Lobbying's Hidden Influence

Did Lord Bell mislead Newsnight viewers over Bureau reporter claims?

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Bell pic 2

 Lord Bell (above) on Newsnight last week

Last Tuesday’s Newsnight featured an interview with Lord Bell, the chairman of Chime Communications which owns Bell Pottinger Public Affairs –  the subject of an undercover sting by the Bureau last year.

Bell was invited onto the high-profile BBC2 current affairs programme hours ahead of the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) rejecting a complaint that Bell Pottinger Public Affairs brought the lobbying industry into disrepute.

A complaint was lodged with the PRCA against Bell Pottinger Public Affairs after undercover footage showed the firm’s executives suggesting to Bureau reporters posing as representatives of the Uzbekistan government that they could secure access to David Cameron.

The PRCA, however, judged there was no credible evidence of wrongdoing by Bell Pottinger Public Affairs even after the Bureau’s sting revealed a series of claims over how lobbyists get messages from business figures to the UK’s most senior politicians.

In the course of the Newsnight interview with Bell, presenter Jeremy Paxman suggested that Bureau reporters went undercover because it was the only way to ‘get inside your organisation’.

Bell replied this was ‘nonsense’ and used as ‘evidence’ a recent encounter he had with a Bureau journalist. He told Paxman:

‘Last week Nick Mathiason of the BIJ asked me a series of questions about financial lobbying which I accurately answered. He didn’t like the accuracy of the answers so he asked me if he could exaggerate it and I can show you all of that in emails.’

The Bureau has decided to publish the entire email exchange between Mathiason and Bell. It is happy to let readers judge for themselves whether our reporter asked Bell if he could ‘exaggerate’ his answers. Or instead whether Bell misled viewers about the integrity of Bureau reporting standards.

Let us know what you think. The results of our investigation into the power of the financial lobby will be published here shortly.

From: Nick Mathiason
Sent: 26 March 2012 10:17
To: Lord Bell
Subject: Lobby questions!

Dear Tim,

Good speaking with you last Friday and thanks for your time.

As I said, what I am looking to get confirmed is the contribution made by Financial Services sector firms to public affairs revenues accrued by Bell Pottinger Public Affairs and Pelham Bell Pottinger.

Having spoken with a director of one of the Bell Pottinger subsidiaries with good knowledge of the business, I was told (i)t would be fair to attribute a fifth of BP Public Affairs near £5m revenue to FS clients.

The same person suggested of Pelham BP revenues of just over £10m, FS clients contributed just over a tenth of that.

I appreciate what you said last week about the difficulties of stripping out income on a sector basis but the figures are rule of thumb and are there to feed a topline.

Please let me know tour (your) thoughts on this by Thursday morning. I won’t be available to talk on Wednesday as I am traveling.

with best wishes,

Nick

 

From: Lord Bell
Sent: 28 March 2012 15:13
To: Nick Mathiason
Subject: Lobby questions!

Nick, the answers to your questions are as follows: financial services clients of BPPA represent 12% of income. We do not publish the total income for individual company’s (sic) but your informants (sic) numbers are not correct. They are too high. The Pelham position is 15% of fee income none of which represented public affairs or lobbying work so our contribution to your overall pot is about £50 k at best. Not much help to your top line but at least more accurate than your anonymous and wrong informant

Tim Bell.

ps these are 2011 numbers

 

From: Nick Mathiason
Sent: 29 March 2012 15:48
To: Lord Bell
Subject: Re: Lobby questions!

Dear Tim,

Thank you very much for the information you sent yesterday. Just to clarify 12% of BPPA t/o according to its 2010 accounts = £596,141.

Also of the 24 employees, how many would be servicing FS clients, Would it be 12% of those – ie roughly 3 or more?

best wishes,

Nick

 

From: Lord Bell
Sent: 29 March 2012 16:05
To: Nick Mathiason
Subject: Lobby questions!

No the figures are based on 2011 numbers  I cannot break out the 2010 numbers. It’s  to(o) long ago. As to people they are not dedicated to a particular sector sorry not to be more helpful but I cant invent things! Tim bell


From: Nick Mathiason
Sent: 29 March 2012 16:12
To: Nick Mathiason
Subject: Lobby questions!

Tim, I would never dream of asking you to invent things. But as a rough rule of thumb (bearing in mind BP will not be part of our news lines – merely feeding toplines) would it be fair to input those figures? From my perspective it would seem a reasonable way to proceed.

best wishes,

N

From: Lord Bell
Sent: 29 March 2012 16:14
To: Nick Mathiason
Subject: Lobby questions!

Ok minus 10% cos revenue different to your source. Tim

The results of our investigation into the power of the Financial Lobby will be published here shortly. Get it first by signing up to our newsletter here.