Mainstream media in Sri Lanka has been curiously silent over recent revelation in the British media on the government’s connections with the infamous British PR firm Bell Pottinger. On 6th December, The Independent ran a story on how Bell Pottinger had written the President’s speech to the UN after the end of the war in 2009. The article noted,
“Senior executives at Bell Pottinger told undercover reporters that they were
so influential that they had written a key speech given by the Sri Lankan
President to the United Nations.
During the address by President Mahinda Rajapaksa last year, which the
company said was used in preference to one prepared by the Sri Lankan
foreign ministry, the President suggested rules governing the
humanitarian conduct of war should be re-examined. He also described
his troops’ action against Tamil Tiger separatists as humanitarian.
President Rajapaksa also claimed in the speech that a Commission
established by the government to look into the last years of the civil war,
was giving ‘full expression to the principles of accountability’.”
A BBC report on the expose noted that “Bell Pottinger chairman David Wilson was secretly recorded as saying that Mr Rajapaksa had chosen the company’s version of the speech in preference to one drafted by his own foreign ministry”. The BBC report also flags that according to the Government’s own admission, Sri Lankan taxpayers have footed a bill of over 535 million rupees a year (US$ 4.7 million) to hire Bell Pottinger’s services to whitewash the country’s ignoble human rights record. Ironically, it is this same company that openly admits to undercover journalists from The Independent that the Government’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is fundamentally flawed.
As noted by the BBC, the President’s media chief, Bandula Jayasekera (whose own ‘dark arts’ were flagged in web media after the CHOGM meeting in Australia), would not comment on the Independent report, dismissing it as a “scurrilous article” by the British media intended to “create trouble”. Unsurprisingly, there is no official comment from government to date on the sting operation’s video, which the Independent’s article was based on. The comments on Sri Lanka appear after around the 2:39 mark.
Bell Pottinger’s modus operandi to doctor information on the web and even go to the extent of creating and maintaining third party blogs that looked independent have raised the ire of Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s Founder, and other more ethical PR firms. As Keith Trivitt, Associate Director, Public Relations Society of America avers,
“It’s not just that these tactics are unethical and potentially illegal. It is also that they are amateur, crude and very often do not work. Not only is it a disservice to a client for a firm to boast of its success with such outdated tactics, but it also takes the PR industry back several years in terms of our professionalism and value to businesses.”
Groundviews has over the years covered Sri Lanka’s dealings with Bell Pottinger and how, in one instance, the firm even sent out a Press Release on behalf of our Foreign Ministry from an employee’s email account. See below for these stories.
For details of The Independent’s sting operation on Bell Pottinger click here. For the transcript of David Wilson’s comments on Sri Lanka, click here.
Bell Pottinger and Sri Lanka: Millions spent for what?
As the news report above indicates, they do not come cheap. The sum of $483,000 noted in this report is for a sub-contract, and comes to around 55 million rupees today. Details of the original contract awarded by our government to Bell Pottinger remain undisclosed, and involve expenses probably much higher than this figure.
Can Sri Lanka spare this money? How was the process of selecting and awarding the tender to Bell Pottinger arrived at? Who was involved? Given that these are public expenses, have they been tabled in Parliament to date? If not, why not?
Read article in full here.
Bell Pottinger and official communiqués
of the Sri Lankan government
It is not so much the content that interests us, but the sender of the email – an employee of Bell Pottinger. We found it somewhat disturbing
that an official communique of the
Sri Lankan government was sent
out in this manner – without any official letterhead, mistakes in punctuation, a terrible layout, featuring an email signature of a person with no links to the government and from a non-official account.
This email – an official communique – sent in this manner, raises a number
of questions. Is this the level of service we are paying for? Who authorised the transmission of this email from a non-official email account? Who approved the content of the transmission? Do Sri Lankans now have to rely on private email accounts of Bell Pottinger staff for vital updates related to their government? Are we the only country in the world that relies on staff of PR firms to send out official communiques? Does this not open to the door for flagrant abuse and hoaxes, that risk being taken seriously and indeed, embarrassing
Read article in full here.