Western Firms Profit by Promoting Government’s Image as Abuses Continue
Bahrain Watch expresses its serious concern about a new $20 million contract between the Economic Development Board and PR firms Bell Pottinger and Consulum, signed amid ongoing human rights abuses. This latest deal, to “restore [Bahrain’s] global reputation as a business-friendly haven,” brings the total value of the government’s contracts with Western PR firms since 2011 to $50 million, as documented by Bahrain Watch. The bid by the two companies first came to light through a posting on the Tender Board’s website last year. PR spending since 2011 has served to whitewash the government’s human rights abuses and failure to reform.
Bell Pottinger has been a major beneficiary of Bahrain Government PR contracts in the past. In 2009, the EDB appointed Bell Pottinger “to handle its global FDI (foreign direct investment) media relations brief” in a contract believed to be “worth a seven-figure sum annually.” In 2010, the firm subcontracted American company Qorvis Communications to carry out public relations work in the US for Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Bell Pottinger was strongly criticized for its work in Bahrain during 2011’s extensive crackdown on peaceful protesters. However, the company continued to solicit and renew PR contracts with Bahrain’s government. The Independent reported in April 2011 that Bell Pottinger had been sending “regular emails to journalists, including getting out the Manama administration’s line at the start of the opposition protests”.
Speaking about the latest Bell Pottinger revelations, Bahrain Watch member John Horne said: “We have carried out detailed research on how PR companies have tried to promote a distorted narrative of events in Bahrain to the advantage of the government. Instead of wasting millions of dinars from public funds to cover up the state’s failure to reform or stop human rights abuses, that money should be spent on addressing the social and economic grievances that caused the protests in the first place.”
Other PR updates
Bahrain Watch launched its PR Watch report in August 2012 to document the role of Western PR firms in influencing the media narrative on Bahrain. Since then, the following have happened:
British firm Gardant Communications has been renamed Meade Hall & Associates. It continued to work for the Bahrain Embassy in the UK throughout 2013. Meade Hall & Associates also continues to act as the secretariat for the UK-Bahrain All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), a group of British MPs and Lords who have voiced support for the Bahrain Government. Paddy Gillford, the Chairman and Founder of Meade Hall & Associates, met with loyalist Bahraini politicians and the Speaker of the Council of Representatives during an annual security summit. Former UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Alistair Burt MP, travelled to Bahrain at the same time, as part of an APPG delegation. His trip was funded by Bahrain’s Parliament. Burt dealt extensively with Bahrain during his time as a government Minister.
Washington DC based firm Qorvis Communications was retained by the Bahrain Embassy in the US from at least October 2012 through September 2013. It charged the government just under $40,000 a month, earning a total of $479,691, for “facilitat[ing] and coordinat[ing] media and press activity.” Qorvis “assisted in preparing and drafting” editorials, “provided assistance in building relations with members of the media and non-governmental organizations,” and “provided media monitoring and analysis”.
Sorini, Samet & Associates, a US firm, continued to work for the Bahrain Government into 2013. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs paid the company $392,552 between June and November 2013, for advice on “issues related to the review and report on a public submission under the “labor chapter of the US-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement” and on “complaint procedures before the International Labor Organization”. Sorini, Samet & Associates facilitated meetings with the US Ambassador to Bahrain and members of the US Department of Labour.
US company Sanitas International published a more complete account of their work for the Bahrain Information Affairs Authority between August 2011 and April 2012. Sanitas, subcontracted by Joe Trippi & Associates, sent out press releases to journalists, think tanks, and policy forums in March 2012 about the government’s response to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report, and emailed journalists to discuss the controversial Bahrain Formula One race in April 2012.
US firm Mercury Public Affairs hired former US Ambassador to Bahrain Adam Ereli in September 2013. Shortly thereafter, Mercury’s Managing Director Morris Reid accompanied Ereli on a “listening tour” to Bahrain and other Middle East countries. Following his tour Ereli criticised the US government’s perceived failure to fully support the Bahraini government. Ereli reiterated his criticism in a recent interview. The Gulf Daily News reported that Reid had been “heavily involved in fostering trade links between the US and the Middle East, including Bahrain”. Reid previously served as a Managing Director for Washington DC PR firm BGR Group, which contracted with Bahrain’s government.
Bahrain Watch is a monitoring and advocacy group that seeks to promote effective, accountable, and transparent governance in Bahrain through research and evidence-based advocacy. For more info visit: https://bahrainwatch.org/about.asp