Environment in Crisis

Front Groups
Front Groups

Gaining Credibility
Hidden Origins
Corporate Funding


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Gaining Credibility for Corporate Views

When a corporation wants to oppose environmental regulations or support an environmentally damaging development it may do so openly and in its own name. But it is far more effective to have a group of citizen's or a group of experts—preferably a coalition of such groups—which can publicly promote the outcomes desired by the corporation whilst claiming to represent the public interest. When such groups do not already exist, the modern corporation can pay a public relations firm to create them.

The use of front groups enable corporations to take part in public debates and government hearings behind a cover of community concern. These front groups lobby governments to legislate in the corporate interest; to oppose environmental regulations and to introduce policies that enhance corporate profitability. Front groups also campaign to change public opinion so that the markets for corporate goods are not threatened and the efforts of environmental groups are defused. Merrill Rose, executive vice president of the public relations firm Porter/Novelli, advises companies:

Put your words in someone else's mouth... There will be times when the position you advocate, no matter how well framed and supported, will not be accepted by the public simply because you are who you are. Any institution with a vested commercial interest in the outcome of an issue has a natural credibility barrier to overcome with the public, and often, with the media.(Megalli & Friedman 1991, p. 35)

The use of front groups to represent industry interests in the name of concerned citizens is a relatively recent phenomenon. Previously businesses lobbied governments directly and put out press releases in their own name or that of their trade associations. However the rise of citizen and public interest groups, including environmental groups, has been accompanied by a growing scepticism amongst the public about statements made by businesses:

Thus, if Burger King were to report that a Whopper is nutritious, informed consumers would probably shrug in disbelief...And if the Nutrasweet Company were to insist that the artificial sweetener aspartame has no side effects, consumers might not be inclined to believe them, either.

But if the 'American Council on Science and Health' and its panel of 200 'expert' scientists reported that Whoppers were not so bad, consumers might actually listen... And if the 'Calorie Control Council' reported that aspartame is not really dangerous, weight-conscious consumers might continue dumping the artificial sweetener in their coffee every morning without concern.(Megalli and Friedman 1991, p. 3)

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Additional Material:

Anti-Environmental Organisations

Megalli, Mark and Andy Friedman, 1991, Masks of Deception: Corporate Front Groups in America, Essential Information.


© 2003 Sharon Beder