Posts Tagged ‘bell pottinger’
“we have done absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever” – #BellPottinger chief Tim Bell on the #Wikipedia editing scandal
The FT has an amusing report about this week’s meeting between Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and staff of Bell Pottinger, the shamed lobbying firm that was caught “factory-farming” the online encyclopedia on an industrial scale.
Despite his firm being exposed using multiple fake identities to whitewash embarrassing information about its clients, Chairman Tim Bell (who also happens to be a Conservative member of the House of Lords), is said to have insisted that “As far as I am concerned, we have done absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever”.
Echoing fellow Tory Lord and Press Complaints Commission Chair David Hunt, Tim Bell reportedly bemoaned the lack of a “regulatory body” for people to complain to about online content that they were unhappy with.
Bell’s ethical stance is certainly interesting. While he sees nothing wrong with his colleagues’ misleading behaviour on Wikipedia, he was reportedly outraged when the Bureau of Investigative journalism used subterfuge to expose his company’s dubious business practices, condemning the deception as “underhand, unethical and improper” – and reporting the journalists concerned to David Hunt’s Press Complaints Commission.
Back in 2008, however, Bell was insisting that “I don’t see any reason why I or my company should follow some arbitrary set of ethical values”.
- ‘Lord’ Bell in 2008, after taking on a contract to buff the image of the Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenka
- ‘Lord’ Bell in 2011, after his company was caught by undercover reporters bragging about its influence over the UK government, and its use of “dark arts” to bury bad coverage.
Bell Pottinger cuts health information on skin cancer, replaces it with details of their client’s “telemedicine solution”
One of the more prolific accounts identified in Wikipedia’s subsequent investigation is IP address 22.214.171.124, and its list of edits makes interesting reading. The person or people behind this account were particularly busy with the Wikipedia entry on Melanoma (a type of cancer that most commonly appears on the skin). Their first edit, on September 2nd this year, was to add the following text:
A recent telemedicine solution has been developed that allows people to screen moles online in under 24 hours – reducing the burden of needless anxiety on those with benign lesions, and unnecessary consultations with healthcare professionals. The service was launched in September 2010 by a company called Moletest and uses a unique ‘computational vision’ to assess photographic images of lesions (melanocytic nevus) against known case results – providing a ‘traffic light’ based evaluation where green is a ‘normal’ lesion, amber a ‘borderline’ lesion with potentially unpredictable biological behaviour, and red a potentially ‘cancerous’ one. The process is overseen by a panel of professional dermatolagists and has the potential to revolutionalise melanoma screening and detection, in the same way that smear testing did for cervical cancer in women.
It turns out that the company Moletest is or was a client of “De Facto Communications”, which describes itself as “Part of Bell Pottinger Health – the healthcare and pharmaceutical arm of the UK’s No.1 PR group” .
But in this case they went one step further – actually removing a whole tranche of text that gave details of how people concerned about a possible skin cancer might check themselves for symptoms. Here’s what they cut:
A basic reference chart used for consumers to spot suspicious moles is found in the mnemonic A-B-C-D, used by institutions such as the American Academy of Dermatology and the National Cancer Institute. The letters stand for Asymmetry, Border, Color, and Diameter. Sometimes, the letter E (for Elevation or Evolving) is added. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, if a mole starts changing in size, color, shape or, especially, if the border of a mole develops ragged edges or becomes larger than a pencil eraser, it would be an appropriate time to consult with a physician. Other warning signs include a mole, even if smaller than a pencil eraser, that is different than the others and begins to crust over, bleed, itch, or becomes inflamed. The changes may indicate developing melanomas. The matter can become clinically complicated because mole removal depends on which types of cancer, if any, come into suspicion.
A recent and novel method of melanoma detection is the “Ugly Duckling Sign” It is simple, easy to teach, and highly effective in detecting melanoma. Simply, correlation of common characteristics of a person’s skin lesion is made. Lesions which greatly deviate from the common characteristics are labeled as an “Ugly Duckling”, and further professional exam is required. The “Little Red Riding Hood” sign, suggests that individuals with fair skin and light colored hair might have difficult-to-diagnose melanomas. Extra care and caution should be rendered when examining such individuals as they might have multiple melanomas and severely dysplastic nevi. A dermatoscope must be used to detect “ugly ducklings”, as many melanomas in these individuals resemble non-melanomas or are considered to be “wolves in sheep clothing”. These fair skinned individuals often have lightly pigmented or amelanotic melanomas which will not present easy-to-observe color changes and variation in colors. The borders of these amelanotic melanomas are often indistinct, making visual identification without a dermatoscope very difficult.
People with a personal or family history of skin cancer or of dysplastic nevus syndrome (multiple atypical moles) should see a dermatologist at least once a year to be sure they are not developing melanoma.
The changes to both entries were cancelled just over an hour later by an eagle-eyed Wikipedia editor – the site’s editing rules stipulate that “Wikipedia is not …a vehicle for propaganda, advertising and showcasing”.
But it nonetheless seem striking that anyone would think it was a good idea to delete a fairly detailed account of how people might check for potential skin cancer symptoms and replace it with a puffy advertorial for a company that charges for online screening.
Bell Pottinger really do seem to be in a class of their own…
It turns out that long before they started shilling for the Belarus dictatorship and writing speeches for Sri Lankan war criminals, Bell Pottinger were paid apologists for the brutal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, lobbying hard to help the General evade justice after he was arrested in the UK on torture charges in 1998.
From The New Internationalist
Business people associated with Chile’s Augusto Pinochet Foundation are bankrolling the campaign in defense of Pinochet. Bell Pottinger, the public-relations firm headed by longtime Conservative PR guru Sir Tim Bell, worked under a $310,000 contract with the Chilean Reconciliation Movement, a pro-Pinochet organization operating in Britain…
Bell Pottinger has sent 14 postcards, in the name of the Chilean Reconciliation Movement, to 5,000 British ‘opinion makers’ (including the heads of the top 2,000 corporations, the members of the Houses of Commons and Lords, and the major news media). The buzzword of ‘reconciliation’ appears frequently, and several of the cards argue that Chileans are entitled to and have in their majority chosen reconciliation over ‘recrimination’ and revenge. But the content of the postcards is hardly conciliatory. Clanging relentlessly through the campaign is the claim that in 1973 the elected Chilean Government was raising paramilitary forces in order to establish a communist dictatorship – this is their justification for the military’s violent seizure of power and dictatorial rule.
Tim Bell’s public-relations expertise was also employed for a televised meeting between Pinochet and Margaret Thatcher in the house where the ex-dictator is confined. The meeting was arranged by Robin Harris, a senior advisor to Thatcher. Harris has also produced and sent to over 5,000 UK ‘opinion formers’ (the same 5,000 as the postcards, perhaps?) a paper entitled ‘A Tale of Two Chileans: Pinochet and Allende’. Harris’s paper rehearses the same accusation as the postcards – President Allende had planned a ‘self-coup’ with dictatorial aims. Over half of the paper’s footnotes cite a document produced by the dictatorship with CIA assistance shortly after the military coup. Harris also promises shortly an appendix detailing ‘Plan Z,’ the fictitious plot under which Allende and his associates were to eliminate an extensive list of enemies including prominent members of the armed forces.
The apologists of the dictatorship accuse the Left of crimes in fact perpetrated by the Right. On the lurid accusations of ‘Plan Z’, there were two current or former commanders-in-chief of the Chilean Armed Forces assassinated during the 1970s, but they were not assassinated by the Popular Unity. General Rene Schneider was murdered in 1970 during a failed kidnapping by right-wing military conspirators who planned to blame the crime on the Left in hopes of scuttling Allende’s victory at the polls. General Carlos Prats was assassinated in 1974, after his exile to Argentina, by agents of the military dictatorship. Both were despised by the Right for their ‘constitutionalist’ scruples…
The current campaign is not the first project in which the public-relations industry has served Pinochet and company. In fact, the military dictatorship directly employed numerous PR firms to polish its image over its 17 years. Starting in 1974, a US organization called the American-Chilean Council began work with the aim, in its own words, ‘to expose the misinformation, gross exaggerations and downright lies [about the Chilean dictatorship] being fed to the American public through the Left/liberal establishment’. Four years later the American-Chilean Council was revealed, in a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department, to be working in the pay of the dictatorship, basically as a front for the public relations firm of Marvin Liebman Inc…
Culture Media and Sports Committee: Further written evidence from Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian
…On 27 June 2008, Bell Pottinger sent a threatening message to the Guardian. They had previously sent similar threats and complaints to AP, whose agency dispatch had been published on-line by the Guardian. The message ended:
“Please note that in view of the gravity of these matters and of the allegations which have been published, I am copying Trafigura’s solicitors, Carter-Ruck, into this email.”
The letter demanded changes to the Guardian’s website to include this information:
“The Probo Koala … left Amsterdam with the full knowledge and clear approval of the Dutch authorities.” It also stated that the disposal company in Amsterdam had asked for extra fees “without any credible justification” and that “ship’s slops are commonly produced within the oil industry. To label Trafigura’s slops as ‘toxic waste’ in no way accurately reflects their true composition.”
On 16 September 2008, Trafigura posted a statement on their website claiming:
“Trafigura is in no way responsible for the sickness suffered by people in Abidjan … The discharge of slops from cargo vessels is a routine procedure that is undertaken all over the world.”
The company knew this was a misleading and false statement.
On 22 September 2008, the Guardian’s East Africa correspondent, Xan Rice, asked Trafigura some questions, in view of the then impending trial of local Ivoirian waste contractors.
Trafigura refused to answer, a refusal coupled with another pointed referral to libel solicitors. Bell Pottinger wrote: “I am copying this email to Carter-Ruck”.
Xan Rice’s article was not published by the Guardian.
The Ivoirian trial convicted local individuals for toxic dumping, Trafigura subsequently abandoned some of their lines of defence in the English litigation they originally claimed they had no duty of care, and could not have foreseen what the local dumpers might do. Trafigura now agreed instead, to pay anyone who could prove the toxic waste had made them ill. They continued to deny publicly that such a thing was possible.
Xan Rice again asked some factual questions. On 14 November 2008, Bell Pottinger responded “Please note that I am copying this correspondence to Carter-Ruck and to the Guardian’s legal department”. They added: “Any suggestion, even implicit, that Trafigura … should have stood trial in Ivory Coast would be completely unfounded and libellous … We insist that you refer in detail to the contents of the attached summary”.
They claimed to be sueing for libel the senior partner of Leigh Day who was bringing the English lawsuit. They added that further Leigh Day statements “are the subject of a complaint in Malicious Falsehood”[sic]. In fact, the libel proceedings against Martyn Day had been stayed, and no malicious falsehood proceedings had been – or were ever – issued.
A closely-typed six-page statement was attached. In it the company claimed to have “independent expert evidence” of the non-toxicity of the waste, but refused to disclose it. Trafigura repeated the false claim that the waste was merely “a mixture of gasoline, water and caustic soda”.
No Guardian article, once again, was published.
On 3 December 2008, less than 3 weeks later, Trafigura formally admitted to the High Court the true composition of the waste in its document “Likely chemical composition of the slops”, [detailed above].
On 5 December 2008, Trafigura formally admitted their waste came from Merox-style chemical processing attempts, and not from routine tank-rinsing.
On 29 April 2009, Carter-Ruck wrote to a Dutch paper: “Trafigura has been obliged to engage my firm to bring complaints against Volkskrant … It is indeed the case that we have on Trafigura’s behalf, written to a number of other media outlets around the world in respect of their coverage of this matter”. Bell Pottinger also confirmed contact with journalists who published or broadcast stories that did not accurately reflect Trafigura’s position, but added: “We completely disagree with your description of Trafigura’s involvement in an ‘aggressive media campaign’.”
On 13 May 2009, Bell Pottinger, in concert with Carter-Ruck, issued a statement to the BBC repeating two assertions known to be false.
They said the Leigh Day statement “is currently the subject of a malicious falsehood complaint made by Trafigura”. They also claimed once more: “The Probo Koala’s slops were a mixture of gasoline, water and caustic soda”.