WASHINGTON: The Syrian government, increasingly under fire for its suspected role in sponsoring terrorist activity, has launched a PR offensive to improve its image in the West.
The newly formed Syrian Society for Public Relations (SSPR) will educate officials about how to maintain good relations with foreign governments, non-governmental organizations, the media, and opinion leaders, according to Arabic News.
It will also collaborate with Britain's International Society for Public Relations.
The Ministry of Information unveiled the initiative one-week prior to the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Syrian officials have denied responsibility for the murder, but Hariri's death has sparked renewed pressure for Syria to pull its troops from Lebanon.
Eleana Benador, CEO of Benador Associates, which maintains a speakers bureau of Middle East and national security experts, characterized the assassination itself as an archaic, if more common method of influencing public opinion among extremist Syrian factions.
"It does affect their message abroad, and it does give validity to the opposition groups," she said. "Personally, I think it's a very shortsighted action because it will boomerang."
Although it is still unclear who was responsible for Hariri's motorcade bombing, Benador noted that there is "a whole mechanism now to influence the media. It could be parallel interests in the same direction."
She added, "Sometimes you can call it propaganda, and sometimes you can call it in a more sophisticated way 'PR.'"
The Syrian Embassy did not return calls for comment. But Clawson noted that Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha has made a conscious media push in the US.
"They've had a number of ineffective ambassadors. [But] their current ambassador is very sharp, very media savvy," he said. "They've done some very good campaigns, very well designed."