A high-powered U.K. lobbying firm was caught pitching its services to the government of Uzbekistan. Unfortunately, that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Uzbek soldiers in a corridor of high court building in Tashkent / Reuters
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has a blockbuster story about how U.K.-based lobbyists use their relationship with the British government to advance the interests of their clients. The horrors!
The basics of what they allege the firm Bell Pottinger did -- Search Engine Optimization, access to 10 Downing Street, targeted message placement -- is really just standard kit for a lobbying firm. These activities are not on their own necessarily nefarious, unless you think the very existence and practice of PR firms is nefarious (which, in fairness, some people do). But in this case, the outrage stems in part because of who this firm was going to employ its standard toolkit for:
Reporters from the Bureau posed as agents for the government of Uzbekistan -- a brutal dictatorship responsible for killings, human rights violations and child labour -- and representatives of its cotton industry in a bid to discover what promises British lobbying and public relations firms were prepared to make when pitching to clients, what techniques they use, and how much of their work is open to public scrutiny.
In case that sounds familiar, that is because it is precisely what
Harper's journalist Ken Silverstein did with Turkmenistan and DC
lobbyist firms four years ago.