When authoritarian governments find that independent foreign media do not write sufficiently favourable articles about them, they can always seek to get their message across by paying the media.
This seems to have been what the Bangladesh government has done in relation to an article published in the widely read right-wing UK political website, Guido Fawkes, which normally trades in domestic UK political intrigue, gossip and investigations.
On May 12th, Guido Fawkes published an article, titled “Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina Wraps up Tour by Inviting Electoral Observers”. It is a fawning piece that espouses the glories of Sheikh Hasina and her government, and implies that she is all in favour of free and fair election and reports on her calls for international election observers at the forthcoming national elections.
This is not a report that any respectable media outlet would just publish, because even if a report wanted to look at some of the achievements of the current Bangladesh government — and there certainly have been some — they would also have to report on rigged elections, a repressed opposition, serious human rights violations and media censorship, and much more besides.
So, it should be no surprise that the article had to be paid for - though you do not need take Netra News’ word for it. In big letters at the top of the article on the website, the words “Sponsored” is written and at the bottom of the report, it says that the “Content” is “written and produced by Joseph Rozen,” distancing Guido Fawkes from anything to do with the substance of the article. (Kudos to Guido Fawkes transparency!)
That this is the work of a government lobbyist is confirmed by looking at the author’s profile. Joseph Rozen is the founder, CEO and managing director of Solaris Global Partners, which among other things provides lobbying services to governments. Interestingly, Rozen's bio at the end of the article does not mention his position in Solaris.
Rozen’s involvement in writing propagandist/lobbying material for the Bangladesh government is surprising, however. Rozen, and his company, are both Israeli — in fact Rozen once worked for the Israeli Ministry of Defence — making them particularly strange partners for the Bangladesh government which has no diplomatic relations with Israel and bans all trade with it.
Obviously, it seems, there is no ban on buying political advertising!
A successful strategy?
Putting to one side that the Bangladeshi opposition may well seek to ridicule the government for purchasing content, and using an Israeli lobbyist no less, there remains the question about whether, nonetheless, this could be a successful strategy for the Bangladesh government.
The current focus of the Bangladesh government is to stay in power following the elections due to take place in December of this year or January next year. The widespread presumption is that the only way that Sheikh Hasina can ensure that this happens is by her party, the Awami League, rigging the elections with the assistance of the police, and other government authorities who are very much in the party’s pocket — something that they did all too successfully in 2018. But at the same time, the Awami league would much rather if they could do this with the international community either not caring much about the rigging or, even better, believing that the party remained in power through legitimate means.
In 2018, the international community knew that the elections were rigged, but went no further than criticising the elections and issuing press releases. The Awami League however are more concerned that if it repeats the 2018 rigging, “the West” — particularly the United States — might respond differently, perhaps even including Magnitsky sanctions on senior politicians.
It is this conundrum that, arguably, has resulted in Sheikh Hasina calling for international observers — seeking to give the impression that her government is committed to free and fair elections and has nothing to hide. At present, the opposition parties are refusing to take part in the elections until steps are taken to make them free and fair, and it seems Hasina wants to make the case that if the opposition parties do not take part in the upcoming elections, it is not the government’s fault.
With few in British politics being conversant with the current authoritarianism within Bangladesh, the article in Guido Fawkes — however partial — may well be a clever way of getting their message across to UK governing party politicians. Though how much of a difference it makes depends on how gullible to fake news they are.
Netra News sought comment from Joseph Rozen, his company Solaris Global Partners and the Bangladesh High Commission in London, but has received no responses.●