The Daily Telegraph reported over the weekend that documents found in the Libya’s Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi’s abandoned office detailed the creation of a £8.8m fund to pay British and foreign campaigners to change the public perception of Nato’s intervention in the country.
The discover of the plans comes weeks after an email was sent to a host of London PR agencies by Libya's Ministry of Information asking for PR support to improve the image of Gaddafi.
The paper wrote that the documents included plans to pay selected foreigners, the regime thought would be ‘sympathetic to Gaddafi’, up to £2m to lobby on his behalf.
Among the British officials named in the documents was a lobbyist who the Gaddafi government was planning to pay £200,000 a week, up to a total of £2m, to create an anti-war think tank called the Centre of Non-Intervention.
The paper reported that the lobbyist’s remit included releasing reports and studies, hosting lectures and conferences with ‘well-known British political thinkers’ and achieving the end goal - to ‘reject foreign intervention in Libya and around the world’.
Porter Novelli EMEA head of corporate Alex Woolfall said any agency attracted by this offer would ‘have taken leave of its senses’ and that now, more than ever, PR agencies are under ‘as much scrutiny as the clients they represent - they have their own reputations to think about’.
‘Assuming such a plan existed - I think it shows a pretty naïve view of what PR and lobbying actually is and can do,' he said. ‘We complain about the media in this country, but they are a long way off from swallowing hook, line and sinker what they're told by lobbyists. So, I can hardly see why they thought a few individuals would sway public opinion.’
Insignia Communications founder Jonathan Hemus agred: ‘When deciding with whom they would work, agencies draw the line at different places - and in some cases the lure of a large budget can move the line. But PR for the Gadaffi regime is way over the line for any agency I can think of.
‘In a strange way, the fact that the Gadaffi regime would consider spending such a large amount of money on PR just goes to underline the power and effectiveness of communication. It’s incumbent upon the mainstream PR industry to use that power responsibly.’
The Gaddafi regime also reportedly planned to ask Labour peer Lord Ahmed, who has campaigned for peace in Libya, to join the campaign. Lord Ahmed told the paper he had not been approached.
The Telegraph said the regime set aside an overall budget of £8.8m for the political and public relations campaign.