Shocking Falsehood Used in BBC Report on Palm Oil

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) continues to portray palm oil as an undesirable commodity which destroys rainforests, threatens orangutans with extinction, and condemns indigenous peoples to poverty.

The Corporation’s position against palm oil can obviously be seen in a series of videos on its YouTube channel where sensationalized titles like “BBC Earth-Red Ape: The Palm Oil Problem,” and “Indigenous People Left with little after palm oil farms” or “How do we go palm oil free?” paint a negative image of palm oil.

These reports can only be perceived as anti-palm oil. Reports like “What is Palm Oil” leads viewers to think it is an educational report but its content of orangutans in distress and forest fires paints the worst picture of palm oil as possible.

While most of the reports have approached the issues broadly, the BBC may have gone too far in its latest feature on palm oil. Its production of a video on the Indonesian palm oil company Korindo has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. Written reports that accompanied the video have been published in both Bahasa Indonesia and English.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) responded to the controversial video by saying the clips contributed by Greenpeace were from 2013. The BBC must have realized that they were trying to make a new story out of old news when they engaged a satellite mapping expert to assure viewers today that Korindo burnt forests to make way for palm oil plantations.

The absurdity of the new claims was quickly pointed out by some viewers who opined that the footage of “burning forests” actually showed land clearing wastes giving out smoke. The absence of smoke or fires in undeveloped areas clearly showed that this was not a case of the popular claim by anti-palm oil campaigns that “forests are burnt to make way for palm oil plantations.”

Further attempts to make their case of “intentional fires to burn forests” used a scale which started at 2012 and ended in 2016. Incidents from 2016 can hardly count as news when there has been no evidence of fires being used to clear forests by Korindo.

Korindo in defense of the allegations by the BBC issued a press release which raised some troubling questions about the credibility of the BBC report.

Petrus persuaded ten local clans to release their customary forests

Most damning to the credibility of the BBC report was the use of an indigenous Papuan Petrus Kinggo who spoke at length about his regrets in helping the company gain the trust of local clans. Korindo confirmed in its press release that compensations were paid to the clans for the use of their land but it must come as a shock to the BBC that his poignant statements of having sold out the clans and the future of his children is false!

In its press release, Korindo provided a map showing that the lands claimed by Petrus Kinggo were in fact not developed or burnt as the BBC report would suggest.

Petrus pointed to the areas that he claimed as his customary forest (left), a map showing the same area of PT Korindo which remains forest (right)

Irresponsible news reporting by a broadcaster of the caliber of the BBC is not excusable. The report which has been carried by both local and international media has surely caused reputational harm to Korindo. This is a matter of great concern to the CPOPC that a publicly owned broadcaster would reach so far down to create a sensationalized report against palm oil.
While the report did mention briefly that it was bringing prospects of work to indigenous Papuans, the heavy emphasis on the alleged negative impacts of palm oil in Papua is not excusable.

Korindo listed its corporate social contributions to the local communities which for the most part, have welcomed the arrival of the company. It is investments like these that is needed to bring development to impoverished rural areas in Indonesia. In this context, it is more than reasonable that many have called for the government to take necessary measures and tough actions against this fabrication of lies and manipulations.

The Papuan provinces of Indonesia are forest rich but still mired in poverty like many other parts of Indonesia. Papua province in particular, has committed to a green development that will see enormous swathes of its forests preserved for the preservation of indigenous livelihoods as Papuans also strive for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 2030, including through oil palm industry.