FT refuses to publish anti-Shell ad

An Amnesty International ad critical of Shell’s appalling record in the Niger Delta was pulled at the last minute by the Financial Times. It had been due to appear on Tuesday, the day of Shell’s annual general meeting.

Amnesty had the following to say on its website:

The advertisement focused on the appalling human rights record of Shell in Nigeria. It compared the company’s $9.8bn profits with the consequences of pollution caused by the oil giant for the people of the Niger Delta.

Numerous oil spills, which have not been adequately cleaned up, have left local communities with little option but to drink polluted water, eat contaminated fish, farm on spoiled land, and breathe in air that stinks of oil and gas.

Tim Hancock, Amnesty International UK’s campaigns director, said:

“The decision by the Financial Times is extremely disappointing. We gave them written reassurances that we would take full responsibility for the comments and opinions stated in the advertisement.

“Both The Metro and The Evening Standard had no problems with running the ad.”

Tim Hancock added:

“The money to pay for the advertisements came entirely from more than 2,000 individuals online, who we’d asked to fund an ad campaign targeting Shell’s AGM – and it really caught their imagination. And I am sure these supporters will share with us our sense of deep disappointment.”

Amnesty International also today launched a new hard-hitting online video focusing on Shell’s illegal practice of gas flaring (the burning of gas produced as part of oil extraction) in the same region. Gas flaring is only serving to add to environmental impact on the people of the Niger Delta.

As Roy Greenslade at the Guardian says, it’s difficult to fathom the FT‘s motives. A spokesman on behalf of the newspaper told the Press Gazette: “Editorially the FT was more than willing to run the advertisement for Amnesty. Unfortunately, whilst Amnesty gave us written assurances that they would take full responsibility for the comments and opinions stated in the advertisement, it became apparent that Amnesty’s lawyers had not had a proper opportunity to advise Amnesty on those opinions. As a result, from a legal perspective we were unable to rely on Amnesty’s assurances.”

But as Greenslade points out:

The blogger, Padraig Reidy, writes: “It’s extremely unlikely that Shell would sue. The company is quite keen on promoting its social credentials, and even a successful trip to court would more than likely involve an unpleasant trawl through the unfortunate effects of the oil industry.”

He then asks: “Was it a commercial decision? Again, who knows? Big oil companies tend not to be so thin-skinned that they would pull money from a prestige publication such as the FT merely because it had carried a critical advert.”

For a paper which claims to publish “without fear and without favour”, its refusal to print Amnesty’s ad is hugely disappointing.

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