Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The hidden persuaders

My old friends Weber Shandwick are on the front page of The Guardian newspaper today.

You may not have heard of Weber Shandwick. They are hardly a household name, but much of the news we read and watch originates from them and companies like them. Weber Shandwick is a public relations (PR) firm. One of its specialities is corporate communications and, in particular, working with companies to "protect their reputations, promote their activities and secure advantage in the market place". It was on the front page of the newspaper as a newly launched campaign for access to cancer drugs has come under scrutiny as it is funded by the company that makes the drugs. The campaign operates from Weber Shandwick's offices. According to The Guardian: "MEPs and the head of the European Cancer Patients Coalition have already withdrawn from Cancer United's executive board, amid concerns over the funding and lack of transparency. Roche last night strongly denied the campaign was in effect a marketing exercise."

I first came across the PR company in November 2000 at the European Parliament Public Hearing into Nestlé baby food marketing. Nestlé had refused to attend the Hearing after objecting to UNICEF and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) being invited as witnesses. Publicly it claimed no member of staff was available. This was despite being informed months in advance of the hearing and saying it would attend when asked at the shareholder annual general meeting a few months before.

So no Nestlé. But there was someone from a firm Nestlé had contracted to write a report saying Nestlé was doing nothing wrong. Unfortunately this person could not respond to MEPs' questions about Nestlé's policies. Also present was someone from Shandwick (as it then was), who was seen to lobby MEPs and take notes for Nestlé's later campaign against the bad publicity.

I now see them when Baby Milk Action debates with Nestlé, taping the events and taking notes. No doubt we would be sued for libelling the company if we said anything that could not be substantiated. I presume Weber Shandwick also advises Nestlé on what to say.

Some public relations companies appear to go further in trying to protect their paymasters' reputations. We warn people who subscribe to the boycott discussion group that they do not know who is reading their messages or posting to the group. We link to an article by George Monbiot called The Fake Persuaders. He found that some of the emails in the on-line debate about genetically modified food appeared to originate from a public relations firm called Bivings. Apparently on the firms website it states: "Sometimes we win awards. Sometimes only the client knows the precise role we played."

Corporations have massive resources to invest in public relations. We have very few resources, but we do have a massive network of people who spread the word and help the campaign. Not for money, but because they care about truth and justice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike,

How does that saying end? “Oh what a tangled web we weave…”
My god, we’re really in trouble with this lot, aren’t we?! Talk about a ‘Chain Gang’! They’re everywhere!

You see, I too was interested in that front page of the Guardian the other day - but, not because of Weber Shandwick or even because of Nestle but, because of Roche.

Roche first came to my attention way back in March when, toward the end of the bird flu furore (what ever happened to that?), this headline appeared in The Independent: "Donald Rumsfeld makes $5m killing on bird flu drug" (can’t get the link to work, but you could do a search).

I’ve been interested in the activities of Mr Rumsfeld (for those unfamiliar with him reading this, he’s the current US secretary of Defence) et al, ever since I heard of his (and his cohorts currently in power) involvement with, both, The Carlyle Group and The Project for the New American Century.

Familiar with them? No? Oh, I’m sure you are:

The Carlyle Group
are a private equity company made up of the cream of American aristocracy Based in the heart of Washington, they specialise in “investments and opportunities” - rather ominously - “wherever they can be found” - such as Defence contracts,gray,34384,6.html amongst other things Its European wing, Carlyle Europe, is equally prestigious. Headed by our old PM John Major, its ‘advisory board’ is peppered with executives from several major corporations, such as BMW, Toshiba and Fujitsu…. And of course, Nestle and Roche, It also boasts the talents of other ‘men of influence’ such as Karl Otto Pohl, the former president of Germany's Bundesbank. Furthermore, along with our other Code flouting friends at Bristol Meyer Squib, members of the Carlyle Group sit on the board at Rupert Murdoch’s New York Times

And it’s via Murdoch that we find our way to The Project for the New American Century (aka the PNAC) whose chairman, William Kristol, is the editor of his Weekly Standard. The PNAC has a similarly prestigious cast list including of course, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney (note the signatories). They drew up their plans - for what can only be described as global unrest/domination (insert manic laugh here!) - in 1997. These plans are what are currently being enacted by the Bush administration in the Middle East. Incidentally, the PNAC now have a European wing, The Henry Jackson Society,
Who – in August of last year - set up right on your very own doorstep in Cambridge).

So thanks for the info about Weber Shandwick, Mike. It’s fun putting all these little buggers together, isn’t it, wondering which way the maze they’ve built around themselves will take us next…it’s kind of like researching a family tree, but scarier… (No wonder the Internet is under threat! It makes it far easier for nice people like us to keep track of what the little blighters are up to!). And sorry for the long, messy post – hope you made sense of it, I certainly can’t! But that’s kind of indicative of the whole sordid situation, donchathink?