company and misrepresent people in their short soundbytes. This was one of the many experiences of this behaviour in the mainstream media that I could pull from, but it related to the Globe's particular bias in reporting on Barrick, so I went with it. I believe that the majority of observers who read our e-mail correspondence would agree that I do not believe that Barrick is "more transparent" than most other miners. I mean I am, afterall, the frickin editor of PROTESTBARRICK.NET, another fact that your article fails to acknowledge. You can fight me on this point all day, but I believe that you are digging yourself a hole. Sincerely, Sakura Saunders

Sakura, again you are making

Sakura, again you are making a bunch of false statements about me. I'm not here to "fight" with you, but I need to correct the many errors in what you are telling your readers about me.  I wouldn't want anyone to think that your false statements about me might actually be true.

For example, you are completely misquoting what I said during our interview.  I never said that you or anyone should be "proud of Barrick" or anything like that.  That's a gross and unfair misquotation.

You are also misleading people by blurring the line between reporters and editorial writers. The Globe expresses its opinion in its editorials, and you are free to disagree with the Globe's editorials about Barrick.  But what I do is different: I report on the ground, and I don't begin with "biases" in favor of a company or anyone else.  You quote the Globe's editorials as proof of "bias" and then you falsely claim that the Globe tells its reporters to conform to its editorial opinion.  That's simply not true.

You originally claimed that I "cut off communication" with you, but now you have a much different version: you're now saying that you refused to have any "dialogue" with me unless I had "apologized" to you.  So in fact it is you who terminated the communication.

You claim that your subsequent emails are proof of what you said during our original telephone interview.  That doesn't make sense at all.  Anyone can change their mind about what they said and then write a bunch of emails later.  It doesn't prove anything about what you said in our original telephone interview. 

You claim that I offered to "show you around Tanzania."  That's also false, I never said any such thing.

You also claim that I was forced to make some kind of deal with my editors -- a "gimme" -- in which I was required to misrepresent you in the article.  That's an absurd and false statement. My editors gave me complete freedom to report and write the article in an honest and independent way.  Nobody told me what to write about you or anything else.

 

whoa.. there you go twisting my words again

What? Now you claim that I broke off communication with you? When I've cut and paste our last e-mail correspondence where I am trying to get you to talk to me and you refused to reply?

And you claim that it doesn't make sense that my subsequent e-mails to you would have any bearing on the conversation that we had with each other only 24 hours before? Even when I make clear in those subsequent e-mails that I am giving reference to the things that we talked about only 24 hours prior?

Also, I cited your behaviour as proof of your bias, and the Globe's editorials as proof of their bias. I never claim that you were forced to misquote me as "a gimme" to your editors, I just said that perhaps that was the case. And what do you expect? I was clearly misrepresented by you and I have no idea why! All I am left to do is speculate, and given the slant of the Globe's overall slant in it's editorials... that is a rational conjecture to come up with. But I never presented it as fact.

I really feel like you should be ashamed of yourself in how you acted with me before and also how you are behaving now. Anyone reading these comment threads can see how you twist words to suit your agenda. You want to turn me into the culprit now? I have published word for word all of our e-mail communications... and I would publish our phone conversation, but unfortunately I didn't record it. I am just left with my memory, which is clear only because I was so excited that you had taken time to talk to me that I talked about it with my partner and several friends. I did hours of research for you excitedly looking up old annual reports from Africa Mashariki and lawsuits related to the North Mara mine, wrote them up in neatly sorted e-mails, filled with links and useful attachments. I honestly thought that I was developing a wonderful, useful contact that I could use in the future.. even a friendship! But in the end, you just insulted me, misrepresented me, cut off communication with me, and now you are twisting my words to attempt to make me seem like the bad guy. That is my perspective. Think about it.

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