This Valentine's, Diamonds Have It Rough
Cubic zirconia instead of diamonds?
To hear the media tell it, that’s what the amorous should be giving their sweethearts this Valentine’s Day – thanks to a media obsession with “human suffering” highlighted in the Oscar-nominated movie “Blood Diamond.”
"If it sings to you, buy it. That's the simplified advice that diamond merchants like to give to Valentine's Day shoppers,” opened a February 12 Newsweek article. “But it's so much more complicated than that. Especially now, with online discounters, synthetic gemstones and worries about 'blood' diamonds clouding the market.”
The diamond has come to symbolize love, but in the wake of the film, the news media have been holding it up as a symbol of corruption and carnage.
“It came from the heart of the earth … A stone so rare men will do anything to possess it. And all who touch it are left with blood on their hands,” the “Blood Diamond” trailer said.
It didn’t take long for media accounts to echo the movie trailer.
“[T]hat gift under the tree this holiday may have blood on it. We'll go to Africa where wars are fought over and funded by conflict diamonds,” said CNN anchor John Roberts during “This Week at War” on Dec. 17, 2006.
“[D]iamonds kept the guns and the blood flowing,” stated ABC reporter David Wright during Dec. 13, 2006 “Nightline”
CBS’s Katie Couric asked “How can the very symbol of happily ever after be painted by so much human suffering?” before quipping, “All that glitters is not good.”
Released on Dec. 8, 2006, “Blood Diamond” stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly. It is set in war-torn Sierra Leone in the 1990s and promotes the idea that diamonds were responsible for the conflict. DiCaprio and Hounsou are both up for Academy Awards for their roles in the film.
From its release, the news media treated the fictional anti-diamond-industry movie as fact, ignoring the agenda set by the film’s director Ed Zwick and regularly consulting activists as experts.
A warlord's best friend?
As far as the media were concerned, diamonds were the root of all African conflict, and the way reporters and anchors spoke reflected it.
“You know in America it's bling bling, but out here it's bling bang,” said DiCaprio’s character in “Blood Diamond.”
NBC’s John Seigenthaler introduced a “Nightly News” story by referring to the “violence it [diamonds] has brought to parts of Africa” on Dec. 9, 2006.
ABC’s David Wright said until there is a perfect process that prevents all conflict diamonds from making it to the market, “the luster of these precious stones will be tainted.” That was on “Nightline” Dec. 13, 2006.
According to DiamondFacts.org, a site run by the World Diamond Council, the Kimberley Process Certification System guards against such diamonds entering the market. The system was adopted in 2003 and has become law in 71 countries. The site also states that 99 percent of all diamonds currently come from conflict-free sources.
During the same program Wright said, “Diamonds fueled decades of civil war in Africa, providing warlords with a ready source of currency. In Sierra Leone, Congo, Angola and the Ivory Coast, diamonds kept the guns and the blood flowing.”
Reporter Bill Weir even went so far as to say the movie had prompted American diamond buyers to think twice. “A lot of people have a conscience when they go out – brought to the fore by this movie ‘Blood Diamond,’” he said on the Dec. 16, 2006, “Good Morning America.”
But rough diamond expert Jack Jolis called the whole concept of “Blood Diamond” a non-issue in a National Review article on Nov. 20, 2006. “If there were not a single diamond produced on the African continent, there would not be one fewer war there, nor one fewer human victim thereof.”
“Diamonds were no more used to finance armed conflicts than any other source of funds,” Jolis wrote. “Moreover, the vast majority of Africa’s many civil conflicts occur and have occurred in countries and areas where diamonds are not found or produced.” Jolis added that many countries with diamonds have also been conflict-free.
“Diamonds don’t kill Africans. Jumped-up barbarian maniacs with imported ideological agendas kill Africans,” Jolis concluded.
Zwick, the director of “Blood Diamond,” has strong opinions about the African diamond industry, the strongest of which did not make the mainstream news reports.
In a panel discussion during the 4th Annual Rapaport International Diamond Conference, Zwick accused the entire diamond industry of being connected to the violence in Sierra Leone, according to National-Jeweler.com.
“The fact is that every single member of the diamond industry, consciously or not, benefited from the very stones that ruined Sierra Leone,” said Zwick. He also indicated that the industry should provide restitution to West Africa.
But his political agenda did not make the news. Instead, journalists presented Zwick as though he was simply trying to provide consumer information.
Zwick told NBC “Nightly News” on Dec. 9, 2006, that “to tell a story that suggests that our decisions when we put our credit card down have an implication someplace else is a very important story for Americans to think about.”
On CBS Zwick urged people to ask for “ironclad verification” regarding stones’ origin during the “Evening News” for Dec. 11, 2006.
Diamond experts were needed in the stories to balance the anti-industry hype, but reports continually featured an advocacy Non-Governmental Organization, or NGO, without proper identification and used those comments to undermine industry spokesmen.
But Global Witness is an advocacy organization that is dedicated to “breaking the links between national resources, conflict and corruption,” according to its Web site. It is the primary organization that has been fighting against blood diamonds and it is linked on the “Blood Diamond” movie Web site.
NBC reporter Natalie Morales said in her Dec. 9, 2006, report on the “Nightly News” that the diamond industry has lowered the amount of conflict diamonds to less than one percent before undermining that point with a quote from “human rights group” Global Witness.
“Even a small percentage, like we saw in Sierra Leone, can wreak enormous havoc,” Corinna Gilfillan of Global Witness said.
NBC identified the group with the nebulous term “human rights group,” and ABC called them a “watchdog group” on the Dec. 13, 2006, “Nightline.”
After the De Beers executive director said the Kimberley process had reduced the risk of conflict diamonds to a “miniscule percentage,” the ABC program immediately quoted Alex Yearsley of Global Witness for rebuttal. Yearsley said there were still quite a few loopholes in the process and said diamonds were being smuggled into Ghana.
Fortune did not identify the group in its Dec. 11, 2006, issue, nor did Newsweek on Feb. 12, 2007. Time did identify Global Witness as a "diamond watchdog group."
Diamond expert Jolis wrote that Global Witness is “a small collection of wide-eyed London-based Pollyannas.” But Jolis also said the entire war on conflict diamonds is bogus.
“[It] is waged by the gullible NGOs I mentioned earlier, egged on by an unholy alliance of cynical Western politicians and – for its own convoluted and paradoxical benefit – the De Beers diamond juggernaut itself,” Jolis wrote.
One director of De Beers Group, the company that controls 40 percent of the world's diamond trade, was interviewed by Newsweek on Dec. 18, 2006. When asked “how do you react to getting this kind of exposure,” Jonathan Oppenheimer said, “Cautiously.” He then said it's important to remember the movie is a work of fiction.
Jolis said a former senior De Beers sales executive confirmed to him that the company had a hand in the media hype, which Jolis indicated “serves to suppress non-De Beers diamond production, while cloaking De Beers with a most welcome choirboy image.”
Network news accounts focused mainly on controversy and conflict, overlooking the benefits provided by diamonds to nations like Botswana.
“The 1.6 million in his poor, AIDS-wracked nation next to South Africa get 35% of their economy from diamonds, mostly mined there by De Beers,” Forbes magazine wrote of Botswana on Dec. 25, 2006.
De Beers representative Rosalind Kainyah told NBC “Nightly News” on Dec. 9, 2006, that “The overwhelming majority of diamonds, Natalie, are used for benefit and are used for good. I mean, we talk about countries like Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and other countries where diamonds are used for education, for health, for infrastructure, really benefiting people.”
The De Beers Web site states that its diamonds are 100-percent certified as conflict-free. Another dealer, Ronny Mervis, told CBS that his company, Mervis Diamond Importers, is more than 99 percent confident that its diamonds are conflict-free.
The Diamond Facts Web site also states that diamond revenues provide five million people will health care around the globe and support 10 million people globally.
Diamond sellers worried around Christmastime that sales might decline, and the World Diamond Council spent $15 million on a PR campaign to counteract “Blood Diamond.” But Canada’s Edmonton Journal reported on February 6 that sales were strong, as did the South African Business Report.