The Risk-Monger

The following is a story of how Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) is not respecting transparency in its research, systematically trying to stage outrage over nothing and distorting reality on issues that affect people’s lives and well-being. The Risk-Monger feels the European Commission should put some sort of moral sanctions on this openly biased guerrilla activist organisation, inhibit their anarchist-oriented exportation of paranoia and publicly recognise that CEO’s goal is not to promote transparency, but to disrupt the EU’s process of stakeholder consultation and dialogue.

This story (of how CEO is paying and using a French freelance journalist, Stéphane Horel, to reinforce an anti-industry bias and break transparency codes of good conduct) is sadly not a fiction, but there is very little factual evidence used by these parties. In a few months, CEO or Stéphane Horel will publish a study attempting to show how shocking and massive industry lobbying on endocrine disrupters has become. The reality is far from that despite CEO’s illusive techniques. This is a story of bias and manipulation – a horror story for anyone who respects fair play, facts and democratic institutions.

Money for nothing

CEO’s funding has increased in the last year. They are no longer dependent for more than 50 percent of their operations on the Isvara Foundation (a shady Middle-Eastern organisation operating out of a Swiss bank based on billionaire Ayman Jallad’s commitment to undermine Western liberal democratic institutions). CEO now boasts funding from a rather motley crew including the German Catholic Bishops Organisation, Misereor (mystifying indeed!), the Adessium Foundation (founded in 2005 with profits made from Dutch investment bankers before the crisis … almost as funny as Greenpeace USA being funded by the Rockefellers – no joke!) and the R.H. Southern Trust (a very opaque foundation with a website that simply tells people to go away).

So what is CEO doing with all of this extra funding (from apparently anyone who will give them money)? Holding conferences where they invite all stakeholders for an open and honest dialogue? I am still waiting for my invitation. Increase staff to professionalise their operations? Hardly. Rather, CEO went out and recruited an army of hungry, unemployed journalists to write articles on issues to their liking. The Risk-Monger was alarmed to see a post on the CEO Facebook page on April 24th, (see screenshot with my reaction ) asking for freelance journalists to write anti-industry articles for cash. Using journalists by paying them to say what you want them to say is perhaps the most unseemly and disgusting practices that all ethically-minded lobbyists have abandoned. Apparently not CEO – they are publicly advertising this.

CEO confirmed to me that they had contracted Stéphane Horel to write articles against industry lobbying. Ms Horel is a French activist who calls herself a freelance journalist because of films and articles she produced that attacked certain industries (food, agriculture, pharma). It is unclear if she has ever worked for a media organisation, but the word freelance can be used in a myriad of manners.

Contract journalism

There is a big difference between giving interviews to the media in the hope of getting a fair hearing (what industry lobbyists try to do) and secretly taking journalists aside and paying them an undisclosed amount to write what you contractually want them to write (what CEO is doing). The journalist is no longer operating as a writer in the public interest, but as a consultant in the lobbyist’s interest. If the contracted journalists were to suddenly disagree with the motives, or worse, not find any information worth writing about, they would not get paid (the CEO contract would surely stipulate that journalists would have to find something negative about an industry). Biased from the get-go.

My best experience of such a lobbying tactic is when WWF contracted a journalist to write an article on endocrine disrupters back in 2004 (during the REACH anti-chemicals pandemonium). I was having a coffee with this freelance journalist and I had offered to introduce her to the lead scientist of the WHO report on endocrine when she confessed to me that she couldn’t. She was given a list of certain people to interview, what subjects to consider and which papers to source (and WWF allowed no others). Payment would be made once the article was published, upon which point, the activist NGO would lead a viral campaign to spread the mess they fabricated. Instant issue with a controlled message – what is not to like about that? Well, beside the fact that it is totally unethical and not really journalism or factual.

CEO and Stéphane Horel: Transparency was not in the contract

CEO admitted to the Risk-Monger that they have contracted Stéphane Horel to act on their behalf to prepare a report on how certain industries are lobbying the EU around the issue of endocrine disrupters. Please see the screenshot of two of 13 of Horel’s letters to the European Commission requesting copies of all emails, minutes of meetings or interactions between the European Commission and industry organisations and also between industry, the Commission and EFSA related to endocrine disruptors. (I am sorry I have to use screenshots, but CEO has a very bad habit of changing or taking information off of the web the previous times the Risk-Monger had put them under the microscope – the main link to all 13 of Horel’s freedom of information requests to the EU on endocrine disrupters can be found here.)

You will notice that Horel did not identify whom she is working for in the email exchanges with the European Commission. She identified herself as a freelance journalist and film maker based in Paris – not that she was under contract to CEO. Transparency is a basic principle that every lobbyist/consultant/contractee is taught on his or her first day, and a principle that CEO insists that industry organisations must follow. Any public official, journalist or decision-maker needs to know the motivation and interests of any interactions they come in contact with. But CEO does not seem so concerned to play by these rules of transparency. This is not the first time CEO committed the sin of having people under their pay forget to identify their relationship with CEO while looking for dirt by using dirty practices (see how CEO contractee David Leloup pretended to be an independent journalist in a 2010 blog that also generated a significant amount of further information about CEO from Risk-Monger readers).

In a private correspondence with the Risk-Monger, an anonymous person representing CEO (I think) admitted they are paying Stéphane Horel to write an article and assured me that she is acting transparently in this research. I informed this anonymous CEO person that, from the letters I had seen, Horel has been acting against the rules that CEO has decreed on others, but have received no further reply. It would be nice to know to whom in CEO I was corresponding, but that might be a little too transparent for them.

Why Horel is not acting as a journalist

A professional journalist would look for balance. Gather all of the evidence and report the information to the public, trusting that the public will be capable of making a decision based on the available facts and not just a selection of loose information cleverly arranged to confirm the author’s bias.

Notice in the requests for information in the screenshots above that Stéphane Horel had only asked the EU for copies of contacts between the Commission and industry researchers, industry trade associations and big multinational companies. A serious journalist should also ask for correspondence between the Commission and organisations like Pesticide Action Network, Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth. Maybe the close relationship between certain MEPs and activist endocrine researchers like Andreas Kortenkamp (and any budgets for him to come to closed parliamentary meetings) should be highlighted in a professional journalistic article. Which Green MEPs are sponsoring events and lunches in the European Parliament for which activists? This would be balanced research, something which Stéphane Horel is not interested in uncovering and for which CEO is not paying her to find out. This is not journalism nor is it responsible research (imagine a climate researcher only asking for information that denies global warming).

That the whole question of endocrine disrupters has remained a major policy issue for the last two decades even though the majority of the mainstream scientific community has rejected the activist research should, in itself, be a warning light that it is the environmental activist community, and not industry, that has manipulated the policy process (see a letter signed by 81 leading toxicologists to the EU’s Chief Science Adviser, begging the EU to start respecting proper scientific procedures on endocrine disrupters). Does that mean industry has to fund a further study to look at how environmental NGOs are manipulating the process, to find out who among the NGOs is saying and doing what and how much is being spent to have these activists distort decision-making with well-communicated but contrived uncertainty? This goes back to a question the Risk-Monger asked years ago: Who watches the watch-dogs?

Undermining democracy

Looking through the information that scientists and industry representatives have provided to the European Commission in the publicly available Horel correspondence that the European Commission has painstakingly (and at great public cost) provided, I am reassured that decisions are still being made by gathering the information from all available sources (and that all evidence so far provided shows industry officials behaving properly and professionally). In other words, Horel will have to be very creative to find a story to cash in on her contract with CEO. And what if there is nothing more than what I have seen (that industry is sharing their data and expressing their concerns)?

Trying to stop the dialogue and consultation process (so that Commission officials will only feel comfortable listening to NGO activists, and so that MEPs will only talk to CEO’s friends) is an attempt to undermine the democratic process. Obstructing the right of those whom you disagree with to have the opportunity to express their views in a decision-making process is a tactic that works well in totalitarian regimes and paranoid dictatorships. Industry is open to all stakeholders putting their views across – why can’t Corporate Europe Observatory bear to share that same capacity for dialogue and public engagement? When I asked CEO for information on Stéphane Horel, they started trying to investigate who was paying me (in the same manner as those living in totalitarian societies cannot ask innocent questions without facing judgement).

At the opportune time (on the legislative calendar for endocrine disrupters, that will probably be around the end of November), CEO will no doubt publish and virally spread Stéphane Horel’s report (after all, they paid for it) and will try to manufacture outrage at how industry is lobbying “massively”. Horel might do the same (CEO should make their contract with Horel public). It doesn’t matter that the facts don’t line up with their aspirations. Cynically, I suspect there will be those in Brussels who want to believe in this lobbyist imbalance, that will cheer and spread this fiction. And the Risk-Monger will regrettably have to blog on this again. Sadly, there will be some EU officials who had simply received an email from an industry stakeholder who will feel stigmatised by CEO’s dramatisation and will be a bit more uncomfortable being seen to have listened to the position of a major research, innovation and job creating representative. Some decision-makers may react to the orchestrated activist pressure that will inevitably follow this publication and try to be seen doing something … like ignoring scientific facts or leaning towards the activists on some decision (throw them a bone). This will be cowardly and wrong. That is what CEO wants to achieve – a castration of the engagement and dialogue process in western democracies so that anti-industry, anti-globalisation activists will have a greater influence on the EU decision-making process.

And that, after all, is what Mr Ayman Jallad from the Isvara Foundation is paying Corporate Europe Observatory to do.

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  1. To put Mr Zaruk’s blog post in perspective, we hereby copy in his original email to Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), submitted via the contact form on the CEO website, followed by our response, which we sent to Mr Zaruk by email:

    Subject: Contact form message from the CEO website
    Date: Fri, 23 Aug 2013 00:10:17 +0200 (CEST)

    Submitted on Friday, August 23, 2013 – 00:10
    First name: David
    Last name: Zaruk
    Message:

    CEO has been advertising to journalists to fund freelance research projects. In the interest of transparency, would CEO be willing to disclose which freelancers have they been funding for which research. I am asking about that since one particular freelance researcher, Stéphanie Horel, has been using rather CEO style research techniques. Is she directly engaged or part of a team CEO has been funding, and what transparency behaviour conditions have you stipulated to her in carrying out this research?

    In the interest of transparency, I write a blog called the Risk Monger that tries to ensure that Brussels lobbying is conducted in an even, balanced manner, based on reason and science rather that rhetoric and emotion. I am preparing a blog on motivations behind certain anti-industry guerrilla tactics, so her conduct and practices have interested me.

    Thank you

    David

    ——————————————————————————————————

    Date: Thu, 05 Sep 2013 16:26:16 +0200
    From: Corporate Europe Observatory
    To: David Zaruk
    Subject: Your question on CEO’s policies re: employment of free lance journalists

    Mr Zaruk,

    To answer your question, CEO has indeed hired free-lance journalist
    Stéphane Horel on a freelance contract for investigative work on one
    specific EU agency, with a contractual requirement to systematically
    disclose her CEO employment any time she gets in touch with third
    parties on this matter – something which, to our knowledge, she has
    scrupulously done.

    As with other freelancers we have worked with in the past, the link with
    CEO moreover becomes public the day the outcome of their work gets
    published on the CEO website (the publication is posted with the name of
    the freelance journalist “for Corporate Europe Observatory”).

    Describing investigative research on corporate lobbying, conflicts of
    interests and related issues as “anti-industry guerilla tactic” is
    simply absurd. Such research results in much-needed public awareness and
    debate and sometimes even in improved rules, regulations and policies
    that are in the public interest.

    In the interest of transparency and honesty, we would very much
    appreciate if you could provide full clarity around who you work for and
    with, including the companies that pay you for advisory and other
    consultancy services, be it via your consultancy firm “Risk Perception
    Management” (still missing from the EU’s Transparency Register) or in
    other ways.

    Thank you.

    ==

    Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)

    Rue d’Edimbourg 26

    1050 Brussels – Belgium

    http://www.corporateeurope.org

    phone: 0032 – (0) 2 89 30 930

    ——————————————————————————————————

    As we wrote in our response, Corporate Europe Observatory hired Stéphane Horel “for investigative work on one specific EU agency, with a contractual requirement to systematically disclose her CEO employment any time she gets in touch with third parties on this matter – something which, to our knowledge, she has scrupulously done”. Her investigations on endocrine disruptors to which Mr Zaruk refers have not been commissioned by Corporate Europe Observatory, so it is quite logical that she doesn’t mention Corporate Europe Observatory in the quoted access to documents requests.

    We leave it to you, reader, on the basis of this extra information, to draw your conclusion regarding the quality and trustworthiness of Mr Zaruk’s blog post.

  2. Dear Mr Zaruk,

    I am very flattered that you (obviously) dedicated a lot of time and energy on me.
    First I appreciate your concern, but I am not a hungry nor unemployed journalist. Had you contacted me directly – a very easy thing to do via the contact form on my website –, I would have answered your questions. Instead, you decided to base your post on mere observations and strange assumptions. You are lecturing me about journalism and how I practice it, but perhaps a little bit of fact-checking from you wouldn’t have hurt. So let me help you get the facts rights on what concerns me directly.

    – I was hired by CEO – they politely replied to you in an email that you most curiously chose not to take into account – to investigate on conflicts of interests at EFSA. EFSA’s management staff is fully aware of this work: I have spent one interesting day with some of them to talk about it. Moreover, my name will clearly appear on the report when it is published. I am not contractually bound to write what CEO wants, otherwise I would not have taken the job.

    – You refer to my access-to-document requests to the European Commission on endocrine disrupters. These requests were made via the website asktheEU.org precisely because I think it is in the public interest that the released documents are available to everyone. I am therefore grateful you publicize them. On this site, I am totally transparent by identifying myself as a freelance journalist and film-maker because this is what I am. These requests are part of a documentary project for French public television, and not for CEO. The various stakeholders, including the Commission and the industry, already know about the project. Transparency is a requirement by the European law and I am exercising my right when I am asking the Commission to release these documents, although I sincerely sympathise with the interns who spend their days making photocopies and blackening all names by hand. Making information available to the public is a true “horror story” for democracy, isn’t it? Let me add that I modestly participate in the “great public cost”, as you write, with the taxes I paid as a citizen.

    – “Acting as a journalist”, as you say, requires to look for balance, an area in which you seem to excel. Indeed, I have not asked the Commission for its contacts with the NGOs because I did not need to. Two simple reasons for that: NGOs’ positions are on their websites; and when I ask them about their meetings with officials at the Commission, they answer me.

    – Besides ruining internships at the European Commission, my main occupation is to make documentaries for French public television (Arte and France 5, i.e. media organisations) as a freelancer – all documentary makers are. I have been working for Le Canard Enchaîné as a freelance reporter for several years and I sometimes publish books with loads of endotes. “Attacking certain industries” is not a topic. So far, I have worked on public health issues and conflicts of interests. If you had made the effort to actually watch my documentaries, you maybe would have noticed that what I am interested in is investigating the public power.

    Finally, I am not sure it will reassure you, but I own a genuine diploma from a recognised journalism school.

    1. Thank you for your reply Ms Horel. It seems very odd to me that you were using very similar wording and approach as CEO activist, Olivier Hoedeman in his request for information recently published (http://www.asktheeu.org/en/request/dg_trade_contacts_with_industry). Wouldn’t you consider that to be more than a coincidence?
      I find it very hard to believe that you did not ask for contacts that NGOs and activist scientists have made with EU officials because you feel they are open. Isn’t it more that you have a misplaced trust in them? I have seen your work and you are not in the least bit critical about what environmental NGOs are doing – how they continue to interfere with policy processes that are costing people’s lives, whether it is obstructing field research on Golden Rice, distorting scientific results that exonerate industry solutions on crop protection and lobbying EU officials hard and relentlessly on everything from bees to EFSA appointments (by the way, in your research, I hope you gave equal attention to the civil society representatives on the EFSA boards and committees and did not just focus on one side of the stakeholder mix that the Commission aims to achieve).
      Ms Horel, if I were to present you with evidence that NGO activist researchers were not forthcoming with results from studies that showed that there was no evidence of risks of endocrine disruption, would you include that in your journalistic piece? Would you be objective and open-minded to acknowledge, that perhaps, in the exuberance and passion of the environmental activists’ spirit, that they may have cut corners with evidence.
      I hope you are aware that by associating yourself with an organisation like CEO, that you risk damaging your reputation as an objective journalist. They have burnt most of their bridges in Brussels and I have yet to find an EU official with a good word to say about them (I suppose that is the point). After seeing some of their unfair, biased and illegitimate campaigns, I have taken it on myself to watch the watch-dog. As you feel in general with industry, I feel with CEO – they are agenda driven and not to be trusted.
      If the styles and approaches of your actions and CEO’s are merely coincidental, then I am truly sorry to have tarnished your reputation by drawing you into their circle. If though, I see CEO working with you on this issue in future, then I will come after both of you in a less than forgiving manner.

  3. Well, with such a watcher the watchdog hasn’t much to fear! A few facts checking lessons perhaps? 😀

    1. Good one Hugh, go ahead, take your shots, but I believe this is more of a slippery fish. She was using the exact wording that CEO used on an earlier request for information and the same strategy (see CEO’s report on the industry lobbying on EU-US free trade). They coordinated their response and submitted it to me within an hour of each other. It is clear they are working close together on this project but what they are saying is that she is getting paid for one project but not another. If a lobbyist for a big company were to say that, would you be so convinced?
      The problem is that most of these groups work out of the same office buildings and share their staff and consultants in a rather incestuous manner, moving budgets around umbrella groups and feeding off of each others’ EU funding schemes. A slippery fish indeed, but I still think we need to cast the nets.

  4. I take good note that you are openly threatening me.
    I also notice that your post is still on line even though you are now aware your assumptions were completely false.
    For your information, and as you have probably never made an access-to-document request via asktheEU.org, this website provides a standardised wording and format in order to help people who wish to make a resquest.
    None of my previous films dealt with environmental NGOs.
    I leave the remaining unanswered questions to the abyss of your fantastic imagination.
    Farewell!

    1. Dear Stéphane, I had already replied to you about your comment and still you persist (see my original message below). I am not going to remove this blog since the main part (and the first seven paragraphs) is about how CEO is buying journalists. By your own acknowledgements, you have been “bought and paid for” by CEO (courtesy of funds provided to them by Dutch investment bankers, Middle Eastern tractor salesmen, Catholic bishops and an odd collection of Quakers … very nice!). Now you seem to think I am wrong – but stop and think – you are paid by CEO to work for them on one report, and at the same time you are working on another report central to CEO’s campaigning. Should they promote it, should you include them in your reporting, filming or content, then you are not independent and this is very much a conflict of interest. What I don’t get is that you just don’t get it – this is wrong. You are working on a report or documentary on how industry is trying to lobby the European Commission. This is the meat and potatoes of CEO. To take money from them and collaborate under any circumstances and then say you are independent is a very fine hair that your are trying to split. That you are working on an issue and a theme core to CEO’s lobbying campaigns makes this whole situation smell rather dubious indeed.
      What I don’t get is that you just don’t get it (point 2) is that you feel in your impervious crusading against industry, that you are not to be held to the same standards. You recently published a report that attempted to name and shame science journal editors with ties to industry. Despite your arguments being anecdotal or circumlocutory, you went so far as to include demeaning photographs in your attempt to humiliate them. My blog highlights that you are working with CEO and being paid by them (which you acknowledge), and you run to the EurActiv editors crying foul about me with phone calls and emails saying that something must be done about the Risk-Monger’s behaviour. I did not even photoshop a picture of you!!! What makes you think that you have a right to be treated by standards differently from how you treat others??? You may think that you are on some noble crusade, but that does not make you any more special (and those editors whose characters you had attempted to assassinate would surely love to join this discussion). Don’t worry Stéphane, you are not the first person to have cried to EurActiv about me and I am now considering adding a disclaimer to save them the bother of replying. Trying to silence people whom you disagree with is not a very democratic approach.
      What I don’t get is that you just don’t get it (point 3) is that you think I was threatening you. After seeing how you do your work, trust me Stéphane, you do not play the victim very well. It is very clear, also in my email to you, that if I see CEO promoting your work on EDCs, if I see them involved in your reporting, interviews or production or anything of the like involving CEO’s networks, then I would have to accuse you and CEO of being liars. From my last blog, you might note that I would take such an accusation as a very serious charge. Now CEO may not be too bothered about this as their past work demonstrates how they consider the truth as a political convenience, but as a journalist, you should take such a thing very seriously.
      What I don’t get is that you just don’t get it (point 4) is that you take pains to express your journalistic credentials, but when I offer you information on EDCs to make your reporting more objective, when I offer to meet with you for a coffee (see email below), your response is simply: “Farewell”. I would have been very open to have met with you – I would have enjoyed a debate on your work which may have helped you in your reporting. You have to choose Stéphane between being a journalist that reports on news in the public interest, or in being a campaigner trying to express your interest (ie, a lobbyist). In confusing the two roles, you are being misleading (and this gets back to one reason why it is not right for CEO to be buying off journalists).
      These points in my reply should be the basis of a further blog since I am always curious as to how some people can be so impervious. I suspect I will return to some of these points at a later time.
      Here is my original email to you. Farewell indeed.

      Dear Stéphane,
      I am very sorry I was unable to publish your last comment to my blog. It contained some uncivil remarks and, like many, I have a policy on keeping personal remarks clean (this is not the first time – I had to break up two people that started name-calling each other on comments on my recent e-cigarette blog and stop the chain).
      A few points to clear up.
      The main topic of the blog is how CEO is employing journalists to write for them (that was the theme of the first seven paragraphs). I do not believe that is incorrect … unless you are denying that they have paid you or will pay you … and so I do not see the need to remove the blog. It is this contract journalism that I find unethical as journalists should not be financially induced by organisations with an open interest or bias. How would you feel if you had learnt that BASF paid journalists to write for them on the bees and CCD? While you may believe that CEO is a noble organisation and BASF is not, and I recognise that our narratives are quite different, I believe the same standards must apply.
      My inaccuracy of which project you are working on is based on the word of you and CEO – an organisation that has not exhibited a history of playing by the rules or respecting others they disagree with (I gave one other link as an example in where they did not play fairly – I can give you many examples of how they had committed grievous character assassinations). Given that CEO is actively using the exact same strategy as you are doing with EDCs (see just this last week on biofuels – http://corporateeurope.org/blog/heated-lobbying-over-parliament-agrofuel-vote and EU-US trade talks – http://corporateeurope.org/trade/2013/09/european-commission-preparing-eu-us-trade-talks-119-meetings-industry-lobbyists), and their past history of outsourcing their campaigns for a multiplier effect, while I am treating you as person of honour who will keep true to her word, I am rather suspicious about CEO. So if I see them working with you on your EDC documentary/report or pushing it, I will have to return to this issue feeling somehow that I should not have trusted you. Being paid for one project while simultaneously working together on another one is not an acceptable practice no matter how fine you split those hairs. I did not make an open threat to you, but rather, that the apology I made to you, which was sincere, was conditional on your word being held to be true (that everything is merely coincidental). If it turns out you are working on EDCs with them as well, … well, nobody likes to be lied to and I think it is fair that if someone has been publicly dishonest, that attention should be drawn to it. I don’t think an anticipated fair reaction is a threat.
      I suppose then that you are not interested in including evidence of wrongdoing by anti-chemicals campaigners and scientists in your work on EDCs. Pity … that would have helped you be a bit more objective. I’ll share them in blogs in any case.
      I know the money may be good, but do you really think it is a good idea for your career to align yourself with such an organisation?
      Always happy to have a coffee together to clear up the air next time you are in Brussels – we all may want to believe what we want to believe, but I feel there is more to my views (or anybody else’s) than the “the abyss of your paranoid imagination”
      Kind regards
      David

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