2ND LEAD (Adds details)
UK lobbyists wrote Rajapakse's UN Civil war speech - paper
[TamilNet, Tuesday, 06 December 2011, 01:05 GMT]
During a special undercover investigation by UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, executives from Public Relations firm, Bell Pottinger, were caught on camera boasting of employing 'dark arts' to burnish reputations of countries accused of human rights violations, and were accused of "reputation laundering" using contacts in high levels of the British Government. The Independent newspaper reporting on the investigation also revealed that Bell Pottinger wrote the UN's speech for Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse, and quoted a senior executive saying that "[the speech] went a long way taking the country [accused of rights violations] where it needed to go."
David Wilson, chairman of Bell Pottinger's Public Relations, when asked what they have done to Sri Lanka, told the undercover reporters:
David Wilson of Bell Pottinger
"We had a team working in the President's office, we wrote the President's speech to the UN last year, which was very well received. We were writing a speech at the same time as [President Rajapaksa] was asking his foreign office to write a speech as well, and he chose to use our speech despite several attempts by the foreign office to change the tune. And it went a long way to taking the country where it needed to go. Fundamentally, though, they've set up something called the Peace and Reconciliation Commission, which has got one fundamental flaw in its remit in investigating what has gone on in the past, to try to bury the past, and unfortunately because that is the case, media like Channel 4 and The Times find the whole Peace and Reconciliation Commission is flawed. And it's not flawed but it doesn't go that extra step that it needs to go to fully embrace Western opinion or Western concern about the entire situation."
Bill Pottinger executives also attend Tamil function to collect information to support Pottinger's campaign in assisting Colombo to whitewash its war-crimes image, according to a British Tamil Forum (BTF) representative. The BTF claims Bell Pottinger representatives also attended a Tamil Remembrance event at London’s Excel Centre on November 27, 2010. The firm has not confirmed this, according to the report.
The firm sub-contracted its work in the US to the firm Qorvis, which placed an op-ed by President Rajapaksa in the Philadelphia Inquirer in December 2009 entitled ‘How Sri Lnka Defeated Terrorism’. In the piece the president suggested Sri Lanka had provided a ‘workable model’ for defeating terrorism, from which the international community could gain ‘valuable insight’, the paper said.
A few months later in February 2010, the Wall Street Journal published a piece that discussed the ‘peaceful’ election which returned Rajapaksa to power, and prompted several letters complaining of government violence against its critics, the report added.
On the firm being able to manipulate internet search engines to bury unfavorable facts on the clients appearing at the top of search lists, Mr Collins, a senior executive, said, "[w]e've got all sorts of dark arts," adding "I told him [David Wilson] he couldn't put them in the written presentation because it's embarrassing if it gets out."
Firm also provides assistance to "create and maintain third-party blogs" – blogs that appeared to be independent. These would contain positive content and popular key words that would rank highly in Google searches, the paper quoted executives as saying.
Wilson and Collins also explained how the firm enables government videos and articles to move to the top of internet searches, while less favourable stories can move down the rankings.
Reporters from the Bureau posed as agents for the government of Uzbekistan – a brutal dictatorship responsible for killings, human rights violations and child labour – and representatives of its cotton industry in a bid to discover what promises British lobbying and public relations firms were prepared to make when pitching to clients, what techniques they use, and how much of their work is open to public scrutiny, the paper said.