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[GreenYes] Forest Ad Censored

Timber Ad Cut By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

We've long accepted as a truism that freedom of the press
exists mostly for those who can afford to buy one.

But we assumed that a corollary was that the freedom
extended as well to those who could afford to rent one, and
buy ads.

That may not be so.

Consider the recent experience of Forest Ethics, a Berkeley,
California-based advocacy group that works to protect the
ancient rainforests of British Columbia and endangered
forests of North America by redirecting U.S. markets toward
ecologically sound alternatives.

Campaigns run by coalitions that include Forest Ethics,
Rainforest Action Network American Lands Alliance, Forest
Action Network, Student Environmental Action Coalition,
Earth First!, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, the Natural Resources
Defense Council and many others have pressured Home Depot
and other major wood sellers to stop selling wood products
from old-growth forests. As a result, the timber industry is
on the run.

The recalcitrant members of the American Forest & Paper
Association have responded to forest activists' successful
campaigns and the shifting market for wood by creating their
own certification system, the Sustainable Forestry
Initiative (SFI). Forest campaigners say SFI is a sham, and
are urging wood buyers to give preference to wood certified
by the Forest Stewardship Council, an independent

To highlight its concerns with the SFI, Forest Ethics
decided to place an advertisement in the Seattle Times
during the Green Building Conference, a recent meeting held
in Seattle that attracted major U.S. homebuilders.

The group's proposed ad mocked the SFI's claim to represent
a "bold approach to sustainable forest management" with a
picture of an ancient temperate rainforest clearcut in
British Columbia by the Interfor company, which SFI recently
certified as "sustainable." Asking whether SFI was promoting
green wood or a greenwash, the Forest Ethics ad also
criticized the SFI certification of Boise Cascade. "SFI's
endorsement of Boise Cascade, the largest logger of old
growth in the U.S., is further evidence of SFI's toothless
standards," the ad's text read.

The Seattle Times refused to run the ad.

The sticking point, according to Todd Paglia, Forest Ethics
campaigns director, was the mention of Interfor and Boise

As an aside, we should mention that we are generally not
fans of issue advertisements, which we think far too often
drain advocacy groups' budgets for little payback, and are a
poor substitute for grassroots organizing. But the ads tend
to be most effective when used as part of a larger campaign
and with the specific purpose of singling out and shaming a
particular company or corporate executive.

That is exactly what Forest Ethics intended. Paglia says the
Seattle Times offered that the group could run the ad so
long as corporations were not mentioned by name. But "at
that point, the ad is worthless," Paglia says.

And so the ad didn't run.

The Seattle Times disputes Paglia's version of events. Lloyd
Stull, national sales manager for the paper, says the
Seattle Times only requested documentation to support Forest
Ethics' assertions. Paglia insists that the paper was
uninterested in either documentation for its claims that the
companies' are clearcutting or in suggesting word changes to
avert libel concerns.

In any case, we checked on the claims directly.
Spokespersons for Interfor and Boise Cascade readily
acknowledge the companies are clearcutting. We were not able
on short notice to definitively determine whether Boise
Cascade is the number one old-growth logger in the United

Meanwhile, Forest Ethics directed its attention to the East
Coast, and sought to place an ad in the Boston Globe
targeting Staples, the office supply company.

"The ugly truth is that thousands of acres of forest are
needlessly destroyed every year to supply Staples with
cheap, disposable paper products," the proposed ad said.

It urged readers to "call Tom Stemberg [Staples' CEO] at
508-253-7143 and ask him to stop destroying our forests, or
send him a fax at <>. And when Staples
tells you they sell hundreds of recycled products, know that
in truth 97 percent of their copy paper comes from clearcut

To Paglia's surprise, the Boston Globe refused to run the
ad. Taking out the phone information was not enough to
satisfy the paper -- the Globe refused to run an ad that
mentioned Staples by name. Dennis Lloyd, an advertisement
manager at the paper, says only that the paper was not
comfortable with the way Forest Ethics "expressed" its views
in the ad.

The New York Times, by contrast, says that it will run
opinion ads so long as they do not constitute libel. A Times
representative says the paper would have no problem with the
substance of the Staples ad and the mention of the company's

In recent weeks, right-winger David Horowitz has generated a
storm of controversy by seeking to place ads in college
newspapers opposing reparations for the descendants of
slaves and being refused by some college outlets.

Here's what the Boston Globe had to say about the
controversy: "The ideas against slavery reparations
contained in an advertisement placed in student newspapers
around the country may well be insulting to minorities on
campus. But they are only ideas. Far more dangerous than
offensive ideas is their censorship, because censorship
knows no ideology and will Eventually muzzle the views of
the minorities as well."

So why the double standard? The Globe should be consistent
and carry the Forest Ethics ad. The paper's refusal to carry
truthful advertisements criticizing corporations mocks the
spirit of the First Amendment and the notion that the press
will serve as an institutional check on abuses of power.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, <D.C.-based>
Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the
Washington, <D.C.-based> Multinational Monitor. They are
co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits
and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage
Press, 1999).

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

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