Home » Featured, Headline, News

Sri Lanka under fire over PR firm Bell Pottinger speech

[BBC, Tuesday, 6 December 2011 15:58 No Comment]

President Rajapaksa's UN speech was allegedly ghost-written by Bell Pottinger Sri Lanka has strongly denounced a report in a UK newspaper which said a leading lobbying company wrote a speech on behalf of the president.

In a report on Tuesday, the Independent quoted a Bell Pottinger company spokesman as saying it wrote a speech the president gave to the UN in 2010.

The spokesman is quoted as saying the speech was "very well received".

Bell Pottinger has so far not commented on the contents of the Independent’s report.

Chairman David Wilson was secretly recorded as saying that Mr Rajapaksa chose its version of the speech in preference to one drafted by his own foreign ministry.

"He chose to use our version of the speech despite several attempts by the [Sri Lankan] foreign office to change the tune," Mr Wilson is quoted as saying.

"And it went a long way to taking the country where it needed to go."

The speech in question was made at the UN’s General Assembly last year when President Mahinda Rajapaksa said there were "serious problems" governing the conduct of war, implying it was advisable to re-examine international humanitarian law, which is embodied in the Geneva Conventions.

He argued such laws had evolved for conflicts between states and not between states and what he called terrorist groups within them. But he stopped short of explicitly calling for the Conventions to be changed.

He was speaking 18 months after Sri Lanka defeated Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for a separate homeland.

Sri Lanka’s armed forces have been accused of being responsible for tens of thousands of civilian deaths during the closing phase of that war – a charge denied by the government.

‘Scurrilous article’

The report in the Independent comes as part of a wider investigation in the UK by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism into the work of the public affairs company, to highlight some of the issues around regulation of PR companies and lobbyists.

Bell Pottinger describe themselves as "reputation management" specialists.

Correspondents say that their client list includes several countries with dubious human rights records including Uzbekistan, Belarus and Bahrain.

Last year the Sri Lankan government conceded that it paid Bell Pottinger about £3m ($4.7m) a year to try to enhance the country’s post-war image. It said that the company was hired to lobby UK, UN and EU officials.

Mr Rajapaksa’s media chief, Bandula Jayasekera, would not comment on the report, dismissing it as a "scurrilous article" by the British media intended to "create trouble".

[Full Coverage]

(For updates you can share with your friends, follow TNN on Facebook, Twitter and Google+)

Comments are closed.