Fracking, The Sun, lobbying, Fernhurst, and...astro-turfing?

Without an astro-turfing campaign, Sun readers would be outraged at the idea of foreign companies coming into a community and demanding to be able to drill under people’s land and homes without their permission.

Without an astro-turfing campaign, Sun readers would be outraged at the idea of foreign companies coming into a community and demanding to be able to drill under people’s land and homes without their permission.

Lobbying, apparently this is now a £2 billion industry in Britain. One of the dubious techniques being used to manipulate public opinion is called Astro-turfing.

This is the practice of building up a fake grass roots movement. It is very big in America and catching on fast in the UK. The term astro-turfing is a derivation of AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to look like natural grass, a play on the word "grassroots."

An example of this is last week’s Sun campaign against Lord Cowdray. A classic bit of astro-turfing. Astro-turfing works best when used to help supposedly position “ordinary people against elites”.

Normally you have to have subscription to access the Sun but this article is freely available online. It is an example of astro-turfing. Click for full Sun article

The Sun heading is dramatic.......“You fracking hypocrite. As the PM urges the UK to get drilling, we expose the energy heir trying to stop it near his country pile in West Sussex.” “A PEER worth £500million is fighting fracking near his country home — even though his family fortune came from oil. Lord Cowdray’s great-grandad discovered the world’s biggest oil well in Mexico. But he campaigns to stop drilling in Fernhurst, West Sussex......” The article then mentions: “his £500 million fortune (twice), living in the lap of luxury, outdoor swimming pools, pony paddocks and stables, two lakes, landscaped gardens, former playboy and film producer, his inheritance and his religion (Buddhist).” The reporter, then has a quick dig at other rich landowners in Fernhurst: “fund manager Marcus Adams, 56, who earns an estimated £400,000 a year” and then she quotes David Cameron appealing on behalf of Europe to “save Europe from their dependence on Putin”...Of course it does not mention that Lord Cowdray lives in the village and that the rest of the “ordinary” villagers don’t want fracking in Fernhurst either. Or that the Chief Executive of Celtique lives in a £2.4 million pound house in Buckinghamshire and stands to make millions from share options or that David Cameron’s father-in-law is a multimillionaire (Viscount Astor) or that Dave went to Eton (much more important to let us know Lord Cowdray is a Buddhist). By the way Marcus is not a fund managernor, sadly, does he earn £400,000 a year.

The purpose of the article in the Sun is to persuade their readers that a wealthy elite is stopping the country from saving Europe from Putin. And that the Sun readers cando their bit by signing the petition and help Celtique frack Sussex. This is truly ironic because Celtique Energie is being funded by Avista Capital Partners (a New York based private equity firm formed by ex Credit Suisse bankers). Avista injected $50 million into Celtique last May and must be furious about the lack of progress.

Lynn Davidson who has produced this “exclusive”, asks the Sun readers to sign the Sun’s petition to the PM “To frack to the future”. The idea being to show that ordinary folk support fracking. Lynn Davidson moved from the Daily Mail to the Sun and she is a very experienced journalist. We can expect this petition to run and run and that it will finally be used as evidence that “ordinary people” want fracking in England to happen.

The Sun is owned by Murdoch and is the second most popular newspaper in the UK (the Daily Mail is number one). It reaches over 6 million readers. This story will have been placed in the Sun rather than the Daily Mail because the Mail is perceived a Tory newspaper whereas the Sun is seen as more politically independent.

The “article” then goes on to list what they see as the five obstacles to cheap gas:
1. The wrongmove.org movement
2. Frack Off
3. Friends of the Earth
4. Red Tape
5. NIMBYS

The fact that they have placed the wrongmove.org in the first position is because the legal blockage of the site at Fernhurst is a real problem for Celtique. The drill site is surrounded by land owned by people who have registered an injunction that they do not give permission to Celtique to drill under their land. Under current law Celtique will be guilty of contempt of court as well as trespassing if they drill laterally away from the drill site.

Without an astro-turfing campaign, Sun readers would be outraged at the idea of foreign companies coming into a community and demanding to be able to drill underpeople’s land and homes without their permission. To get them on side, it is important to make the Sun readers feel that these landowners are somehow very different from them (and not mention the foreign investment). ”Support Fracking in Sussex to help New York investment bankers get their bonuses” might not work!