This week we’ll all be urged repeatedly to participate in Earth Hour on Saturday. To help us make informed decisions about this event, I’ll be shining a light on some little known facts. For starters:

Earth Hour was brought into this world by corporations
Launched in Sydney, Australia in 2007 there was never anything grassroots or shoestring about it. There’s no history of penniless activists toiling in obscurity, working their fingers to the bone, hoping against hope to attract attention to their cause.

Earth Hour is, instead, the brainchild of two large corporate entities – the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Fairfax Media Limited.

I’ve discussed the size and reach of the WWF previously. The short version is that it has offices in 30 countries and employs 5,000 people. In 2010, its international operating revenues amounted to almost 3/4 of a billion dollars.

When looking to hire senior staff the WWF does exactly what other large corporations do – it places recruitment ads in The Economist magazine. When it decided to launch Earth Hour it did something perfectly natural for a corporate entity – it formed a business partnership.

The partner was “Australasia’s largest multi-platform media group.” Fairfax Media owns major newspapers in both Australia and New Zealand – including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial Review, The Canberra Times, The Dominion Post, The Press, and The Sunday Star-Times.

Fairfax Media publishes “metropolitan, agricultural, regional and community newspapers,” owns consumer magazines and “a portfolio of leading websites,” and also runs radio stations (source; backup link).

As the company website explains:

For the six month period year ended 25 December 2011, Fairfax Media reported underlying revenues and profit after tax of $1.23 billion and $135.7 million respectively.

The Boy on a bike blog has dug up copies of Fairfax’s financial statements which confirm that it owns one-third of Earth Hour. Evidently this company doesn’t merely report the news, it’s also in the business of “environmental promotion.”

I think this raises a serious ethical concern. One would have to be utterly naive to imagine that the journalists employed by Fairfax Media are free to say negative things about Earth Hour – or about environmentalism in general. Yet Australia’s recent Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation report makes no mention whatsoever of Earth Hour in its 474 pages.

Arguably, therefore, people who participate in this annual lights-out ritual are demonstrating their support for corporate-orchestrated environmentalism. They’re also saying it’s OK for media companies to stage-manage the news rather than merely report on it.


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