Tim Bell defends PR industry against Guardian attack

Anyone who knows Lord Bell, the communications Svengali who masterminded Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power, will be well aware that he could talk for the UK in the Olympics.

So it’s a strangely laconic response from the silver-tongued chairman of Chime Communications today in PR Week when asked to respond to the Guardian’s allegations last week that the UK’s top PR firms are engaged in “reputation laundering” for governments with appalling human rights records.

The Guardian singled out Bell Pottinger, Hill & Knowlton, Portland and Racepoint Group for promoting regimes such as Saudia Arabia, Rwanda, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka.

Bell adopted the free speech defence. “The fact of the matter is, I believe better views, better opinions and better behaviour are arrived at by debating all sides of an argument and coming to a conclusion. If someone says someone else is not allowed a point of view, this is acting as a censor.

“I believe that everyone of us should have their own morality and they should apply their own morality. All my people are free to say they don’t want to do something. There is no punishment for that. I believe in freedom in a civil society.”

So far so good. He could also have pointed out that in some ways communications companies, whether in advertising or PR, are similar to lawyers, who represent many very disreputable companies and individuals, and indeed that the UK government has relations with some extremely murky regimes.

But with Chime performing very well at the moment he probably has plenty of other more exciting initiatives to consider than defending the PR industry’s reputation against what is certainly not his favourite news sheet.

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About David O'Reilly

David is a former deputy editor of Campaign and writer for a number of leading titles including Management Today and the Sunday Times. He is a partner in The Editorial Partnership.