Putrajaya’s media strategist funded
US filings show
March 02, 2013
KUALA LUMPUR, March 2 — Putrajaya’s media strategist APCO Worldwide covertly financed international media reports in a campaign against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim after Election 2008, filings to the United States Department of Justice this week revealed.
Widely-read New York-based news portal Buzzfeed Politics reported yesterday that media outlets from Huffington Post and Washington Times to San Francisco Examiner and National Review carried several articles by right-wing American writers, most notably Joshua Trevino, who had been engaged by global publicity firm APCO Worldwide.
Anwar was the target in articles by right-wing American writers.Trevino, who was last year sacked as the US correspondent for British paper The Guardian over a news-fixing scandal linked to Putrajaya, was reported to have declared earning US$389,724.70 (RM1.2 million), in a belated filing to the US Justice Department under its Foreign Agent Registration Act earlier this week, for a contracted campaign that spanned from May 2008 to April 2011.
According to Trevino’s belated federal filing, the interests paying Trevino were in fact the government of Malaysia, “its ruling party or interests closely aligned with either”, Buzzfeed reported.
The news site highlighted the writer telling the influential US website Politico previously in 2011 that “I was never on any ‘Malaysian entity’s payroll,’ and I resent your assumption that I was” following allegations he had hidden his business relationship with Malaysian political interests.
The contract also involved a firm called FBC (short for Fact-Based Communications), whose involvement in covert propaganda prompted a related scandal and forced an executive at The Atlantic to resign from its board, Buzzfeed reported.
Trevino told Buzzfeed he had been approached by publicist and social media executive David All in 2008 and never had contact with “the ultimate client.”
“I only had an assumption of who I was working for. I never knew exactly who APCO was dealing with, never knew exactly who FBC was dealing with,” he was quoted as saying.
He was reported to have acknowledged he had lied to BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith, who was then at Politico, when the allegations first surfaced in 2011.
According to the filings, Trevino was also employed to write for websites called MalaysiaMatters, now defunct, and MalaysiaWatcher.Trevino had also frequently criticised Anwar in his other columns in other publications such as the Huffington Post.
Trevino was also reported to have farmed out his work to 10 other conservative American writers, including former Washington Post blogger Ben Domenech, who earned US$36,000 from the deal, and Rachel Ehrenfeld, the director of the American Center for Democracy, who made US$30,000.
Buzzfeed reported Seth Mandel, an editor at Commentary, drawing US$5,500 for a National Review piece while Brad Jackson picked up US$24,700 for work in Redstate. “It was actually a fairly standard PR operation,” Trevino told BuzzFeed last Friday.
Domenech, who wrote two pieces for Huffington Post and the San Francisco Examiner, was reported as saying he had been picked by Trevino’s strategy and media company in 2010 to write about Malaysia, specifically its political scene.
“Of course, Josh picked me knowing what my opinion was — I stand by what I wrote at the time and I continue to be critical of Anwar Ibrahim, who I think is a particularly dangerous fellow,” he was reported as saying by Buzzfeed.
FBC Media, the company alleged to have been referred to by The Guardian, made eight programmes for the BBC about Malaysia while failing to declare it was paid £17 million (RM85 million) by the Malaysian government for “global strategic communications”, which included positive coverage of Malaysia’s controversial palm oil industry.
The BBC also used FBC to make a documentary about the spring uprising in Egypt without knowing the firm was paid to do PR work for the regime of former dictator Hosni Mubarak.The BBC was forced to make a public apology over the matter.
FBC had also been exposed to have doubled up as a publicity firm for the Najib government and was paid millions of pounds to conduct a “Global Strategic Communications Campaign”.
But Putrajaya ended its RM94 million contract with FBC, which started in 2007, in 2011 after it was revealed Malaysian government leaders regularly appeared in paid-for-TV programmes.
The Malaysian Insider has reported of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak contracting a series of public relations strategists, including APCO Worldwide, to polish his personal image and his government’s locally and worldwide.
Late last year the government said FBC helped raise the standing of Malaysia as a tourism and investment destination during the three-year deal.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz told Parliament that the London-based media company, which is facing bankruptcy, “supported the efforts of government leaders and ministers” to burnish the country’s image overseas.