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Syria Slaughters, Hamas Terrorizes: Public Relations Firms Advance their Cause

February 12th 2012

Syrian Issues - Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad in Vogue

In recent days, we have seen an intensification of the Syrian regime’s attacks on its own people. If reports are correct, more than 5,000 Syrian civilians have been slaughtered on President Bashar al-Assad’s command since the effort to bring the so-called Arab spring to Syria began late last spring. The dead include hundreds of women and children, people who just wanted freedom from a tyrannical regime.  Supply lines have been cut; medical supplies are running out, and the United Nations admits that it can neither provide a reliable accounting of the number of dead, nor stop the killing.

This regime is the extension of one begun in 1970, when Hafez al-Assad seized power and which was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrian, including one of the most gruesome massacres in Middle East history, the destruction of the Sunni rebel stronghold of Hama, in which between 10,000 and 20,000 people were killed by government forces. Bashir al-Assad has ruled since his father’s death on 2000 and has been able to maintain his stranglehold on Syria’s people largely because of world indifference, lack of commercial resources, and because of its proximity to Israel.

Curiously, perhaps, Israel has consistently received much worse media coverage than Syria. The Jewish State’s every move is scrutinized, while human rights violations have occured every day in Syria since the al-Assad family took the reins of power. Yet, until very recently you would never know that from the media reports and international proclamations. Only now, with Syria in the midst of a revolt, do we see extensive media coverage of the country. Even so, the world continues to be more exorcised by Israelis pouring concrete in the West Bank than by Syran soldiers raining deadly shells onto the people of Homs.

Now look a little deeper. Recently, a hacker group released hundreds of e-mails from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s office. One document revealed the methods for preparation of Assad for his December 2011 interview with ABC's Barbara Walters. Unlike the Israelis, the Syrians actually listen to the communications professionals.

Professor David Lesch of Trinity University, someone who regarded the Syrian president with hope, urged Syria to hire a U.S. PR firm for a two-year engagement at $150,000 per month. Lesch believed that the firm could “improve the image of Syria and President Bashar in the United States, and help with other forms of cooperation.”

Syria later hired an international public-relations agency, Brown Lloyd James to coordinate a Vogue magazine profile and photo shoot for Asma al-Assad, Syria’s first lady. The glowing profile, and stunning one-page picture entitled: “Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert” was published at the same time as the Syrian government’s crackdown on anti-regime protesters.

As David Kenner, an associate editor for the magazine Foreign Policy noted: “The article does not once mention the protests currently under way in the Middle East, including scattered evidence of demonstrations in Syria. Instead, the article focuses on Syrian first lady Asma Assad — the ‘freshest and most magnetic of first ladies,’ endowed with ‘[d]ark-brown eyes, wavy chin-length brown hair, long neck, an energetic grace.”

This same company, Brown Lloyd James, worked in the past to boost the regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. They said, "…we assisted the Libyan government in its efforts to reach out to the international political community through the United Nations and to the U.S. political and university community.”

Terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as certain Arab nations have hired public relations agencies to lobby for them in the media and on the world stage. Terror groups have engaged reporters and journalists, share meals with them, drink with them, and win their favor.

Fenton Communications, a New York City–based firm, signed two contracts with the Arab state of Qatar to develop a campaign to essentially delegitimize Israel by orchestrating an international anti-Israel campaign aimed at breaking the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Fenton Communications also works for “Al Fakhoora,” a Qatar-based pro-Palestinian initiative that “launched an advocacy campaign to file legal charges against Israel and change the public perception in the West about its actions.”

The Palestine Liberation Organization Mission in the United States hired Bell Pottinger, a leading International P.R. agency, to provide “advice on strategic communications, public relations, media relations, and congressional affairs.”

The European office of U.S. industry giant Burson-Marsteller, in reaction to Israel’s request for a meeting, said: “We will not deliver tender to such a project….We are running a commercial venture. If we accept this project, this will create a great amount of negative reactions….Israel is a particularly controversial project.” This from a firm that sought to handle the Bhopal disaster in India in which over 2,000 people were killed, and which represented Blackwater USA in 2007 after it was revealed that some of its employees were involved in the shooting deaths of 13 Iraqis in Baghdad.

So here, representing Israel will cause negative reactions among their client base, because it is a controversial project, but for a firm to take on the role of painting Syria’s first lady as glamorous amidst the bloodshed of the people right outside her palace windows is mainstream and acceptable.

Or, staging the deadly flotilla off Gaza is just a routine job, but helping Israel appear as a modern country at the height of medical and technological breakthroughs that benefit the world could blight the agency that does it. These illogical answers alone are indicative of the PR success that Arabs have had.  Israel attempted to hire PR firms in ten countries throughout Europe, and many responded as Burson-Marsteller had.

While many pay lip service to the awful state of Israel’s image, Israel does not use public relations agencies in the United States – and it is not a coincidence that the Arabs receive better media coverage than Israel, because they use communications professionals.

As Syria brutally murders its citizens, and Hamas targets Westerners, public relations pros will help them sell their story. There are millions to be made in sugar-coating terror and brutality. My firm, I am glad to say, will not make any of those millions. No firm should. That there are firms that are willing to cast decency and morality aside for an improved bottom line is sad. That these firms are prepared to help paper over the deaths of tens of thousands of average Syrian citizens for the sake of holding on to a prestigious account is a travesty of monumental proportions — so much so that when the role of these public relations firms is revealed as being complicit in the deaths of scores of thousands of liberty-seeking Syrians an entire industry will see its reputation dragged through the media in the manner they believe supporting Israel may do to them.

Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, one of the 25 largest PR Agencies in the US, and author of “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations.”


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