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Western PR Firms Compete for Fresh Multi-Million Dollar Contract with Bahrain Govt

October 14, 2013

Six major British and American public relations firms have made bids of between 1.9 and 25.7 million US dollars to win a new PR contract offered by the Bahraini government, as it seeks to stave off international criticism of its ongoing human rights abuses. Research and advocacy group Bahrain Watch called on the bidding PR companies not to play a role in the Bahraini government’s attempt to whitewash its image amidst its repression of pro-democracy protesters.

According to a posting on the website of the Bahraini government’s Tender Board, the following companies have made bids for the tendered public relations contract:

Company name


Bid price

Bell Pottinger London US$ 0.9 million
US$ 6.1 million
US$ 9.3 million
Hill & Knowlton New York US$ 5.2 million
Weber Shandwick New York US$ 1.9 million
Portland Communications London US$ 25.7 million
Citigate Dewe Rogerson London Not available
Consulum London US$ 3.9 million

The Bahraini government has been struggling to improve its international image since February 2011, when it launched a military-backed security crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired protests in the country. The government has received widespread condemnation from international human rights bodies for human rights abuses, including arbitrary detentions, torture, mass political sackings and severe restrictions on freedoms of expression and association.

In August 2012, Bahrain Watch launched its PR Watch project, documenting how the Bahraini government had spent or allocated at least US$ 32.5 million for the services of eighteen different British and American firms to improve its image in the Western media after the 2011 political unrest.

Bell Pottinger, Hill & Knowlton and Weber Shandwick have previously held multiple PR contracts with the government of Bahrain. Consulum is a newer company formed by former Bell Pottinger staff based in the Gulf, managed by Matthew Gunther-Bushell, the former managing director of Bell Pottinger’s Bahrain office.

According to an April 2011 report in the Independent newspaper, Bell Pottinger sent out regular emails to journalists following the start of the February 2011 uprising, putting forward the Bahraini government’s narrative. One email described the Bahraini government's "readiness to receive the injured in hospitals" just before it began detaining doctors. Under public pressure, Bell Pottinger eventually suspended one of its Bahrain accounts in April 2011, but this was short-lived as at least four new contracts were signed with the government in the following twelve months, including a new US$ 10.5 million deals with the EDB.

“Rather than spending public resources on creating the illusion of reform in the foreign media, the Bahraini government should focus its efforts on implementing genuine human rights and democratic reforms in the country,” said Bahrain Watch member Fahad Desmukh.

Human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch point out that while the Bahraini government has made some minor reforms, the crackdown on dissent continues, and more worryingly, there has been a failure to hold any senior officers to account for human rights violations.

“We urge the bidding PR firms not to participate in the whitewashing process of the Bahraini government’s human rights record,” said Desmukh.

For details on previous contracts between the government and Western PR firms, refer to Bahrain Watch’s PR Watch project at:

Bahrain Watch is a monitoring and advocacy group that seeks to promote effective, accountable, and transparent governance in Bahrain through research and evidence-based advocacy.  About Bahrain Watch:



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