Wednesday, June 10, 2009

CNBC: The "C" Stands for Confused

So CNBC had a segment today on Congo conflict minerals--specifically, cobalt. And the piece makes a lot of the usual points: that the DRC is in the midst of a deadly war, that the minerals are fueling opposing sides of that war, that most of the actual mining is conducted under dangerous & technologically primitive conditions, and that although the minerals are used in batteries and cell phones, the electronics companies say have no way of determining where the minerals they use come from, so hey, don't look to them for solutions. They even locate Jason Stearns on a hillside somewhere--it looked like the backdrop was Kampala, but I'm not sure--saying that a boycott would hurt the hundreds of thousands of artisanal miners who depend on the minerals for their livelihood.

And I keep thinking: Cobalt? You mean coltan, right? Because cobalt is mined in Katanga, where there's no conflict. And no one is asking the electronics companies to stop purchasing Congolese cobalt. So I'm getting increasingly confused.

The segment concludes by saying that one American company is hoping to solve that problem, by investing billions in the Congo. And finally a light goes off.

CNBC has been running some stories lately collectively called Dollars and Danger: Africa, the Final Investing Frontier. But they know that the fact that a US company is building a mine in Africa isn't terribly exciting. Africa's always been good for resource exploitation. So to sex it up they smush it together with another story--Congo's conflict minerals. Now they've got something: a story about a US company helping to end conflict and keep kids out of the hell trap of artisanal mining. It even features an uplifting moral: investing in Africa isn't just a way to do well, it's a way to do good.

This may be true. It may be worth saying. But unlike Mark Twain, who famously declared that he never let the facts stand in the way of a good story, CNBC is in the news business. It shouldn't be concocting stories--even if the larger point is a worthy one.

1 comment:

  1. For more on conflict minerals visit the Enough Project website,