BBC News highlights a PR campaign but fails to supply background

The BBC produced a report on a PR campaign but failed to disclose who is behind it.

A filmed report titled “Saudi Crown Prince’s billboard welcome” appeared on the BBC News website’s UK and Middle East pages on March 8th with the following synopsis:

“Huge signs promoting the high profile visitor to the UK have appeared around London.”

The report opens:

“Have you noticed any unusual looking billboards recently? How about trucks?

Someone is very excited about the Saudi Crown Prince’s first official visit to the UK.”

The report then asks “So what do Londoners think?” and continues with several ‘man in the street’ interviews, with one man saying:

“I don’t think for any other kind of state visits, I have ever seen like billboards.”

Curiously – given that the information is readily available – the BBC did not bother to inform viewers who is behind that massive PR campaign on London streets and in British newspapers – estimated to have cost in the region of £1 million.

In contrast, the Washington Post reports:

“AEI Saudi, the firm behind the advertisements, is a consulting business that was registered in Riyadh in 2002. In a blog post, the firm’s founder highlighted the significant changes he has seen in recent years in Saudi Arabia, such as a new inclusion of Saudi women in public life.”

That blog post by Adam Hosier, the British-born founder of AEI Saudi, opens:

“This week will see Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman visiting London. You may have noticed the many advertising hoardings around the capital highlighting this rare event and also that we at AEI Saudi have chosen to promote them. And you will see various news reports and newspaper articles this week all talking about Saudi going through unparalleled change or the huge trade statistics between Saudi and the UK.” 

It is hence not surprising that the man interviewed in the BBC’s report cannot recall previously seeing adverts relating to a state visit because the “someone” who arranged that “billboard welcome” is not – in contrast to what viewers may quite likely have mistakenly assumed – the host.

In other words, the BBC has chosen to highlight and amplify the PR campaign of a company that promotes trade with what one BBC journalist described as “an autocratic monarchy which opposes dissent” – without full disclosure of that campaign’s origin.

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