Bahrain dictatorship’s Western public relations

This video is called Rights group alleges torture in Bahrain.

By Brian Whitaker:

Western PR firms bid for Bahrain contract

The ‘acceptable’ face of repression

Seven public relations firms – mostly British or American – are vying to win a contract from Bahrain‘s repressive government.

Western PR companies have often been criticised in the past for taking up lucrative assignments aimed at polishing the kingdom’s tarnished image. In Bahrain itself, they have also been denounced as “PR mercenaries” that charge hefty fees while failing to deliver positive results.

Bidders for the latest contract were named last week by the Bahrain Tender Board. They are:

Gulf Hill & Knowlton
Bell Pottinger Bahrain
Portland PR Ltd
Consulum Bahrain
Media Consult
Weber Shandwick
Citigate Dewe Rogerson

Bahrain‘s government has not published details of the contract apart from saying that it involves PR services for the Economic Development Board (EDB). Bahrain Watch, the advocacy group that highlighted the bids in a blog post yesterday, says the EDB is “a governmental body responsible for attracting international investment to Bahrain, and re-branding the country as ‘business-friendly‘.”

Three of the bidding companies – Bell Pottinger, Hill & Knowlton and Weber Shandwick – have previously done PR work for Bahrain.

Another of the bidders, Consulum, is a newer company set up by former Bell Pottinger employees based in the Gulf, according to Bahrain Watch. It has offices in London, Bahrain and Dubai and describes itself as “an international strategic communications consultancy that uses an in-depth understanding of public, commercial and political drivers to provide insightful strategic counsel and meet complex communications challenges”. It claims to deliver “sophisticated communications programmes that shape awareness, guide opinion and enhance understanding on a national, regional and international basis”.

Citigate Dewe Rogerson is a London-based firm which boasts of providing “seamless communication consultancy across the world’s business centres”. It recently advised the British government on PR for the privatisation of Royal Mail.

Portland PR Ltd is part of Portland Communications, a British firm founded by Tim Allan, a former adviser to Tony Blair. Portland’s website says:

“Our Leadership Team has 40 years experience on Fleet Street and 35 years in Downing Street, as well as experience on The Hill. They know how Government, the media and business influence each other. And they know how successful campaigns work – because they have been there.”

Last year Portland was accused of “improving” the Wikipedia entries for a number of its clients. This included deleting a reference to “Wife Beater” – the popular nickname in Britain for
Stella Artois lager.

Finally, there is a bidder listed as “Media Consult“. This may not be its full name and its identity at present is unclear.

For more background on western PR firms and Bahrain, here are some previous blog posts:

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

16 thoughts on “Bahrain dictatorship’s Western public relations

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  8. Bahrain Retains Bell Pottinger For Lucrative Global PR Mandate

    EMEA, Global

    Arun Sudhaman 14 Apr 2014

    MANAMA—Bahrain’s Economic Development Board (EDB) has retained Bell Pottinger to handle its multimillion dollar global PR mandate, amid continued unrest in the Gulf Kingdom.

    The brief, which aims to boost inward investment in Bahrain, is seen as a vital component of Bahrain’s efforts to restore its global reputation as a business-friendly haven.

    Bell Pottinger has handled the business since 2009 and retains the assignment following a competitive review. The agency will be supported in Bahrain by Consulum, a firm launched last year by several senior Bell Pottinger Middle East executives, many of whom had earlier worked on the EDB assignment.

    According to published tender documents, Bell Pottinger’s bid was worth around $16m over the course of the five-year contract.

    Other agencies that bid for the assignment included Hill+Knowlton, Portland, Media Consult, Weber Shandwick and Citigate.

    Bahrain’s business reputation has been hurt by the political and social tensions which have plagued the country since 2011, pitting the country’s Shia majority against its Sunni rulers.

    Bell Pottinger group MD David Wilson confirmed news of the appointment, but shrugged off concerns that the account may prove controversial, noting that it focused only on “economic development.”

    Previously, watchdog group Bahrain Watch asked bidding firms “not to participate in the whitewashing process of the Bahraini government’s human rights record.” The group estimates that the country’s government has spent $32.5m on UK and US marketing and PR firms since the political uprising began.

    Once the region’s primary offshore banking hub, Bahrain has faced increasing competition from neighbours such as Dubai in recent years. Political instability, combined with systemic dependence on oil and gas, has resulted in numerous ratings downgrades since 2011, although economic growth has bounced back since.


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