WA advocates of genetically modified (GM) foods have been advised to mimic the activists fighting to stop their introduction in Australian agriculture.
The lesson came from president of Canadian public relations firm ePublic Relations, Ross Irvine, who held a Perth seminar on countering activists such as the green groups who oppose biotechnology and GM crops.
Mr Irvine released a paper from the Public Media Center at the seminar, which states that dealing with activists is difficult because they operate differently to other structures in society.
ìThe difficulty with many activists is that they have unrealistsic goals, indulge in false prophecy and are prepared to make their ends justify their means,î the paper says. ìThey have no hesitation in exaggerating and telling lies to the public through the mass media.î
It claims activists employ sweeping generalisations, selective use of information and outright errors of fact.
ìIn the long run this is probably self-defeating, but in the short run it gives them massive media coverage.î
The paper says activists make good use of the internet and form networks with many speakers, which is different to the traditional method of public relations of a minimum number of speakers under a tightly-controlled communication regime.
The networks have many nodes or fronts on which they attack an issue, it says.
For biotechnology or GM, these include the environment, economics, health, politics and democracy.
ìThe best response by industries targeted by the activist networks is to fight fire with fire.
ìStructured organisations are not sufficiently flexible to fight networks of activists on their own grounds ñ it takes networks to fight networks.î
The paper says activistsí motives need to be publicly attacked and target audiences need to be educated, empowered and motivated about the issues.
Transparency and accountability in activist organisations should be pursued, just as activists pursue these qualities in their targets.
It concludes by advising those tackling activists to become responsible extremists.
ìResponsible extremism sets the agenda; to move the media you must communicate as responsible extremists, not as reasonable moderates.î
Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) grains and economics policy director, Emma Field, said Mr Irvineís advice on pro-GM networks fighting on varied fronts was valuable.
ìWe need to point out the scientific basis for GM, the ethical reasons, the fact that it can help fight third world hunger through things like golden rice, the child health issues as well as the economic benefits,î Ms Field said.
She said Mr Irvine said governments now formed policy based on consensus, or what would offend the least amount of people.
This was not always good policy and they needed to take a stronger position more often.
PGA had believed that if it put in fair and well-prepared submissions on government policy they would be considered over the views of louder campaigners, but this was no longer the case.
She would not commit the organisation to taking up a more radical position however.
Julie Newman, spokesperson for the anti-GM Network of Concerned Farmers, said activists were just ordinary people who spoke up if one side of an argument wasnít being presented.
She said Mr Irvine advocated open dialogue between the two sides of the GM debate in a book he had written.
ìWe would welcome open dialogue provided itís truthful because weíve got our facts and we can prove their facts wrong,î she said. ìIf itís a war they want then thatís whatís happening already, each group has just been lobbing bombs into each otherís camp.î