Thursday May 23, 2013
Diplomacy Subcontracted to PR Foreign Lobbying CompaniesSalem-News.com
The largest payment has been made to Qorvis Communications.
(COLOMBO, Sri Lanka Sunday Times) - Whilst the country’s new foreign policy emerges during the two-day conclave in Diyatalawa, the conduct of Sri Lanka’s diplomacy in the United States has raised some serious questions. This is after three public relations cum lobbying firms publicly acknowledged they received government funds, channelled through the Embassy for work which is normally the task of the Embassy. One website lists Hedges Strategies, a US based lobbying firm: http://foreignlobbying.org/
In 2010, this firm has confirmed that it was paid US$ 10,916.44. The work covered “briefing notes for the ambassador’s meetings, Vesak celebrations, Thai Pongal celebrations, ambassador’s speech for a dinner celebrating the first ever visit to the US by the Sri Lankan national cricket team, ambassador’s remarks for an Asian arts celebrations at the Kennedy Centre and George Mason University, ambassador’s remarks for a discussion at the US Department of State’s Foreign Services Initiative, ambassador’s remarks for Sri Lankan Sinhala-Tamil New Year, World Bank Sri Lanka Food Festival and strengthen Sri Lanka’s diplomatic and trade relationships with the United States.”
It seemed ironic that the Sri Lanka embassy in the United States could not mark Vesak, Thai Pongal, National New Year festivities without the help of a foreign lobbying firm. Even confidentiality is lost when a foreign lobbying firm is told to prepare remarks for a discussion with the Department of State. That is not all. There are other US public relations firms that were also paid for different jobs which are without question responsibilities of a diplomatic mission. Patton Boggs was paid US 420,000 in 2010 for a variety of jobs. (See website given above) Here are a few samplings: Canvassing two US Senators on human rights issues, to discuss bilateral relations with US Senators Patrick Leahy, John Kerry, Richard Lugar, Heath Shuler and Bill Casey. To brief Senators Russel Feingold and Jim Moran on the recommendations of the LLRC.
The firm Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods whose website is http://foreignlobbying.org/
The largest payment has been made to Qorvis Communications. The website http://foreignlobbying.org/
Here again, these were tasks which a Sri Lanka diplomatic mission overseas has to undertake on its own. However, the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington found it easy to spend public funds to outsource the conduct of Sri Lanka’s diplomacy whilst all other missions had to do it themselves. Here are selected highlights of the tasks undertaken by Qorvis, a subsidiary of Bell Pottinger group. It was this group’s London office that claimed it wrote President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s 2009 speech to the UN General Assembly. Britain’s ‘Independent’ newspaper said that senior executives at the PR firm Bell Pottinger told undercover reporters that it’s speech prepared for Rajapaksa was given preference to one prepared by the Sri Lankan foreign ministry. Now, the firm has confirmed it received payment.
= President Rajapaksa’s Independence Day address published in the Washington Post. (Note: The Washington Post used the story on the strength of its own news value and required no PR agency prodding). Similar claims were also made for Wall Street Journal, Voice of America, Reuters, National Public Radio (NPR), Newsweek, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, Fortune, CNN, Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg, Associated Press, Al Jazeera, ABC news,
= Story on President Rajapaksa’s statement on election for a second term. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Times (UK), Reuters, Associated Press, Al Jazeera, ABC News, Voice of America, Reuters, Newsweek, New York Times, CNN, Bloomberg
= The New York Times story on Sri Lanka ranking as number one destination. Published in Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, Fortune, CNN, Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg, Associated Press, ABC News, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Times (UK), National Public Radio,
= Arranging and publicising an interview by Foreign Policy Magazine with External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris. Having it published in Politico Magazine. (Note: This was given wide publicity locally through a news release issued by the Ministry of External Affairs.)
= Interview with Central Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal. Arranging it and having it carried on Bloomberg TV. Arranging for meetings for Cabraal with USAID and US Trade Representative.
= Preparing release on government re-affirming ‘dialogue as way forward.’ Sri Lanka reduces number of internally displaced was also incorporated.
= Preparing full text of Speech Delivered to United Nations General Assembly in New York. (Note: The website account does not say for whom this full text of the speech was prepared. However, Rajapaksa addressed the UNGA in September 2009. The Sunday Times learnt payment was claimed by Qorvis in 2010. The firm also claims it obtained publicity for this speech in Wall Street Journal, ABC News, Al Jazeera, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Christian Science Monitor, CNN, Fortune, Foreign Policy, Financial Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Merger Markets, NBC, New York Times, Newsweek and NPR.
There are serious questions that arise from the claims made by the US lobbying firms and PR agencies. This is besides the accountability of just one diplomatic mission incurring all such expenditure by outsourcing most of its work whilst the other missions are required to do it themselves. One is the accuracy of the claim by Qorvis Communication that it was its efforts that led to publication of breaking stories on Sri Lanka. Were they not based on the judgements of news value by the media outlets concerned? After all, almost every outlet mentioned are ones which observe a high standard of integrity and do not lend their editorial space to please a PR agency.
Is the firm simply including whatever is published or aired to be the result of its own endeavours? Ironic enough, that even arranging for meetings with officials of USAID and US Trade Representative has to be done with the help of a PR firm. This begs the question as to why there is a diplomatic mission functioning at all in Washington DC? It is unable to even arrange media statements for national events in Sri Lanka. The government might as well outsource the mission to these PR agencies.
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