Underground? You could be on national TV!

Attention secret eco-warriors: the CBC wants to interview you for a program on the Earth Liberation Front.

Wed, 4 Oct 2006

Producers Tim Sawa and Theresa Burke of the fifth estate are keen to talk to a real, live ELF saboteur, and they’re prepared to go to great lengths to protect the identity of anyone willing to go on camera.

The fifth estate (spelled in lower-case letters) is a one-hour investigative news journal broadcast weekly on Canada’s public-funded television station. Last month, the show’s producers in Toronto dispatched Sawa and Burke to Vancouver on a mission to track down and talk to anyone connected to the Earth Liberation Front

They found me instead. I came home to a voice mail message: “Hello, Zoe? This is Tim Sawa of the CBC. I want to talk to you about eco-terrorism.”

He looks serious, but fifth estate producer Tim Sawa is a charmer. And very persistent.

What a surprise! I had to call back and ask how he got my number.

Apparently Sawa searched the web for “Earth Liberation Front” and found my article on GNN. There was no contact info there, so he went through my blog looking for clues. Long story short, Sawa hunted down a campaigner I know who gave up my home phone number.

Sawa said he needed my help for “deep background” on the ELF. I wouldn’t appear on camera, they wouldn’t quote me or use my name. What a relief, I said.

Since then I’ve been trading calls and emails with Sawa and Theresa Burke, the other newshound on the case. It’s been a bit of a tussle. I was hostile to the idea of talking with them. Sawa was persuasive, responding to my criticism of mainstream media and its treatment of the ELF and individuals associated with it. The fifth estate is better than that, he said. The segment was a whole hour and he was dedicated to getting “our side” of the story, not just the sensational secret underground terrorist cult angle.

But a quick web search of my own turns up a fifth estate segment that ran a few years ago. “Sensational” doesn’t begin to describe it. “Venomous,” maybe.

January 26, 1999
CBC News and Current Affairs

FRANCINE PELLETIER: Welcome to the fifth estate. We begin tonight with a shocking report about a love that goes beyond all reason. Most of us take it for granted that when it comes to living things, humans are tops and animals, love them though we might, are a distant second. But for some people animals hold a far higher place in the scheme of things and must be protected from any and all harm.

In Britain that urge to protect animals has taken a violent turn, with attacks on property, arson, bombs, and even death lists. Tonight we go inside the British animal liberation movement, with an animals rights campaigner who became horrified by the extreme nature of what his allies were doing. Wearing a hidden camera, he penetrated the secretive upper ranks of the movement. What he found was a shocking disregard for property and human life, a disregard taken for granted all in the name of love.

(Full transcript here. Warning: It’s an appalling example of fascist journalism. The hidden camera footage was turned over to police to prosecute those implicated by the reporters’ sting.)

Sawa was apologetic but unapologetic. “Yes … I’ve read about that. That was a programme that the fifth [estate] bought from the BBC and ran. It wasn’t produced by us. But we did run it. What can I say other than I didn’t produce it.” He insists the segment they’re working on now will be much, much better.

There was no way I could give Sawa and Burke what they wanted – details about the secret lives of individuals indicted for ELF actions and info about two fugitives on the run from the FBI: Rebecca Rubin and Joseph Dibee. Rubin lived in the Vancouver area and the two are rumoured to be hiding in Canada.

Instead, I pointed the two reporters to resources like Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkey-wrenching and the Animal Liberation Front Press Office, and gave them a lecture on security culture. I told them no one involved with an illegal action should ever talk to anyone about that action, outside of the members of their affinity group or “cell.” I mentioned that phoning up strangers and asking them where the fugitives are sets off alarm bells.

Sawa didn’t give up, though. More phone calls. “You know, if you change your mind about going on camera, we could disguise your identity. We could change your voice, too. There’s no way anyone would know it was you.”

But what they really want is to interview an actual eco-saboteur. “Maybe you could use your contacts to put the word out to people that we’d like to interview someone who’s in the ELF,” Sawa suggested. “We can set it up so it’s completely anonymous. We wouldn’t even know who they are.” The CBC’s legal team would fight like wolverines to protect their sources, he said, and in any case the police can’t subpeona info the reporters don’t have, like the identiities of anonymous individuals.

From Burke: “There’s a number of possibilities. It’s a question of what they (ELF saboteurs) would feel comfortable with. There’s masks, there’s having someone read their words so they don’t have their face on tape, or the possibility of doing it through some form of written communication. Maybe even a web cam or something like that?” A one-time anonymous webmail account would work, she said.

Sawa and Burke are in a bind – the Earth Liberation Front Press Office has closed down, and the anonymous press officers I interviewed by email long ago are silent. The pressure is on from their bosses to find and interview genuine ELF warriors (and their supporters) on camera.

This is your opportunity to tell your side of the story, they tell me. We’re as appalled as you at the Green Scare.

I’ve declined their offer, since I’m not prepared to go on national television as a spokesperson for “eco-terrorism.” And much as I’d like to believe their assertions that the program will be sympathetic, what television producer can resist the lurid aspects of the case: arson, conspiracy, betrayal, and so on?

Or maybe I’m just chickenshit. Anyone out there with balls – or tits – of steel? If so – if you’re not afraid – step up to the mike. Put on a mask, set up a web-cam, record an interview, zip it and send it via an anonymous remailer to Theresa Burke: theresa.frances (at) gmail.com.

Be careful out there!

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