Tagged: PR

Cunning Linguists: The MOI’s Rhetorical Trickery

Readers of the Ministry of the Interior’s press releases have come to expect a certain detached nonchalance. What they lack in compassion they certainly make up for in vindictive zeal. Indeed, their press releases are much more sophisticated than some of the Google translated dross that emanates from the Bahrain News Agency, as anyone who remembers the phrase ‘hostile megaphones’ will know. (If you don’t believe me, just Google ‘hostile megaphones’. It’s a BNA exclusive…) Today’s MOI press release was no exception, and as usual, they reported the death of 16 – year- old Hussain al Jaziri with their customary dispassionate flair.

deathhussain

Having seen dozens of similar MOI statements over the years, it is interesting to note the rhetorical devices in their statements and/or tweets. Indeed, they have a specific formula in which they do a number of the following things:

1) Vilify the victims or the people the victim was associated with. I.e. Say they were engaged in nefarious activities or doing something illegal/using weapons

2) Denounce any responsibility by indicating that the police acted in self defence

3) Use  phrases that imply lack of agency when it comes to killing. I.e. instead of saying the victim was killed, say he died. Similarly, suggest disconnect between incident and death of victim

4) Legitimize police response by mentioning how they adhered to protocol or were doing their duty

Take a look at this excerpt from today’s MOI statement concerning the death of Hussain Al Jaziri. I have included numbers used above to mark the rhetorical devices used by the MOI in their attempts to abrogate their responsibility

The most violent (1) group amassed at around 8am in the village of Daih where 300 rioters assembled to attack police (1) deployed in the area, with rocks, steel rods and Molotov cocktails (1). Warning shots (4) were fired but failed to disperse the advancing crowd which continued their attack (1). Officers discharged birdshot to defend themselves (2) and at least one rioter was injured (3) in the process. A short time later, a young man was pronounced dead at (3) Salmaniya Medical Complex.

In a similar incident in October 2012, when the police shot and killed 16-year-old Hossam al-Haddad, the MOI issued the following statement (forgive my hasty translation – original is here)

The director general of the Muharraq Police dept said that a police patrol was carrying out its duty securing (4) a crowded Al Khalifa Avenue in the middle of Muharraq, when it was subjected to a terrorist attack (1) carried out by a large number of fire bombs (molotovs) (1). This was at 9.30 pm yesterday. The attack endangered the lives of the patrol, civilians, residents and those present, which led to the injury of the patrol, fear among citizens/residents, panic, and damage to public and private property (2). The police dealt with matters in accordance with established legal procedures (4) appropriate to such cases and defended both themselves and citizens (2 and 4). This resulted in the injury (3) of one of the persons taking part in this terrorist activity (1), who was immediately taken to hospital where he died.

To confirm, this was both a terrorist act and attempted murder (1 and 2), intended to take the lives of those policemen on patrol whilst also subjecting citizens and residents to danger.
Director general says he had informed the public prosecution of the incident.

Tragically, a policeman was also killed today (February 14th 2013). Interestingly, however, it illustrates just how the MOI choose to frame the deaths of what it has, in the past, called ‘duty martrs’. The statement about the death of policeman Mohammad Asif reads as follows:

Police Officer Dies In Unprovoked Attack

The Chief of Public Security Major-General Tariq Hassan Al Hassan announced the death of policeman Mohammed Asif on Thursday at 10:50 PM.  The Chief said that Mohammed Asif was targeted by rioters in Sehla who shot a projectile that fatally injured him (1). He died on his way to hospital. The Chief stated that while Asif and several other policemen were securing roads and maintaining order in Sehla, a group of rioters attacked them with Molotov cocktails, projectiles, steel rods and stones (1). The Chief said that after Asif was injured, an investigation was immediately launched to find and arrest those responsible.  Once arrested they will be referred to the Public Prosecutor.

Contrary to the report about the death of Hussain Al Jaziri, which implied his guilt , and stated that he was participating in the day’s most violent protest (the fact the protest was termed ‘the most’ violent also indicates that police were under the most duress at this time- further legitimizing their harsh response),  the report about Mohammad Asif claims that the attack was unprovoked. So whereas protesters killed by the police are inevitably done in the name of ‘self-defence’, police killed at the hands of protesters are done so without provocation. It also states that an investigation was launched to find those who were ‘responsible’. When protesters die at the hands of the police an investigation is sometimes launched, though it rarely mentions that the purpose is to find out who is ‘responsible’. Presumably it is the protesters themselves who are responsible for their own deaths. Afterall, they are taking part in rioting right?

While it unsurprising that the MOI use these rhetorical devices to demonise protesters and absolve themselves of responsibility, it is disturbing that such statements will probably be the basis of the police’s defense argument should they actually end up in court*. This is especially disturbing when the media are prevented from baring witness to such incidents. Indeed, journalist Mazen Mahdi and a number of other reporters were arrested and detained today for covering protests (though they weren’t given an actual reason for their arrest). By removing witnesses from the scenes of such incidents the MOI are able to exploit an information vacuum, one in which their testimony will lack credible contradiction. This is especially true in a court run by a non independent judiciary dominated by members of the Ruling Family, who also run the Ministry of the Interior.

In addition to using rhetoric that demonizes protesters, the MOI often use the term ‘to become a martyr’ when referring to police casualties  They do not do this with civilians, which suggests they are attempting to appropriate the category of ‘legitimate victim’. By doing this they are also suggesting that civilian victims of police violence are not worthy of the term martyr, for the term implies that the person in question was not about to commit a sin. The lionisation of the police who die on duty, and the subsequent vilification of civilians who die at the hands of the police indicate an innate assumption that police action, no matter how despicable, is justified. This is mirrored by the fact that only four policemen  have been sentenced for killing civilians since 2011, and that was for manslaughter. Such an approach to policing tends to ‘de-emphasize the role of officers as providers of service to citizens and communities and instead treats them as surrogate soldiers following the orders from superiors.’ (Juska and Woolfson, 2012).

Furthermore, the increased militancy of many youth coupled with the militarization of policing in Bahrain is simply going to compound antagonism between citizen and state. Failure of the state’s institutions to carry out justice against police and officials will simply means that alternative avenues will be sought to achieve justice. Indeed, vigilantiism is a product of perceived righteousness in carrying out justice, and youths throwing Molotov cocktails will only ever feel more justified in their actions should the state continue to deny them the opportunity to see justice done in the courts. A just state will work to isolate those using more radical methods by demonstrating that civil society, and not the street, is the place to solve one’s grievances.

* Note too how such rhetoric finds its way into the BICI report and BICI follow up reports.

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Once Again, King Hamad Meets with the Chairman of Strategic Advisory Firm G3

Yesterday King Hamad met with the Duke of Westminster, otherwise known as Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor.  The two discussed Bahrain and Britain’s historic bilateral relationship and the need to ‘enhance it’.  There was also talk of ‘bolstering cooperation’ in all fields – whatever that means.  Cryptic Bahrain News Agency jargon aside, it is interesting that the King of Bahrain is meeting with the Duke of Westminster. As well as being the richest British person, Grosvenor is chairman of G3, a strategic advisory firm hired by Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority in 2011 to develop a “media campaign to support Bahrain’s position in the international community”. What the contract involved was not quite clear, though Lt Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, who worked as a ‘special adviser’ to G3, wrote a number of pieces in various news outlets that focused on Britain’s important military relationship with Bahrain.

Clearly 1.5 million pounds will buy a lot more than some PR in the form of a few sketchy articles. Indeed, the fact King Hamad gets to meet with G3’s chairman  suggests that Bahrain plumped for the company’s platinum package.  King Hamad has also met with Gerald Grosvenor on a number of other occasions over the past two years. In April and May 2011, the two met at the King’s palace where they once again discussed Bahrain and Britain’s historic trade relations, and the subsequent need to ‘bolster’ them. Grosvenor also visited the Bahrain International Circuit where, judging by the photo, he refused to sit on the outlandish sofas.

gros

The two also met in August 2012 when King Hamad visited the UK. As you may have guessed, their discussions revolved around Bahrain and Britain’s historic bilateral relations.  Whether or not the word ‘bolster’ was mentioned is unclear, though it should not be ruled out.

Incidentally, the tender for G3 was awarded in July 2011, and Grosvenor and Hamad met back in April 2011. I presume Grosvenor had a few interesting suggestions about how to boost trade between the two countries…and maybe G3 too.

Given the upcoming Grand Prix and the recent announcement of dialogue between government and Bahrain’s political parties, this is hunting season for PR companies, who will no doubt be seeking a windfall for their role in atoning for the government of Bahrain’s sins.

PR & the Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Bahrain

Skyscrapers -fitting tombstones to those who died building them

Often when people wish to illustrate Bahrain’s modernity, they will point to its brand new roads, its pleasant malls, and its huge skyscrapers.  In many ways, the logic of a neoliberal market system dictates the importance of these things, for in order to diversify its economy, a country must paint a picture of itself as a place worth of investment. While the logic of building colossal glass structures in a country where temperatures reach 50 degrees still eludes me, it continues to happen. But who constructs these giant greenhouses, and what does it tell about this so-called perception of modernity. Furthermore, who are the people who are brought to build and service a country whose very economy hugely outgrows the limitations of the soil it was built on.  Thanks to the fortunes of history, the small, environmentally hostile countries of the GCC demonstrate the inefficiencies and absurdities of bestowing upon tiny nations colossal sums of money.

Fueling and servicing much of this modernity are migrant workers from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, The Philippines, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Many of these South Asians work in extremely low paid jobs, including domestic work, laboring, cleaning, retail, transport etc. The presence of these expatriate workers in Bahrain has sometimes caused tension with Bahrainis, as many see them as taking jobs that could otherwise go to locals. Many expats are also employed in the state security forces, further fueling the problem. However, since February 14th last year, these grievances have been exploited and manipulated by the regime in an attempt to discredit protesters by portraying them as xenophobic, racist and brutal. (Read this excellent article by Fahad Desmukh for more information on how the government seemed ‘suddenly concerned’ with the plight of expats)

Protesters Versus Expats

The latest repetition of this ‘protester versus expat’ discourse took place on Al Jazeera’s show the Stream (aired 4th June  2012), where spokesman for the Information Affairs Authority (read regime PR centre) Fahad Albinali suggested that 12 expats were killed after being targeted by ‘rioters’ (see 10.08). This statement is actually erroneous. While it is true that four expatriates were killed during the troubles last year, 2 were killed by civilians, 1 was killed by the Bahrain Defence Force, and another was killed in unknown circumstances. Activist Mohammed Hasan highlighted this on Twitter, and after his tweets* appeared on The Stream, he was promptly called in by the Criminal Investigation Department to be questioned**. Incidentally, Nabeel Rajab was also detained for seven days following his appearance on the Stream. The official reason was that he had publicly vilified the citizens of Muharraq and questioned their patriotism. I believe this was the tweet that got him arrested? Let me know if you find any ‘disgraceful expressions’.  If insulting one’s patriotism is a crime, I wonder why all those people who call protesters ‘traitors’ have not been detained? (Those like Falaifel and Mohammed Khalid) The arrest of Nabeel and Mohammed severely undermine Albinali’s claim that in Bahrain ‘the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed’ (5.34). 

Anyway, I digress slightly. Ultimately, Mohamed’s crime was to speak his mind, and although he was released, his interrogation illustrates the regime’s commitment to intimidating those whose rhetoric contradicts the official state narrative of last year’s protests. That narrative is that demonstrators/protesters/rioters are inherently violent, and therefore all those who want political reform are violent and xenophobic.  The importance of this rhetoric is highlighted by Albinali’s liberal interpretation of the truth. With regards to expat deaths caused in last year’s unrest, he stated (at 10.00)

If you take into consideration that 5 of the 35 [deaths] documented  in the BICI were police officers, 18 of them were protesters,  the rest were expats – who the BICI report states that they were targeted by rioters and some seriously assaulted and some killed

According to Albinali’s maths, 12 expats died (35-18+5) seemingly as a result of ‘protester’ violence. In actual fact, the BICI report states that of the five security officers killed, three were by ‘demonstrators, one was by the BDF, and one could not be attributed  to a specific person or agency. Four expats were killed, two by civilians, one by the BDF, and one by persons unknown (BICI, 848). The report also states that thirteen civilian deaths were attributable to the security forces (BICI – 862), while the death of eight civilians could not be attributed to a particular person or agency (BICI – 879). Furthermore, the mystery surrounding these 8 ‘unattributed’ deaths is a result of poor, flawed and biased investigative work by the MoI (BICI – 880). Let’s also not forget the fact that the BICI was highly critical of Bahrain’s justice system, further casting doubt on the integrity of any claims the government might make about civilian on expat violence. Not only was Albinali being misleading, but it is absurd that Mohammed Hasan was questioned by police when he was not the one issuing erroneous information on international television. Of course I am being a little harsh, as I’m sure Fahad just forgot the exact figures, though had he not been representing the government would he too have been hauled over the coals and threatened with rape?

Other recent attempt to depict ‘protesters’ as anti-expat were evident in the middle of May, when the Informational Affairs Authority released a video showing the burnt out remains of a house allegedly attacked by thugs with petrol bombs. They also showed close ups of the injured expats, one of whom was being loaded into an ambulance. I can only assume such footage was released in an attempt to vividly perpetuate the oft-repeated line that anti-government thugs continue to attack expats. Although the IAA didn’t explicitly use the term anti-government protesters, the pro-regime rag the Gulf Daily News (GDN) was less subtle. In a report written a few days after the indicent the GDN tacked on the following paragraph.***

It was not the first incidence of violence in and around Nuwaidrat, which has witnessed a series of potentially fatal attacks since the outbreak of anti-government protests last year….Gangs of anti-government thugs waged a campaign of violence against Bahrain’s Asian community in March last year, prompting many to flee their homes in Manama and seek shelter at the Pakistan Club and the Pakistan School.

The IAA have chosen not to release footage of two other similar incidents involving expats, one of which involved 10 Bangladeshis dying of Carbon Monoxide poisoning as their cramped accommodation caught fire. Instead, the press seem to focus on the fact that these Bangladeshis were working illegally, and therefore their accommodation was not subject to labour ministry scrutiny. In a strong letter to the GDN, General Secretary of the Migrant Workers Protection Society stated succinctly,

Poverty and exploitation link all these tragedies. It is disingenuous to blame the dead men themselves for being “free visa” (black market) workers for running away from their employers, or for “moonlighting” as is suggested in some reports. Who has illegally sold the thousands of “free visas” at exorbitant prices? Who has rented out these squalid units and called them “accommodation”? Who has failed to provide adequate safety supervision and equipment? And who has failed to either pay their employees at all or paid them so little that they find it necessary to resort to supplementary employment, or to run away in the hope of finding better-paid employment?

These tragic deaths were the second incident of CO poisoning this year alone, after four Indians died in Hamad Town in January while attempting to warm themselves by burning wood in a steel drum. In this instance, the press chose not to focus on illegality, but a lack of education on the part of the workers, who were unaware of the dangers of CO poisoning. The fact is, safer oil heaters and better housing are beyond the reach of many migrant workers.

Deaths,  Suicides and Structural Violence

The main problem with the regime’s attempt to deligitimise the protesters by framing them as violent and xenophobic is that it detracts from what Andrew Gardner describes as the ‘structural violence’ facing many expat workers. In essence, structural violence entails the exploitation of cheap South Asian labourer to fuel profits for businesses operating in Bahrain. Not only does the use of this ‘surplus labour’ allow for profiteering, but it also allows many locals and Western expats to enjoy a more comfortable standard of living. Such exploitation is permitted by a number of important factors, including the kafala system, an arrangement common throughout the GCC that places power in the hand of a sponsor. In this system, expat labourers are bound to a particular sponsor or citizen, who is responsible for paying their wages, setting holiday, paying travel costs etc.

Although Bahrain was lauded for changing the oppressive kafala system back in 2009, it was virtually resinstated during last year’s unrest. Having said that, the current parliament have approved a progressive new labour bill that is meant to further protect migrant workers. It is currently waiting to be ratified by the King. The legislation has been in the pipeline for four years, and apparently this is the closest it has come to being made into law. As far as I know, there is no clause to issue a minimum wage for migrant workers. It is also hard to anticipate whether or not the legislation will have a significant impact on the often appalling conditions migrant workers find themselves in. Sometimes it is not so much about issuing legislation, but actual enforcing that legislation and having a legal system that upholds the law without favoring sponsors.

Without enforcement migrant workers will continue to face extreme hardships. One only has to go onto Nexis (newspaper database) and type in ‘suicide’ and ‘Bahrain’ to see a real tale of woe.  Two days ago, an Indian man who was destitute due to his employer not paying his salary threatened to commit suicide. Two weeks ago another worker tried to set himself on fire at the Indian embassy, apparently protesting at the lengthy bureaucratic process involved in enabling him to leave Bahrain. Although figures are hard to determine, one report states that 24 migrant workers have committed suicide between the months of January and June 2012. Many of these workers hang themselves, either from roof beams or ceiling fans.  Take the example of Shanu Johnson for example, an employee of Yateem Air-conditioning Company who hung himself from a ceiling fanThe ceiling fan aspect particularly poignant, for it often tends to indicate that the migrants live in accommodation with no air-conditioning. Incidentally, I wonder if Shanu, an employee of Air-conditioning company, had air conditioning at home? (cc Marx Scholars). 

In addition to suicides, many migrant workers die as a result of what should be termed criminal negligence, whether it be on the work site or at home. Although some worksite accidents are unavoidable, the flaunting and ignorning of safety regulations will inevitably increase their prevalence. Unsurprisingly, the justice system tends to favour sponsors in cases brought against them by migrant workers (Gardner, 2010). According to Labour Ministry figures, worksite fatalities were were ’29 in 2007, 21 in 2006 and 18 in 2005‘. Ironically, (for the government PR machine perhaps), this general increase was interrupted by a decline last year – apparently as a result of the the anti-government protests. Anyway, despite the persence of rules and regulations, the justice system and LMRA clearly lack the teeth required to bring negligent sponsors to justice. Furthermore, how the government count these accidents is cause for concern. In Dubai for example, the Indian, Pakistan and Bangaldeshi embassies returned the bodies of 880 construction workers back home in 2004. In 2006, Dubai only reported 34 construction-related deaths.

As well as deaths, the abuse of domestic workers is widespread in the country. This is particularly true of women, who often

face long working hours, low salaries and late payment of salaries and poor and repressive living conditions. They suffer restrictions on movement, including the withholding of passports and are particularly vulnerable to psychological, physical and sexual abuse. It is extremely difficult for such victims of abuse to seek legal redress.

On this note, the organisation Migrant Rights recently addressed the issue of Bahrain’s ambassador to France, who was accused by his domestic servant of attempting to rape her.  The organisation argued that such behavior by reputable officials is often indicative of the ‘habitual subordination of domestic workers in the Gulf’. They also add that these authoritative figures ‘maintain the discriminatory laws that perpetuate their subaltern existence’.

Of course one cannot say that the Bahraini government and high up officials are solely responsible for such mistreatment  There are myriad of factors at work, from unscrupulous employment agencies working in Bahrain and abroad, to countries with remittance-dependent economies who are loathe to sour diplomatic relationships with the states that employ so many of their native workforce . Having said this, a more democratic and accountable cabinet in Bahrain with less vested interests would be more responsive to the needs of migrant rights. Furthermore, respect for trade unions and their demands would further allow migrants to lobby for better conditions. That migrants are allowed to join trade unions is irrelevant given how the government and private sector dismissed thousands of workers for engaging in legal strikes (BICI, 1708) last year. The uprising also appears to have been used an excuse by the regime to attack, divide and weaken Bahrain’s trade unions.

Prime Minister as Defender of Migrants

Despite this attack on the country’s trade unions and the continued existence of exploitative kafala system that often results in poor housing, squalid living conditions, low wages, illegality, the Prime Minister has attempted to position himself as a champion of migrant rights, ordering a probe into the fire that killed the 10 Bangladeshi workers.  This announcement came a week after the Prime Minister ordered a separate probe into another worksite accident that killed 3 workers (one Bahrain, one Pakistani, one Indian).   They died after suffocating in a sceptic tank in the village of Al-Eker.  Incidentally, Bahrain’s least state-controlled newspaper Al-Wasat focused on how the Bahraini dived into the sceptic tank to save his foreign colleagues. No doubt this was a deliberate attempt to emphasize the often harmonious relationships that exist between Bahrainis and migrants. It’s not the first time Al-Wasat have done something similar, and a few months ago they published a story about an Indian tailor who had lived happily amongst Bahrainis for many years. All in all, a little contrived.

Anyway, despite the Prime Minister’s ‘valiant’ stance, the repatriation of the bodies of the Bangladeshis who died was funded by donations mainly taken from the Bangladeshi community living in Bahrain. The Bangladeshi embassy also paid BD1000 compensation to each family of the deceased. It does seem unfair that the Bangladeshi community have to cover these costs, especially without knowing which landlord supplied the housing (Shouldn’t he be partly responsible?). Furthermore, we do not know whom the Bangladeshis were working for or why they were staying after their visas had expired. This is particularly relevant since many expats find themselves banned from leaving Bahrain if they are in debt, or indeed if they ‘abscond’ from a company due to unfair treatment. So although many workers may be illegal, many also have no choice but to remain in Bahrain illegally. As if things weren’t difficult enough, a new rule was introduced in hospitals that means those without valid CPRs (i.e. those on travel bans) are not entitled to medical treatment. (I don’t know the current status of this rule)

Final Points…

Life in Bahrain is tough for many migrants. Not only do they frequently face appalling and exploitative working conditions, but they are also exploited politically. Afterall, it is migrants who do a lot of the policing in Bahrain. Many have also complained of being co-opted into attending pro-government rallies. The fact they are used to discredit the pro-reform movement is simply an extension of systemic exploitation that views migrants as a form of economic or political capital . This is not to say that migrants have not been attacked by civilians or members of the pro-reform movement.  Civilian violence against migrant workers is not a new phenomenon in Bahrain, and should never ever be justified. The point is that it should not be used as a tool to undermine a legitimate political movement, and it certainly should not detract from the structural violence that results in so many suicides and deaths. The government also need to stop deliberately using expats to create a system that disempowers Bahraini citizens, by both recruiting them into the security service and using them to undermine a powerful indigenous labour force. This simply undermines Bahrain’s historic cosmopolitanism by exacerbating tensions between local and expat communities.

In my view, one of the fundamental drivers of such exploitation in any society is  the belief that some people deserve to be rewarded more than others for working equally hard (in many cases even harder). The fact that many labourers are paid a pittance for working insanely long hours in gruelling conditions is a tragedy.  I fundamentally disagree with  wage disparities, since  I can’t find a good humanitarian argument that justifies them.  If wealth is the means that dictates our life chances, then why is it fair to give some people a better life than others? Such arguments become particularly pertinent when the luxuries we enjoy are the result of someone else’s exploitation. Again, we are all guilty of this to an extent, whether it be buying a product built by underpaid and overworked workers, to buying a luxury house whose price is low because those who built are paid peanuts and live in squalor.  Such guilt should be exacerbated by the fact that those who allow us to lead more comfortable lives essentially work a form of indentured servitude, which is essentially what the kafala system is.  Having said that, many of us hold attitudes, particularly related to wealth distribution, that legitimize a system of inequality and exploitation. In this sense, changing attitudes is as much about personal reflection as it is the responsibility of the government. Without addressing these issues, a democratic government will simply reflect our own inadequacies and prejudices.

*This tweet also appeared on The Stream. Mohammed also said

** Mohammed also added ‘To be clear, I wasn’t called in for my tweet on @AJStream exclusively, they asked me about all tweets even the ones where I say goodnight’ https://twitter.com/safybh/status/210681421554139136

***An odd thing about this attack on expats is that it did not appear in the two main English-language daily papers the following day

Are Bahrain finally getting their money’s worth from a PR company?

Two weeks ago the Guardian  took down a Comment is Free piece entitled ‘Bahrain has failed to grasp reform, so why is the Grand Prix going ahead?  According to Matthew Cassel, it was taken down at the request of British PR Firm Dragon Associates, who claimed that it contained ‘considerable inaccuracies‘. The piece, which you can still read here, stated that abuses had taken place on the premises of the Bahrain International Circuit. The article  implicates the head of the security at the BIC, which would explain why co-author John Lubbock tweeted

They’re contesting that it was the head of security who carried out the abuse, not that it happened. Typical denial of responsibility.

It would therefore seem that the article was potentially libellous, despite the fact that head of security’s name is mentioned in this witness testinomy on the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights website. Clearly Dragon Associates were able to convince the Guardian that the testimony might not be credible enough to survive a law suit.

So who are Dragon Associates (formerly known as Woodmint LTD)? Well on their website (which was updated from a single webpage in the past two weeks) there is this description:

Dragon Associates is an independently owned strategic advisory and communications consultancy, which works alongside its clients to help deliver their objectives.

Rather frustratingly, their ‘what we do‘ section is similarly vague, and only contains a retro diagram with some banal bullet points. Fortunately though, this quote from the website of a PR company called New Approach PR may help.

keeping our clients out of the press is sometimes as important as keeping them in.

New Approach PR is a company started by Jessica Johnson, who is also listed as an associate with Dragon Associates.

I’m not quite sure how such companies can so confidently offer services that keep clients ‘out of the press’, yet if it involves threatening to  sue then I imagine they must have some pretty tasty legal expertise in tow. Maybe their ‘network building‘ service puts their clients in touch with good barristers? Afterall, they must have some sweet hook-ups considering half of them went to Eaton.

Anyway, speculation aside, how much does enlistng the helps of these Dragons cost? It’s hard to know for sure, though if we use some simple deductive powers we can make an educated guess. Firstly, Dragon Associates managing Director Charlie Methven (Charles Harry Finlayson Methven) was working for New Century Media until June 2011. Two months later, the Bahrain government awarded a tender  to New Century Media to do Public Relations for the Bahrain International Circuit. They were paid 20,000 pounds sterling (approx $31,000) per month.

So just to recap: New Century Media, of which Charlie Methven was Managing Director, had a contract to do PR for the BIC (though not when he was there). Dragon Associates, of which Charlie Methven is Managing Director, currently have a contract with BIC. It is probably logical then to assume that New Century Media are no longer doing the PR for the BIC (though they still list it on their website).With regards to their fee,  it would not be unreasonable to assume that Dragon Associates are getting a similar figure –  ( I guess we’ll know for sure when the tenderboard website is updated)

As of tonight, the Comment is Free piece is still down, which indicates that the Guardian is taking the complaint very seriously – and so they should. Accusations of libel are no laughing matter,  yet I am still curious to know how Dragon Associates were so efficacious in lodging their complaint.  Maybe this all nothing though, and the Guardian simply responded to a routine complaint by a company they couldn’t afford to ignore.  Either way, I’d like to know precisely what it is about companies such as Dragon Associates that makes them worth the money.

Thanks to @chanadbh for the tenderdoc