Shaking the hand of power – the influence of PR companies is widespread
One of Britain’s largest lobbying companies has been secretly recorded boasting about its access to the heart of Government and how it uses ‘dark arts’ to bury bad coverage and influence public opinion.
An undercover investigation by the Bureau, published in the Independent today, has taped senior executives at Bell Pottinger:
- Claiming they have used their access to Downing Street to persuade 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 the Foreign Secretary William Hague, to Mr Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn and to Mr Cameron’s old friend and closest No 10 adviser Steve Hilton;
- Suggesting the company could manipulate Google results to ‘drown out’ negative coverage of human rights violations and child labour;
- Revealing that Bell Pottinger has a team which ‘sorts’ negative Wikipedia coverage of clients;
- Saying it was possible to use MPs known to be critical of investigative programmes to attack their reporting for minor errors.
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 and how much of their work is open to public scrutiny.