In January 2015, a leading Washington, D.C. based PR firm, Levick Communications, was hired by the Embassy of Qatar for $88,500 to “bolster their relationships with the United States and non-profit organizations” according to FARA filings recorded with the federal government. Today, their job has become more difficult.
BBC revealed that on a press trip arranged by Qatar’s UK PR firm for the country’s Prime Minister, journalists were put in jail for reporting on accomodations provided to migrant workers, which has already been the subject of controversy, with the nation being the planned site of the 2022 World Cup.
For reporting what BBC maintains is the truth, the news team spent two nights in jail, and was told by interrorgators “This is not Disneyland. You can’t stick your camera anywhere.” Levick has not returned a call for comment asking for inquiry about their client’s conduct.
One of the richest countries in the world, there has been long-standing criticism of labor conditions in Qatar. This also isn’t the first time free-speech has been punished, as Qatari poet Mohammed al-Ajami was sentenced to 15 years in prison for writing a poem against the country’s emir.
The Middle East nation funds Hamas, one of the world’s leading terror organizations, and is at odds with some of their Arab neighbors for their outspoken support of Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have all recalled their ambassadors from Qatar to protest its support of terror organizations. The nation is home to the spiritual leader of Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, as well as Hamas’ leader Khaled Mashal.
The country is ruled, in part, by Sharia law, and in 2013, Qatar joined a coalition of other countries in vowing to administer a “homosexual test” to visitors, in an effort to restrict gays’ entrance to the country. In certain areas of the nation’s court, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s – and in some cases women witnesses are not permitted.
Levick in the United States, Qatar’s European PR Agency, Portland Communications, which is chaired by Tim Allan, a former adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair have the right to represent whom they wish. Yet, I believe PR firms should have limits about whom they represent.
The BBC is demanding a full explanation from the Qatari authorities – and even the best spin doctors can’t defend these actions.
In the classic movie, Thank You for Smoking, about a big tobacco lobbyist, Nick Naylor, the tobacco representative delivered a monologue to a children’s class in a movie, where he said, “My point is that you have to think for yourself. If your parents told you that chocolate was dangerous would you take their word for it?” When the children say no, he replies, “Exactly! So perhaps instead of acting like sheep when it comes to cigarettes, you should find out for yourself.”
There are those who feel it is ok to spin for dictators and terrorists. Yet, this writer agrees with the owner of the world’s largest PR firm, Richard Edelman who said “PR is not like the law – Not everyone deserves representation.”
Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a top 20 independently owned Public Relations firm. His best-selling book, “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations” is available on Amazon.