Pressure group targets Libya’s Brown Lloyd James and Bahrain’s Bell Pottinger in call for ethical PR

Pressure group The Really Ethical PR Agency (they’ve got a sense of humour then) has protested outside the offices of Bell Pottinger in London because the PR agency, owned by Lord Bell’s Chime Communications, handles the Bahrain government.

This follows an outcry over the activities of rival Brown Lloyd James which has worked for the Colonel Gaddafi gang in Libya for the last couple of years (see comments).

Really Ethical founder Rupert Read, an academic at the University of East Anglia, says the groups wants to highlight “the really disgraceful work being done to improve the image of something which is appalling.”

In the case of Bahrain this is the violent suppression of pro-democracy supporters by state police and troops imported from Saudi Arabia. Gaddafi needs no further description.

BLJ says its work for Gaddafi was carried out from its New York office when Gaddafi was lobbying the United Nations recently. It’s hard to see how the location of the office changes things much, indeed one might even ask if Gaddafi’s fees helped to set it up.

It also points out, more pertinently, that until the pro-democracy protests flared in Libya most countries, including the UK, were perfectly happy to do business with the oil-rich blood-soaked old tyrant (it didn’t actually say the last bit).

As for Bell Pottinger and Bahrain, it’s hardly a surprise to see Lord Bell in the frame. Despite his genuine affability and charm (it’s said that dogs would cross Charlotte Street to be stroked by him in his Saatchi days) Tim Bell has always had a soft spot for the supposed ‘strong men’ of world politics, going all the way back to Chilean torturer and dictator General Pinochet, who he came across when he was advising Pinochet’s chum Margaret Thatcher 20 years ago.

They also pay generous fees of course.

His Lordship’s only comment on the matter so far is to observe that “there is a fad for attacking PR companies.”

Well he, and his peers, will have to do a bit better than this.

PR companies like to wheel out the old ‘taxi rank’ example, saying that, just like barristers, they are entitled, indeed obligated to a degree, to take whichever client turns up next (so long as they can pay of course).

Legally, unlike barristers, they are not.

But it’s still tough for them to be pilloried for having worked for a country which until recently was a valued trading partner of the UK (Libya) and one that still is (Bahrain). Heaven knows what will happen if Saudi Arabia flares.

But the issue for Bell Pottinger, if not BLJ if it’s telling the truth about no longer working for Libya, is whether or not it should still be representing a regime which is clearly oppressing its people.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.