World In Review 2012
Compiled By Dinouk Colombage
PCC Rejects Complaint From Bell Pottinger Following Undercover Independent Articles
The Press Complaints Commission has ruled that a series of articles published in the Independent which reported on comments made by representatives from the PR firm Bell Pottinger to undercover reporters did not breach Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. A number of Bell Pottinger executives had been secretly recorded by journalists from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) who were posing as ‘clients’ seeking advice on a public relations strategy for the Uzbekistan government.
Bell Pottinger argued that the subterfuge employed by the BIJ was unnecessary; that there was an insufficient public interest to justify the use of subterfuge and the material that resulted from it; that the presentation of the coverage had sensationalised the story and created a misleading impression that wrongdoing had been exposed. The firm said that no wrongdoing had been exposed; the coverage had downplayed the emphasis placed by staff members throughout the conversations on the need for a genuine commitment to reform in Uzbekistan, and subterfuge was in any case unnecessary as it would have provided information about its work to the reporters if asked openly.
The newspaper argued that there was a strong public interest in the story. It explained the background to its decision to publish the BIJ’s story (for which it took full editorial responsibility), including an explanation of why the BIJ had decided to investigate the lobbying industry, why it had targeted Bell Pottinger (and other PR firms), and why it had decided to use subterfuge. The newspaper had decided to proceed with publication of the story because it believed that readers had a right to know about the firm’s apparent willingness to work with a regime that would remain ‘brutal’ even if some reforms were put in place, and that the public would otherwise be denied knowledge about how such regimes could gain political access and alter public perceptions.
In its adjudication, the Commission noted that the newspaper’s actions were a clear prima facie breach of Clause 10 of the Code, which states that “the press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices”. The test was whether a sufficient public interest defence could be established. The Commission noted that the journalists had been investigating various claims that had been made about the activities of Bell Pottinger and other public relations firms, rather than as a means of confirming a specific hypothesis about Bell Pottinger in particular, but ruled that “the means employed by the journalists had been appropriately tailored to explore the allegations made by confidential sources about the firm’s activities, which raised issues of significant public interest”. It acknowledged the firm’s position that no ‘serious impropriety’ had been exposed but decided that the public interest was served by subjecting the complainants’ methods to “wider scrutiny and comment, particularly at a time when the possibility of imposing greater regulation on the [lobbying] industry was being debated”.
Charlotte Dewar, Head of Complaints and Pre-publication Services, said: “This was a complex case which demonstrates the Commission’s expectations that publications should be able to ‘demonstrate fully that they reasonably believed that publication, or journalistic activity undertaken with a view to publication, would be in the public interest and how, and with whom, that was established at the time’.
It also exemplifies the need for publications to have rigorous editorial processes in place – in this instance, both at the publication itself and at the external organisation which had supplied journalistic material to the newspaper – before reporting of this kind is undertaken. The question that will always be asked of any undercover investigation is whether or not it was a ‘fishing expedition’. This was a fine judgment but the Commission was ultimately persuaded that the arguments put forward by the newspaper about the public interest justified the intrusion on this occasion”.
Courtesy Press Complaints Commission
Family Fury As Workmen Installing A TV In Hospital Turn Room Into A ‘Building Site’
A frail hospital patient lay dying while workmen turned her room into a ‘building site’ so they could fit a TV to a wall.
Grandmother June Barnett, 76, died on April 27 at Worcestershire Royal Hospital from pneumonia.
Just an hour before she died, her son claims three workmen pushed her bed out the way and slung her medical drip over the back of a chair. According to her son Colin Barnett, 54, a workman sat on the great-grandmother of three’s bedhead drilling holes in the wall so they could fix TV stands to the wall.
The Worcestershire county council worker said: ‘I was absolutely outraged. I walked in and was just in disbelief.
‘It looked like a building site. You couldn’t access the medical equipment because they were in the way. ‘Apologies don’t improve things. I don’t understand how professionals could allow an individual to be treated like that.
‘It’s unbelievable the communication and care failures. It’s disgusting.’
The mother of three, whose husband died ten years ago, was admitted to hospital on Saturday April 21 with stomach and chest infections.
Mr Barnett, who took photos and a video of the room, discovered the mess when he visited his mother the following Friday.
He said: ‘I walked in and saw stepladders and power tools lying around.
‘They had pushed her bed out of the way and put her drip and oxygen tubes over the back of a chair.
‘I saw a workman sitting on the bedhead drilling holes in the wall.
‘She was unconscious at the time. I started asking what was happening and got them to leave. Why the workmen were in there I don’t know. ‘Shortly after that they moved her into another room and told me she was going to die. She died an hour after she was moved.
‘The hospital said the workmen were in there for half an hour before I arrived. There were three of them in there, two of them were just chatting while watching the other one drill.
‘There were bolts all over the floor and brick dust from the drilling.
‘You don’t expect anyone to put up with that in this country. It took me a while to realise what was happening. ‘Anyone with common sense can see you can’t move tubes out of the way. The duty of care was broken. I’m very upset about it.’ Before she retired Mrs Barnett had her own hairdressing business and owned a wine bar in California, before returning to the UK in 1991.
Helen Blanchard, Chief Nursing Officer said: ‘Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust does not discuss individual patients. ‘We always offer to meet with patients and their families if there are concerns about treatment. ‘Our prime concern is the welfare of patients within our care, but we can’t discuss an isolated case. ‘We’ve fully responded to Mr Barnett’s concerns and apologised for any distress caused.
‘We have offered to meet with the family to discuss any outstanding issues.’
Courtesy Daily Mail
UN Chief’s Plea As Deadline Looms For Global Arms Treaty
The UN chief has urged states to bridge differences ahead of Friday’s deadline for the draft of a new global agreement to control international arms sales.
Ban Ki-moon said that “very limited progress” had been made during 30 days of talks in New York.
However, a British spokesman was more upbeat, telling Associated Press a historic agreement could be very close.
The global arms trade is estimated to be worth between $60bn and $70bn (£40-50bn) per year.
The US and Russia – among the world’s largest exporters of weapons – as well as China, have reservations about an international deal.
The US has long opposed the inclusion of reporting ammunition exports in any text and China does not want small arms to be included. Both Russia and China have also sought restrictions to references to humanitarian law.
Other countries which have expressed concerns about a deal include Syria, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Algeria.
Any draft treaty that emerges from the talks must be approved unanimously – effectively giving all countries the power of veto.
Mr Ban urged negotiating states to “work in good faith towards bridging their differences”.
“We owe it to all the innocent civilians who have fallen victim to armed conflict and violence,” he added.
Some 750,000 people are killed by illicit weapons each year.
A spokesman for the British mission to the UN said a new agreement was near.
The spokesman, quoted by AP, said the new text was “a substantial improvement” and that “an historic agreement” to regulate the international trade in conventional arms was now “very close”.
On Thursday, a bipartisan group of 51 US senators threatened to oppose any agreement that infringed on the constitutional right to bear arms.
The negotiations on a treaty to establish common standards for the global trade is the result of a six-year campaign by a coalition of non-governmental organisations, including Amnesty International and Oxfam. Campaigners point out that even if a treaty is vetoed, it can be taken to the 193-member UN General Assembly and adopted with a two-thirds majority. BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says that illegal or poorly regulated arms sales contribute to a syndrome – fuelling conflict, boosting corruption and generally undermining development throughout the poorer parts of the world.
Netherlands Cuts Rwanda Aid Over Alleged Rebel Support
The Netherlands has suspended an aid budget worth $6.15m (£3.9m) to Rwanda over its alleged backing of rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This comes days after the US announced it was cutting military aid to the country.
Rwanda has rejected reports made by UN experts that it is supporting the M23 movement rebels in eastern DR Congo.
The rebels mutinied from the army in April and some 200,000 people have fled their homes as a result of fighting.
The move comes as a senior UN official told the BBC that defecting Congolese rebels have confirmed that they were recruited in Rwanda.
On Thursday, the UN reported that its forces helped the Congolese army push the rebels out of two towns north of Goma using helicopter gunships and armoured vehicle.
Eastern DR Congo has been plagued by fighting since 1994, when more than a million ethnic Hutus crossed the border into DR Congo following the Rwandan genocide, in which some 800,000 people – mostly Tutsis – died.
Rwanda has twice invaded its much larger neighbour, saying it was trying to take action against Hutu rebels based in DR Congo. Uganda also sent troops into DR Congo during the 1997-2003 conflict.
The BBC’s Anna Holligan in The Hague says this is the first financial sign that Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame may be losing some of his European allies.
The Dutch foreign ministry has confirmed it will no longer be making payments to Rwanda’s aid budget until it has received reassurances from Kigali.
The money was being used to improve the country’s judicial system – Dutch support for non-governmental organisations will continue.
Our correspondent says the Dutch government is still awaiting a response from Rwanda and is now in the process of talking to other European government about possible further action.
The Congolese rebels who took up arms in April named themselves M23 after a failed peace agreement signed with DR Congo’s government on 23 March three years ago.
The rebellion is led by renegade general Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.
He belongs to the Tutsi ethnic group like the top leadership in Rwanda, which fears the presence of rival Hutu militias in eastern DR Congo.
Speaking off the record, a senior UN peacekeeping official told the BBC about the debriefing of 30 former members of the M23 movement.
The defectors said they had been recruited in Rwanda, but were then sent into DR Congo to find themselves fighting with the M23.
There is a line that one can cross under international law where you can be held responsible for aiding a group in a way that makes possible their commission of atrocities”
The UN official said this chimed with the UN’s own observations of some rebels who are unlike the other Congolese troops who mutinied.
They are armed with weapons not used by the Congolese army, speak English – unlike most Congolese – have unusual uniforms and undertake night attacks – something the Congolese army does not do, the official said.
The UN says the M23 has grown in recent weeks – another sign that they are being reinforced – allegations that Rwanda has repeatedly denied.
The US aid cut of $200,000 is not regarded as a vast sum, but analysts say it is hugely symbolic.
Washington has been one of Rwanda’s staunchest international defenders.
On Wednesday, Stephen Rapp, head of the US Office of Global Criminal Justice warned that Rwanda’s leadership, including Mr Kagame, could possibly face prosecution at the ICC over the current unrest.
“There is a line that one can cross under international law where you can be held responsible for aiding a group in a way that makes possible their commission of atrocities,” the US ambassador for war crimes told the UK Guardian newspaper.
“I think you would have a situation where individuals who were aiding them from across the border could be held criminally responsible.”
Mr Kagame has dismissed the article as irresponsible. He commented on his Twitter account that it was “laughable” and displayed “gross ignorance”.