A few months ago FFR were contacted by the Advertising Standards Authority regarding a complaint they had received about an ad we placed in the Malton Gazette and Herald. We were a little concerned by this, even to the point where we took some legal advice – until someone brought it to our attention that the complaint was made by ubiquitous industry cheerleader Mr Ken Wilkinson, who lives in Bristol and spends his entire time attacking anti-fracking groups all over the country through each and every medium that will allow him to do so. Anyone who has ever read an online newspaper article about fracking will no doubt have seen his remarks in the comments section under the guise of KWPara, KenW, and other aliases – and apparently (we have since found out) he also makes lots of complaints to the ASA about any anti-fracking ad he comes across.
We realise, of course, that the main aim of Mr Wilkinson and others is to ‘play interference’ for the oil and gas industry and rile up anti-fracking campaigners so that we start attacking them instead of doing something more useful. Some people call the Wilkinsons of this world ‘time vampires’, intent on draining the energy from the anti-fracking movement that would be better spent, well, fighting fracking. However, once we found out that the complaint was from Mr Wilkinson we decided not to fall into this trap. As FFR have no plans to place any more paid-for ads in the press the forseeable future, all we had to do was to tell the ASA that we wouldn’t repeat the ad – which we had no plans to do anyway – and that was the end of it. However, the story doesn’t end there.
In theory, you are not supposed to know who has made a complaint about an ad, and the ASA keep the personal details of all complainants confidential, for good reason. What was ironic about this complaint is that Mr Wilkinson stated in the letter he sent to the ASA, “When communicating with Frack Free Ryedale, could you please keep my name anonymous, describing me simply as ‘a concerned member of the public’ or similar.” However, Mr Wilkinson’s hubris was his downfall, as he couldn’t resist posting a PDF of his complaint on various pro-fracking blogs and Facebook pages to show his fellow pro-frackers how big and clever he’d been. Had he not done so, we would probably have had to spend quite a bit of time writing our defence of the ad and he would have achieved his objective. Fortunately, Mr Wilkinson’s desire for public attention saved us a lot of wasted time and effort.
The ad in question quoted the draft DEFRA report Shale Gas Rural Economy Impacts Paper, as shown at the top of the page, which as you probably know was supressed by the government, then released with 63 redactions, including whole sections on things like house prices, environmental impact and the effect of fracking on traditional rural businesses like tourism. After its release the government came under intense pressure from campaigners and MPs (including Thirsk and Malton’s then-MP Anne McIntosh) to publish the report, which was finally released unredacted on orders from the Information Commissoner, who refuted the claims that it was merely an ‘internal early draft’ and insisted that it should be released in full “in the public interest”.
As you may know, this document contained a lot of information that was very damaging to the government’s position and the shale gas industry in general, so in a final desperate attempt to cover themselves, DECC preceded the report with a couple of paragraphs trashing the report’s contents and saying all the findings were rubbish and it was written by a five-year-old. Or something like that. None of the press – not even right-wing papers like The Telegraph or The Daily Mail – bought this version of the story, and nor did anyone else – apart from people like Ken Wilkinson, who seem to have such blind and unshakeable faith in the government and the oil and gas industry that they believe every single thing they say, however strong the evidence to the contrary.
In short, it was clear to any critical observer what had happened. Someone wrote a report. The government didn’t like its conclusions. They tried to bury it. Then they tried to censor it. They got found out. They were forced to publish. Then they tried to discredit it. This is not the first time this has happened in UK politics, and it’s unlikely to be the last.
Frack Free Ryedale stand by our decision to use a quote from this Government report in our ad, and will continue to quote from this document, which many see as possibly the only report the government has published that actually begins to address the negative impacts of fracking on the environment, house prices, rural business and health that all the other government reports studiously avoid.
We also stand by the other things in our ad that Mr Wilkinson complained about, namely that fracking would be a threat to the local economy of Ryedale, which depends heavily on tourism and agriculture, and that if the application for KM8 is passed, it may lead to hundreds more fracking wells and the industrialisation of the countryside. Both of these points are taken directly from the redacted report, and are self-evident to anyone who knows anything at all about fracking. Is fracking going to encourage more tourists to come to Ryedale? We doubt it. And as fracking wells are only commercially viable for 1-3 years, the industry by its own admission is going to need thousands of wells to produce any meaningful quantities of gas, which – along with all the gas processing plants, compressor stations, new pipelines, roads, storage facilities, etc. – is certainly going to industrialise the countryside. How could it not?
To see the complete ad, please click on the link below and make up your own mind.
Frack Free Ryedale ad – Gazette and Herald 23.09.15