[Ben Fogle was a British ‘reality TV star’ some years back – we send him this open letter on his recent trip to Sarawak]
Dear Ben Fogle,
We have been following your breathless reports in Hello Magazine, along with the various press releases and Twitter placements about your recent brave adventure into the jungles of Sarawak, “teaching orphaned orang utans lessons in survival”.
We understand that your own survival is clearly bound up in a working contract with the tourism PR company Hills Balfour, who evidently sponsored your trip. But where do you draw the line in this career you have made out of being Mr Adventure Man?
After all, the client behind Hills Balfour and their Sarawak account is none other than the State Government of Sarawak, run for the last 30 years by the kleptomaniac Taib Mahmud.
It is his policies that have orphaned the baby orang utans, which you were so bravely cuddling in the “middle of the Borneo Jungle”, photographed as you were by the lovely Sharon L Sagan (more of her later).
If you spent any time at all in Sarawak or read a single thing about it in the course of your travels there you will know a) there is virtually no virgin jungle suitable for orang utans left b) that this is because Taib and his cronies have cut it down and covered huge areas of the state in oil palm c) that the entire place is utterly corrupted and that nobody in authority gives a stuff about the environment or the indigenous people and d) as a result, going on holiday there is a damp squib and a very depressing experience.
So why all this nonsense about brave travels in the jungle and thrilling rain forests? You were clearly cosseted by the Sarawak Tourist Board from beginning to end and the only animals you are photographed with are caged in enclosures as part of what is described by your interviewee as an “eco-tourism product”
We come to the inevitable conclusion that you were paid so well, thanks to the bloated contract provided to Hills Balfour, that you decided to ‘play along’ and peddle this false image to Western readers of Hello and whoever else Hills Balfour have managed to present with free articles, films and photos, thanks to the doubtless generous terms with the Sarawak Chief Minister, who is desperate to disguise his appalling record.
You and Hills Balfour are certainly in this respect following a well-trodden path of PR people, who are unpeturbed by such matters as presenting the truth, should it disturb their clients.
Before you, only too recently were FBC Media, whom we exposed for producing illegal TV documentaries on the BBC and CNBC in order to present a similar false, positive image of Sarawak and to promote Taib’s claims that 85% of the virgin jungle remains.
FBC were taking $5 million a year from Taib for these services and for organising poisonous blogging against critics of his destruction of Sarawak, like this blog.
After we exposed the contract both the BBC and CNBC terminated their commissions from FBC Media and the company closed. So, we just wonder how much is Hills Balfour being paid by Taib for bringing you and your reputation onto the scene as the new cover-boy for Sarawak’s latest rainforest campaign?
Are you sure it is worth the knock to your clean and open image, as people start to realise how you must have turned a deliberate blind eye to the dreadful destruction of the world’s oldest jungle and taken the money from one of the world’s most greedy and rapacious dictators in order to dupe tourists into thinking there is still a real rainforest left in Sarawak?
Even Psy, who took money from BN to perform at their election concert last month, was careful to refuse to endorse the actual government, which has received so much rightful criticism over corruption, human rights violations and wanton destruction of the environment.
But, it seems that you are not prepared to speak out a single word against your contract to PROMOTE Sarawak as a rainforest destination.
Did you not hear about the native blockades against logging and the damming of Sarawak’s rivers while you were in Sarawak?
Did you not see the poverty or hear how the Penan, like the wild animals of the jungle, have been starved to virtual extinction by logging and oil palm?
Why is this not mentioned in Hello or any of the films you have produced? Why are you not warning potential visitors that in reality of Sarawak has little left of the jungle, which was wiped out over a decade ago?
We understand that you were being filmed by the ‘BBC’. After their embarrassment over FBC Media (from whom they were buying such PR-funded documentaries about Sarawak and Malaysia for just £1pound) we would have thought the corporation would have stayed away from Taib for a year or so at least!
But, yet again it seems that while investigative journalists on one side of the BBC have been busy examining Taib and his connection to the world’s logging mafias, the commercial travel arm of the corporation is still prone to accepting freebies from him!
Don’t tell us Ben that you did not pick up on the fact that Sarawak is a hotbed of corruption, spearheaded by Taib and his ministers?
We could not put it more clearly than to say that no one gets anything in Sarawak unless they are one of Taib’s hangers on.
And the whole system feeds off the destruction of the jungle that you were peddling as being somehow protected by this vile regime, represented by the Tourism Board and Forestry Department, who managed your entire trip.
Let’s take your photographer for example, supplied as part of the contract negotiated by the Sarawak State Government with Hills Balfour.
Sharon Leraine Sagan was clearly thrilled to see her photographs published in Hello. With little much else in her portfolio besides her earlier work for the Malaysian Government it was clearly a massive boost to her credibility as a professional photographer.
“The article is out. Which means… my photos are published!…One of the best feelings came zapping through my mind & body as the page finished loading… I sat there amused with the photos…MY photos in the article in front of me…“[Sharon L Sagan gushes in her blog about being chosen to photograph Ben for Hello Magazine]
But who is she?
Does it really come as any surprise that Sharon is the daughter of Jacob Sagan, the Deputy Trade and Industry Minister and a key crony of Taib Mahmud?
And can there be anything more ironic than the fact that we have so recently exposed Sharon and her Mum and Dad for being the beneficiaries of a scandalous timber concession involving millions of ringgit worth of rare belian hardwood handed to this political ally of the Chief Minister?
Sharon is even a shareholder in one of the two companies that were granted massive and destructive belian licences in the MP’s own Baram constituency, which contributed to the destruction of this once unique and precious jungle but did nothing to benefit the people of his area.
And we have further exposed how Sharon’s Mum Winnie poses as the Director of numerous wealthy companies that have benefitted from millions of ringgit worth of contracts from the state.
Ben, you should know that the Sagan family are nothing exceptional in Sarawak. This sort of corruption is just run of the mill under Taib’s regime. This is why there is no jungle left and the people are left without their rainforest heritage. But, why are you promoting this regime for money and boosting Taib’s eco-credentials?
We all have to earn a living, but surely you have to draw the line somewhere?
How do you square this with your ‘green’ image Ben? After all, you ‘authored’ a long article for the UK’s Telegraph newspaper about this trip as well. It was full of gushing descriptions of the marvellous national parks you visited in Sarawak, supposedly teaming with wildlife. Yet not once did you mention the reality, which is that Sarawak is destroyed and that you scarcely left the cosy company of your 4-wheeled jeep and government PR team.
“Reaching these remarkable natural sights [rafflesia flower] in remote spots was part of the adventure. Bako National Park is only accessible by boat; then we trekked through dense rainforest in almost 100 per cent humidity. Sweat streamed down my face, my shirt was drenched and leeches were poised to hitchhike on stray legs, especially those with the sweet pale skin and blood of an Englishman. I hate leeches, but the search for the rafflesia is worth the tough conditions” [Ben Fogle walked an hour in the jungle]
Hills Balfour is now helpfully tweeting that you are going to be gracing the National Geographic Society in London with a lecture about your jungle adventures and encounters with rare scenes. Clearly they see this as more publicity and good PR and more boxes ticked, as they take their money from Taib.
We would be wary in your shoes Ben. People who know about Sarawak and who care about the environment are getting a little tired of this trite opportunism and word is getting around.
Taking your PR pitch to the scientific community at the Royal Geographic Society is a big step beyond silly articles in Hello and the sponsored travel press and its getting annoying.
You might find that your audience there is rather more informed than you seem to be about Sarawak and they might have some questions to ask about the real purpose of your trip and its value to the betterment of human knowledge.
Since Twitter/Facebook works both ways, there might even be some banners outside – what very poor PR that might turn out to be!
Meanwhile, your silly film clips will make a poor contrast to the raft of exposes to be presented shortly by genuine journalists, who’ve investigated the truth about the timber corruption and land grabs sponsored by your paymaster Taib Mahmud.
What will the BBC film crew do about that and how are you ever going to rescue your image Ben from this PR campaign that is about to backfire?