Vol. 5 Num 664 Mon. April 10, 2006  
Front Page

US lobbyists hired for image building, 'positive' reporting
They are to ensure 'balanced reporting on Bangladesh' among a waft of tasks

The government has appointed three American lobbyists including an individual and two firms to arrange high-level interactions with the US government and build a "positive and correct image" of Bangladesh among the US policymakers.

The lobbyists have also been assigned to ensure "balanced reporting on Bangladesh" through mainstream media. They will coordinate with the relevant agencies of the US government to facilitate interactions in Bangladesh between the government and the representatives of the US government.

The firms, The Washington Group and Ketchum Washington (TWG/K), will get a monthly retainer fee of at least $45,000 in addition to "certain out of pocket expenditure" that TWG/K will incur in connection with the services. It is not clear from documents how much the individual lobbyist, Richard L Benkin, will get.

The contract signed on October 31 last year for an initial period of six months between the Bangladesh embassy in Washington and the lobbyists however said "efforts will be made" to keep the pocket expenditure within $750 a month. The contract will be evaluated after the expiry of the first 90 days.

The contract, documents of which have been made available to The Daily Star, has been done after months of negotiation in Washington and kept out of public knowledge.

Signed by Shamser M Chowdhury, Bangladesh ambassador to the US and John D Rafaelli, chief financial officer of The Washington Group, the contract said the lobbyists should rebut and contain negative reporting on Bangladesh and its government in the US media, academic circles and think tanks.

"Using the combined talents of TWG/K we would develop and implement a multi-faceted public relations, media and education plan to strengthen the image of Bangladesh in the US. We would seek to dispel misconceptions about alleged human rights abuses, corrupt government practices and Islamist militancy," the lobbyists said in their work objectives.

In its effort to improve Bangladesh's public image, the lobbyists promised placement of positive news and feature articles in newspapers, magazines and national journals and arrangement for the Bangladesh ambassador in US to appear on national television news shows originating in Washington.

The TWG/K while pitching for the task has promised a long list of tasks that include supporting the government in establishing and maintaining the "closest possible" relations with the White House and the Congress.

"The interests and objectives of Bangladesh must be communicated to and understood by the President and his advisors on an ongoing basis," The Washington Group said in its objective that was submitted to the US Department of Justice. The US laws require lobbyists to register with the justice department and disclose their interests.

It also observed that it is important that Prime Minister Khaleda Zia pays an early state visit to the US and promised to provide a full menu of services including comprehensive public affairs/public relations support for the prime minister's visit.

"We would endeavour to have the prime minister address a Joint Session of the Congress, a rare honor, which in turn would stimulate high visibility media opportunities. The latter would certainly include delivery by the prime minister of a major address at the National Press Club in Washington," the objective reads.

Based on their "close relationships" with senior officials in the Bush administration, the lobbyists also promised to endeavour to "convince the President to add Bangladesh to his itinerary" during his visit to India and Pakistan in March this year.

It also promised to work for increased US aid, assisting the government to get funding from the Millennium Challenge Account, debt relief, support the government in its dealings with the World Bank, IMF and the UN, establish free trade arrangement with US, give high priority to arranging for senior level military to military exchanges and exploitation of joint training opportunities, among other things.

The lobbyists would establish informal channels of communication with US officials to enable the Bangladesh embassy to better interpret and understand the US politics.

They said they would be able to 'open doors at the senior levels' of major US corporations such as Bechtel, General Electric, Lockhead Martin and Wal Mart to interest them in projects of importance to the government.

More promises were made in the arena of cultural exchanges and improving visa procedures.