Spinning the news for Libya and Egypt

The Takeaway

This story was originally covered by PRI’s The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

When protests broke out across the Middle East, PR companies had to work overtime. “Quite a lot of journalists, myself and others, started being discretely contacted by PR companies representing some of these Arab countries,” the BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse told PRI’s The Takeaway. They were “trying to sort of push a different story, if you like,” Gatehouse said, “trying to mitigate some of the negative headlines.”

Nearly every country in the Middle East has some kind of PR representation in either London or Washington. That’s can be a tough job, especially when it involves working for leaders like Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi. Gatehouse spoke with Nick Allan, who once represented what he called “difficult regimes.” Allen told Greenhouse:

As we’ve seen with Libya very recently, you cannot put lipstick on a dictator and change his reputation overnight. There’s only so much lipstick that will stick. And ultimately at the end of the day, if it’s not a democratic regime, people know that. And there’s not that much PR can do to change that fundamental image.

At some point, the job gets too difficult. Gatehouse spoke with Gregory Vistica, President of the Washington Media group, who once worked for the Tunisian government. He told Gatehouse:

When the protests began, we monitored them quite closely. And at the end of the day, we decided we could not work for a country that was shooting its citizens from rooftops. And based on principle we decided to drop them as a client.

What remains to be seen is if others will follow suit.


The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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