Written by Ong Hock Chuan, Maverick Indonesia’s Partner
Those who have an interest in media handling skills would find this interview — between the BBC’s Rebecca Henschke and Terry Filbert, the CEO of Baru Gold Corp that runs Tambang Mas Sangihe — a masterclass on what and how not to say things.
The company has been attracting a lot of attention lately following the sudden death of Sangihe Deputy Bupati Helmund Hontong, after the BBC reported that he openly wrote to the national government opposing the setting up of the mine.
Two days after that report, he collapsed and died on a Lion Air flight between Denpasar and Makassar.
The timing of his death, just a couple of days after the BBC report and the fact that there’s a history of a Canadian gold company, Bre-X, bumping people off in Indonesia (the case was so notorious that it spawned a Hollywood movie “Gold”, starring Matthew McConaughey) did not help.
To their credit, Baru Gold was open enough to try to tell their side of the story when contacted by the BBC. They fielded their CEO Terry Filbert for the role, a mistake of catastrophic proportions and one that is, unfortunately, all too common in the mining sector.
Yesterday Terry appeared in an interview with BBC journalist Rebecca Henschke, its former bureau chief in Jakarta. From the get-go, he proceeded to give a virtuoso performance that gives the impression that he’s somewhat competent but totally unlikeable. In media training, we classify someone with very low likeability (from how they say things) and competence (from what they say) as an Incompetent Jerk.
When asked what he thought of Helmund’s letter opposing the mine. He said, with bravado, that he found it “amusing”. This of a letter sent by a man who shortly after he sent it, was suddenly found dead on an airplane. The BBC interviewer, incredulous, did a double take: “Amusing?”
Terry then dissembled and blamed the recently deceased man for supporting illegal miners. Challenged by Rebecca, he started saying that there was something mentioned at the end of the letter about Helmund wanting an open area for mining. That meant, according to Terry, he supported illegal miners and then dissembled further into an incoherent answer.
When Rebecca asked if he agreed that Helmund’s death seems to suggest that there was a pattern of violence against those opposed to mining interests, Terry dismissed it as “a nice sound bite” adding why would he care about what a mere deputy bupati said. He belittled him as powerless to the extent that he can’t even write a parking ticket, his position was just a stand in case anything happened to the bupati and what he said did not matter.
These are things that you don’t say about a recently deceased person. It is disrespectful and it suggests that you are a man – and by extension your company – is devoid of empathy and sympathy. Heartless.
When asked about the criticisms against the planned mine, Terry again dismissed them, saying “the mine’s fine” and the critics were only grandstanding, then he went off to slag off Chinese companies, local companies for not adhering to the high standards his mine does.
Towards the end of the interview, he was asked by Rebecca if he would walk away from this deal because of all the criticisms, and what has transpired. Here, he again exhibited bravado and then went to point fingers at media paid by politicians to drum up this issue. All because they want to get rid of him and his mine and take the money themselves.
To take stock of Terry’s performance, he excelled in finger pointing. Within the 12-minute interview, he managed to throw dirt on the recently deceased deputy bupati, Chinese miners, local miners, politicians and the media. Great if you’re into building a coalition of potential enemies, not so great if you’re a foreign company that must win the hearts and minds of locals and the government if you want to run a viable mine in their backyard.
He showed the world that he was devoid of an iota of empathy. When talking about the late Helmund there was no note of care or sympathy, and he had no good words or even expressed an attempt to understand what his critics were saying.
It is all a shame, Because the substance of some of his answers were pretty good. Asked if his mining operations would harm the habitat of an endangered species of birds endemic to the area, he said that the birds existed only above a certain height above sea level. These areas would not be affected by the mining operations as it is unviable to mine at those heights. Acceptable answer if true but how he said it makes you feel that you want to ram a microphone down his throat.
The question that should be asked is why did the company field such an egregious spokesperson to represent them over such serious developments in Sangihe?
Surely they had PR advisors, whether external or in-house, who could see what a disaster he would be and counsel against Terry doing that interview?
In my experience, they probably tried but were silenced or brushed aside. The mining sector is full of characters like Terry who dominate everything because they are the company. They will brook no criticism and want to listen only to flattering words because he is into gold, gold is money and power, and they work for that power.
This is something that the shareholders of Baru Gold should hold an inquiry into. For other mining companies, this might be a time to ask yourselves where you have cowboy types like Terry helming the company and what you need to do about it.