When Mark Sinclair arrived in sweltering Bangkok last October, he didn’t suspect that things could get even hotter – in the shape of an Energy Industry channel. Sinclair, a director of yBC.tv, an online video channel provider, had been invited to speak to delegates at a global mining conference about digital engagement platforms and online conversations, but it became obvious that he was in the middle of a war.
The war taking place in Australia is like many localised conflicts in that it doesn’t get much coverage beyond its own battlefields. Yet this war, local though it seems, has implications globally in terms of how information can be used as a weapon, and how our new, emerging ways to control information can rip up the existing codes of conduct.
On the face of it, Australia is the envy of the industrialised world. It has withstood three global financial crises and has enjoyed 22 unbroken years of growth. Unemployment is low, debt is insignificant and the banks are under control. As an election approaches, Australians are having their perennial debate about how much of the success is down to the shrewd fiscal policies of successive governments or just dumb luck.
Neighbours in East Asia such as China and India have been eager consumers of Australia’s considerable natural resources of coal and iron ore, and these commodities have propped up Australia’s economy. However, far from being hailed as saviours of the economy, the coal industry is under attack. When Sinclair interviewed Dr Nicki Williams of the Australian Coal Association, she expressed frustration at a global campaign by highly media literate activists against the industry which is “not about improving our industry’s environmental performance or the social outcomes of what we do. It is about extinguishing us”.
While she doesn’t wish for the role, Williams leads the defensive. “There are literally thousands of expressions of anti-coal sentiment popping up every day of every week, of every month, of every year”, she told attendees at the Sydney Institute in May. “How to know what’s real and what isn’t? What’s justified criticism, requiring an adequate industry response, and what is fiction?”
Activist groups such as Greenpeace or the Tea Party in the US have been extremely successful at using digital channels and social media to raise awareness and rally support. One wouldn’t expect the coal industry to employ colourful tactics such as scaling the Shard in London, but they have been learning tough lessons about the power of social media and sadly one lesson is that the truth is not always important in getting a message across. A recent survey in Queensland showed overwhelming support for the local mining industry, yet the message communicated more effectively by activists is the complete opposite.
Given the seriousness of the issue and the implications for Australia in the coming years, Sinclair saw an opportunity to raise awareness and promote informed discussion by collecting a broader range of expert perspectives. By June 2013, Sinclair’s team had completed a punishing schedule of interviews with Australian CEO’s, politicians, academics, union bosses for the launch of a new digital Energy Industry channel, OzForum.tv, presenting a fuller picture of the issues facing Australia.
Since 2007, yBC.tv has developed similar business-focused channels organised around global themes, which, since the financial crisis, have increasingly focussed on the complex and challenging issues facing the world.
The issues around mining is certainly complex, but is being misrepresented to the public. Former resources minister, Martin Ferguson told Sinclair that “there is a group in the global community who are totally opposed to anything other than renewable energy. It’s not a scientific debate. It’s an emotional debate.” To better understand the debate around coal mining in Australia, yBC.tv interviewed representatives from trade unions, mining communities, electorates (urban and rural), mining associations, university academic staff, government agencies, political parties and more. Those interviewed provided a larger context taking in the upcoming election, fears about the economy and its dependence on mining as well as environmental concerns.
Launching an Energy Industry Channel – OzForum.tv
OzForum.tv aims to check facts, consult experts and commentators, review research and speak to those involved. The channel will pull this information together to help Australians make an informed decision about where they stand on the issue.
yBC.tv has received financial and other support from the Australian Coal Association, the New South Wales Minerals Council and the Queensland Resources Council but it maintains full editorial control of OzForum.tv and all of its other channels. The Energy Industry channel is fully owned by yBC.tv who control the editorial scope and direction of the content.
From here, yBC.tv plan further rounds of interviews and production to bring more information and perspective to the discussion. Of particular interest is the perspective of those who live and work in communities where mining actually takes place. The Energy Industry channel will also fact check claims made about the industry, review research, campaigns and news as it unfolds in order to contribute to a better standard of debate around energy in Australia.
“It’s time we all realised that a relative minority have amplified their voice disproportionately,” says Williams. “Australians, and the governments we elect need to open their eyes to what is going on and clearly state that “enough is enough”. The time for tunnel vision, ‘my way or the highway’ and planetary fundamentalism is at an end. Our environmental and economic challenges are just too important for the debate to continue in its current guise”.