The following 25th January article by John Lubbock and Nabeel Rajab has be reinstated after it was taken down from The Guardian’s Comment Is Free site when The Guardian was threatened with libel by a London PR agency working for the Bahrain International Circuit:
In it, Lubbock and Rajab say:
Last year, the head of security at the BIC raided its offices alongside plainclothed police with a list. The list contained the names of every Shia employee. One by one they were dragged from their desks and beaten in front of colleagues. In total, 27 were arrested, and many were left in jail for months. The BIC is responsible for purging its own people. It is hardly a place that deserves to host this race again.
Fair comment, I’d say. But The Guardian were forced to consult their lawyers, kicking the story into the long grass for a two vital weeks while the 2012 F1 calendar was being finalised. When the article re-appeared on 16th February, it carried a footnote:
“In its letter of complaint, the BIC makes the following points: while the BIC accepts that in April 2012 the police took some of its employees to the police station for interrogation, it denies the allegation that its security staff were involved in any repressive activities, or that its staff tortured, beat or mistreated BIC employees on BIC premises. The BIC says that if any of its employees were beaten or otherwise badly treated by BIC security staff – which it denies – it would have been without BIC’s knowledge, instructions or orders.”
Humm, is this footnote denying the torture took place, or denying that it knew about it? Weasel words indeed. Personally, I’d have let the article stand on 30th January, but I guess The Guardian had its reasons.
As it is, the Bahrain F1 race has been scheduled for late April, so it will no longer be the first race of the 2012 season, but the fourth after Australia, Malaysia and China:
Some people aren’t happy about this. The Sakhir CEO admitted he is disappointed Melbourne will be kicking off the sport in less than a month’s time:
“I think Formula One should start the world championship in a timezone that makes sense,” said Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa. We have a lot of support in Europe for our Grand Prix and to start in Australia, where it is 2am or 3am in Europe, that to me doesn’t make sense”
F1 are clearly wobbling, and further pressure might still bring about a cancellation of the Bahrain event. CEO of the global F1 enterprise Bernie Ecclestone claimed in a recent article not to have received any letters from any Bahrainis asking him to cancel the event:
He can be contacted as follows:
Mr. Bernie Ecclestone,
CEO, Formula One Management Ltd,
6 Princes Gate, Knightsbridge,
London. SW7 1QJ.
It’s probably best to CC any letters sent to other parties.
Regimes like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are enthusiasts for “libel tourism”. I myself have been threatened, indirectly, through proxies, with libel.
Thankfully, UK libel law is under review:
Index on Censorship and English PEN’s Libel Reform Campaign stress that:
“English libel law imposes unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on free speech, sending a chilling effect through the publishing and journalism sectors in the UK. This effect now reaches around the world, because of so-called ‘libel tourism’, where foreign cases are heard in London, widely known as a ‘town named sue’.The law was designed to serve the rich and powerful, and does not reflect the interests of a modern democratic society.”
Absolutely! I’d advise readers to sign their petition:
And read Lord Lester’s Libel Bill:
Barrier to free speech and incompatible with a democratic society they may be, but England’s libel law is littered with examples of cases that have backfired disasterously on vindictive litigants. The most well-known is perhaps the infamous seven-year “McLibel” base, where McDonalds sued two penniless Green activists:
Although the [McDonalds] corporation was awarded damages and technically won on a number of legal points, the case was as a public relations disaster. Its action against the two activists was viewed by many observers as unfair. The public interest in the trial and the issues raised were far reaching. What McDonald’s hoped would be a private legal knock down of the two defendants turned into what Morris described as a “public issue fought and won in the court of public opinion and on the street.” In summary, the legal action by McDonald’s backfired spectacularly.
Legal attacks can be turned into opportunities for the defence, either in court or in the public domain. More generally, the backfire framework points to those tactics that are most effective for plaintiffs and those that work best for their opponents. The framework offers some object lessons for those who are rich and powerful: be careful about suing when the action can be perceived as excessive and when there is someone who will mount a determined resistance. Large corporations have already learned from McDonald’s public relations disaster.
What fun it would be to have my seven years in court dragging the Bahrain’s international reputation through the mire, getting all that evidence out in open court!
On a totally unconnected matter, I called London and Lagos based PR firm Dragon Associates to ask if they were representing the Bahrain regime:
They denied they were representing ‘the Bahrain government’, but confirmed they were representing the Bahrain International Circuit.
Perhaps Dragon would like to sue me for calling them a PR firm, since they insist they are “an independently owned strategic advisory and communications consultancy, which works alongside its clients to help deliver their objectives”.
Such is the dire reputation of PR outside the GCC that even PR firms are shy of calling themselves that, preferring a mouthfull of gobbledygook instead!