Rio Tinto has increased its efforts to buy hearts and minds on Bougainville with the launch of a new website called Bougainville 24. The site appears to be a direct response from Rio to a number of serious setbacks to its plans to reopen the huge Panguna mine: a mine which caused a bloody civil war on the island.
The new website, funded by Bougainville Copper Limited (majority owned by Rio Tinto) is being managed by Australian public relations company Keith Jackson and Associates. Rio Tinto is obviously figuring that its money can buy into the goodwill Jackson has built up over a number of years and exploit his connections and cultural capital to improve its own image.
The blog is also trying to piggyback on the legitimacy and prestige of its contributors by paying writers for articles (which rather reminds us of Rio Tinto’s efforts to obscure their woeful human rights record by appointing Dame Carol Kidu to the Board of BCL).
This latest move from Rio Tinto comes after it has suffered a number of serious setbacks in its plans to reopen Panguna:
First, Bougainville President, and Rio Tinto supporter, John Momis was forced to backtrack on a new Mining law that would have put him in charge of deciding which mining companies operate on the island.
Then, influential leaders Jimmy Miringtoro and Lawrence Daveona signed a deal with Chinese company Beijing Aerospace Great Wall Mineral Investment for the company to assist in rehabilitating the Panguna mine site.
And now, ex-combatants have bared Bougainville Mining Department officials from reaching communities around the Panguna mine to discuss plans to bring Rio Tinto back into the Province to reopen the mine.
For Rio Tinto the costs of the new website must seem like a drop in the ocean compared to the costs of taking any of the courageous steps needed to actually earn a better image.
PNG Mine Watch