Biased PBS 'Gold Futures' Documentary Partly Funded by Gold Investor Soros

Charges of bias leveled at PBS yesterday in this post here at Newsbusters about PBS's airing nationwide tonight of "Gold Futures," documentary regarding a proposed gold mine in Romania, are backed up today with new information revealed by John Fund in the Wall Street Journal.

"Gold Futures," by Hungarian filmmaker Tibor Kocsis, apparently is based on Kocsis' 2004-released documentary titled "New Eldorado," which had the subtitle "Gold. The Curse of Rosia Montana," and is clearly biased against the mining project.

Fund writes:

Tonight, PBS will air "Gold Futures," a film by Hungary's Tibor Kocsis. The film focuses on residents in Romania's Rosia Montana, a rural Transylvanian town, who are divided over the benefits of a proposed gold mine. It also features Gabriel Resources, the Canadian mining company trying to convince them to relocate so it can dig for a huge gold deposit estimated at 14.6 million ounces, worth almost $10 billion. PBS describes the film as a "David-and-Goliath story."

While the film gives time to supporters and opponents of the mine, it leaves unsaid that half of the villagers voicing opposition have now either sold their homes or will not have to move, because they live in a protected area where the village's historic structures and churches will be preserved. Viewers who see pristine shots of the Rosia valley won't realize the hills hide a huge, abandoned communist-era mine, leaking toxic heavy metals into local streams--or that while the modern mining project will level four hills to create an open pit, it will also clean up the old mess at no cost to the Romanian treasury.

The other side to the controversy is told in a new film that will never be shown on PBS, but is nonetheless rattling the environmental community. "Mine Your Own Business" is a documentary by Irish filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney. They conclude that the biggest threat to the people of Rosia Montana "comes from upper-class Western environmentalism that seeks to keep them poor and unable to clean up the horrific pollution caused by Ceausescu's mining."

Mr. McAleer, a former Financial Times journalist who has followed the mine battle for seven years, says he "found that everything the environmentalists were saying about the project was misleading, exaggerated or quite simply false." He produced his film on a shoestring $230,000 budget largely provided by Gabriel Resources, but says he was given complete editorial control.

The Gabriel funding caused environmental groups to label the film "propaganda" and demand the National Geographic Society cancel plans to rent its Washington, D.C., theater to the free-market Moving Picture Institute for a screening. The Institute notes opponents rarely challenge the film's facts. As for Mr. Kocsis's documentary, his Flora Film corporate Web site lists as its partners Greenpeace, the Hungarian Ministry of Environment and the George Soros-backed Energy Club of Hungary, all of which oppose the Romanian project on either environmental or nationalistic grounds (Transylvania used to be part of Hungary).

High-profile mine opponents such as [Vanessa] Redgrave (who hasn't visited Rosia Montana), have declared undying opposition to the project: "Our planet is dying and we have no right to destroy an ecosystem." In April, Mr. Soros, the chairman of the Open Society Institute and a large funder of groups opposing Rosia Montana, wrote to Wayne Murdy, then CEO of Newmont Mining, the Denver company that owns 19% of Gabriel Resources. He urged him not to invest in "a dubious project such as Rosia Montana," citing "the social costs involved in involuntarily resettling hundreds of people" and "the potential for disastrous environmental impact." Mr. Soros did not respond to an interview request.

Opponents of the mine claim that Rosia Montana residents agree with their stance. "Local opposition to the mine is strong and organized" says a statement signed by 80 environmental groups in January. In his letter, Mr. Soros cites a recent poll organized by some members of Romania's parliament that "found 90% of respondents rejecting the project." But the poll turns out to be an unscientific Internet survey, and one of the environmental groups Mr. Soros funds urged people outside Romania to participate in it.

The Fund/WSJ article raises some serious questions that the press ought to be asking Soros, specifically, why is he working so hard and spending so much money supporting groups intent on stopping the mine, a project that is desperately needed in a town where, as Fund explains, unemployment tops 70 percent and three-quarters of the village's 600 families lack indoor toilets.

Is Soros driven by latent Hungarian nationalism to oppose the Romanian project? After all, Rosia Montana is located in Transylvania, which used to be part of Hungary. Or perhaps simple greed is the answer. Soros has at various times been heavily invested in gold mining. A few weeks ago he invested heavily in Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., a mining company, and Soros also owns a large stake in Canadian gold mining company Goldcorp, a competitor to Gabriel Resources, according to Marketwatch.

Perhaps Soros believes, not unreasonably, that the opening of a new mine bringing an additional $10 billion worth of gold to the market would put downward pressure on gold prices, negatively affecting the price of his gold mining stocks

It's worth asking though, as WSJ noted, Soros did not respond to an interview request.

It's also worth asking PBS to air Mine Your Own Business, a documentary presenting the opposite point of view, as a way of providing its audience a truly balanced look at the issue.

Update: Rosia Montana resident Gheorge Lucian, on his blog Report from Rosia, writes,

I understand that the television station PBS in US, will present a manipulated story on Rosia tonight. I invite you to tell them to show the other side of the story too. Go here to tell them to show Mine Your Own Business.

You can do that at this link.

Wall Street Journal PBS Journalistic Issues