The Guardian reports today on the booming business being done by UK PR agencies to improve the reputations of foreign regimes with dubious human rights records.
It cites the example of Foreign Direct Investment magazine, part of the Financial Times group, which it says sent a journalist to Rwanda on a trip paid for by the PR company Racepoint.
“You used to Google Rwanda and the first thing you would see would be about genocide,” Racepoint managing director Cathy Pittman told The Guardian. “Now we are feeding content and stories to journalists about the economy and culture. A lot of it is about images.”
The FDI piece, which is behind a paywall but appears on the journalist’s own site, states: “For the past 20 years, Rwanda’s image has been dominated by scenes of genocide and civil war. However, with its tourism sector now thriving, and areas such as ICT, banking and energy set to follow suit, Rwanda is poised to become Africa’s newest success story.”
And the journalist reports: “…the country has taken impressive strides in everything from the rule of law – it prides itself on having zero corruption – to nine years’ free mandatory education.”
A bold claim indeed.
It is a fact of life that journalists need to accept freebies to do their jobs sometimes, especially when it comes to overseas travel. But it does seem that there is a strong case for the PCC to insist that any report which has been financially supported, for instance by a PR company who has paid for flights, should include that information.
Update 5 August: Rwanda has suspended 30 media organisations ahead of its elections, Africa’s “newest success story” indeed.