There can be no better recent example of the general lack of recognition or awareness of the mining industry’s importance than the recent power problems in South Africa, which attracted little daily media coverage. Starting on January 25, many of South Africa’s major mines, particularly the underground operations, shut down. To take just one example, Gold Fields produces about 7,000 oz of gold each day from its South African mines production worth some $6 million. Add up all the production involved (gold, PGMs, coal, etc.) and it comes to many millions of dollars of production value lost each day. While the mines are now producing again, problems continue. So, a major mining country’s industry ceased to function, but the mainstream media took little or no interest! And yet, quite apart from the economic and technical angles, there are political ramifications.
Other than ignoring us, our prevailing image is probably of a dirty industry exploiting, with the worst possible connotations of that word, developing countries and their peoples. While we have made great progress in environmental management, sustainable development and community relations, particularly since the Global Mining Initiative in 2002, there are many millions in the world who remain untouched by the industry. Their images remain the old stereotypes, reinforced, perhaps, by the many
unscrupulous, anti-mining NGOs that are funded by local landowners or other industries that have their own desires to exploit people, often for salaries lower than those that mining will pay.
Our image problems make it too easy for NGOs that would rail against us. They are also, of course, affecting our ability to attract the skills required for the industry’s ongoing work.
One of the answers surely must be to make use of the mass media. But how do we do that? Success stories like building new schools or hospitals do not usually make the pages of the daily papers or get air time on TV. By contrast protests against mines in, for example, Latin America does get coverage. NGOs exploit this tactic, often with little or no real interest in the local people, but successfully and widely. High unemployment and low wages in much of Latin America (that mine developments can help alleviate) offer NGOs a cheap source of protestors, which they exploit to the full.
But when indigenous groups get together to support mining projects, NGOs get upset, and extend their bullying (which they are so good at) to the media. Just last year, IM published on its website details sent by such a group that supported a particular mine’s development because of the jobs and other economic benefits it would bring to the area. A Canadian anti-mining NGO could not of course see fit for both sides to have their say and threatened us with legal action. Since we do not have the time or financial resources to fight such actions we had to remove the promining arguments from our website.
In another example, and another industry news medium, an NGO deliberately pressurised an inexperienced, junior member of an editorial staff, when the editor was away, to get a biased story published. It was, fortunately, quickly rectified.
Big machines do get television media interested. Currently in the UK there is a series running called Ice Road Truckers that charts two months in the lives of six men who haul vital supplies over ice roads running north of Yellowknife in Canada to the Ekati, Diavik and Snap Lake diamond mines. This surely is a good way to get mainstream exposure. We can get viewer attention with footage of some of the industry’s great engineering feats or technical advances, such as the fleet of automated trucks at Finsch diamond mine (IM, January 2008), and use such platforms to get other messages across, like this is a vital industry that offers very interesting jobs in very interesting places.
Indeed, those great and deep South African gold mines, threatened by Escom’s power problems could have made an excellent documentary. Just think what shutting down ventilation and pumping for a prolonged period could do to mines at depths from 2 to 4 km. Most people don’t even know their gold ring may have come from that depth!
We need to make better use of mainstream media. Let us hear your ideas.
John Chadwick is the editor and publisher of International Mining Magazine. In their March 2008 issue John wrote about media manipulation and the mining industry. For more information on International Mining visit www.im-magazine.com or you contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org.