Spin doctors to the autocrats

My investigative report for Corporate Europe Observatory ‘Spin doctors to the autocrats: how European PR firms whitewash repressive regimes’ is out now and can be downloaded here:

It was covered by dozens of media outlets all over the world, from Der Spiegel, to France’s Canal +, to Spanish national radio. The African press were particularly interested in the Nigeria story. A US PR practioner wrote an op-ed for the NY Observer agreeing with the report, under the headline ‘PR firms ought to say no once in a while’.

I’ll post a list of coverage if I get round to collating it all!


The press release is here:

New research exposes companies behind Europe’s multi-million Euro image-laundering business.

A report released today by research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) sheds light on how dictators and repressive regimes are paying European PR firms and lobbyists to push their agenda and mask their dire human rights records.

“Spin doctors to the autocrats: how European PR firms whitewash repressive regimes” lifts the lid on the murky world of spin carried out on behalf of some of the world’s most brutal regimes. CEO is calling on EU institutions to urgently establish a mandatory lobbying register as a step towards bringing some much needed transparency to the sector. Transparency rules should include a specific clarification that lobbying for non-EU governments and states is required to be reported.

Case studies include:

  • the story of the spin doctors whitewashing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s image, and his catastrophic handling of Boko Haram ahead of next month’s elections;
  • a look at various PR companies (eg Gplus) spinning Russia (and state gas company Gazprom’s) position on the Ukraine conflict in Brussels;
  • a new Central Asian think tank in Brussels which is in essence a front group paid for by the dictatorship of Kazakhstan;
  • the lavishly funded PR firms, front groups and their European Parliament friends working for the increasingly repressive dictatorship of Azerbaijan;
  • the Brussels firm modelling themselves on Washington lobbyists, defending the interests  – and assets – of the corrupt former Ukraine regime;
  • the PR firm BGR Gabara based in London and Brussels representing the Government of Bangladesh to manage its international image as it sentences to death several leading members of Islamic opposition parties in a flawed war crime tribunal process;
  • accused by International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity, Presidential candidate for Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta hired a PR firm to discredit the ICC during his election campaign.

“Disappearing people in the night, torturing dissidents, smearing opponents, using slave labour, and murdering protesters might be all in day’s work for dictators and war criminals. But the fact that they are paying European PR companies and lobbyists to whitewash their crimes, without any kind of accountability, is a shameful indictment of democracy in the EU,” said freelance journalist Katharine Ainger, commissioned by CEO to write the report.

“These case studies demonstrate yet again the need for mandatory transparency registers at the European and national levels.”

The report also shows how representing governments that are responsible for war crimes or serious human rights abuses contradicts the various codes of conduct and corporate social responsibility guidelines that many PR firms and lobbyists have signed up to.


Interview with me in Der  Spiegel, for those who speak German: