6 December 2011
Senior executives at Bell Pottinger, a leading public relations and lobbying firm, have been caught bragging about their ability to influence David Cameron’s government and their use of the “dark arts” to bury negative coverage of repressive regimes. In an undercover investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, published in The Independent today, senior Bell Pottinger executives including the firm’s managing director Tim Collins, were filmed [bullet points courtesy of the Independent]:
- Claiming they have used their access to Downing Street to get David Cameron to speak to the Chinese premier on behalf of one of their business clients within 24 hours of asking him to do so.
- Boasting about Bell Pottinger’s access to foreign secretary William Hague, to Mr Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn and to Cameron’s old friend, and closest No 10 adviser, Steve Hilton.
- Suggesting that the company could manipulate Google results to “drown” out negative coverage of human rights abuses and the use of child labour.
- Revealing that Bell Pottinger has a team that “sorts” negative Wikipedia coverage of its clients.
- Saying it was possible make use of MPs known to be critical of investigative programmes to undermine negative coverage by nitpicking over minor errors.
Reporters from the BoIJ 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 with a view to establishing what sorts of promises UK-based lobbying and PR firms would make when pitching for business, what techniques they said they would use, and how much of their work is open to public scrutiny.
In Uzbekistan, a country with a terrible human rights record, child labour is used in cotton fields to fulfil state quotas. The thinktank Freedom House ranks the former Soviet republic on its list of the “Worst of the Worst” repressive regimes.
Bell Pottinger’s parent company, Chime Communications, is chaired by former Saatchi & Saatchi boss Lord Bell, once known as “Mrs Thatcher’s favourite ad man”.