Leaked document reveals Adam Smith International’s propaganda strategy for governments: Bougainville beware
Adam Smith International (ASI) has been contracted to help the Momis government on Bougainville develop and put into place its long-term mining policy and legislation. We have obtained a document that shows the strategy ASI gives to governments so they can shape public opinion.
Written in 2004 the Strategy Document (350kb) assists governments develop propaganda in support of controversial or unwanted economic policies, such as the selling off of public resources to companies. Propaganda is the art of manipulating peoples’ ideas and behaviour through information so that they act in a way that benefits the powerful, whether it be the government or a big business.
The document begins: ‘In economic reforms there are three communications mistakes particularly worth avoiding. The first assumes that not communicating involves fewer risks … Your government needs stakeholders to do something, to think or to behave in certain ways, so it is your responsibility to motivate them. So you must take action or behaviour will not change. Communicate or face the consequences’.
For example, on Bougainville the Momis government needs people to accept that industrial mining is necessary or essential – the island cannot do without it. So we can see that the government has released stories and speeches arguing that there will be no independence or autonomy without mining, a message which is designed to change the way landowners and citizens think and behave.
ASI go on to explain how you construct propaganda for different stakeholders groups such as landowners, workers, civil servants, NGOs, etc. First you have to find out how they think, and produce propaganda that addresses their fears, and appeals to their desires.
ASI advise, ‘to find out what large groups of people think, we resort to opinion sampling. There are two types, focus groups and opinion polls, each with distinct advantages and drawbacks’. With respect to focus groups ASI argue, ‘this shows us what each group thinks in detail’. On the other hand opinion polls ‘’can yield statistically valid data not available from focus groups’.
ASI note ‘most large countries have several companies capable of reliable polling’. Though if not, ‘skilled university demographers can do similar work’.
Once governments have intelligence on how different audiences think and feel they can begin to construct propaganda that targets these thoughts and hopes. In Bougainville people want to live a happy, peaceful, and independent future. So it is necessary that the government delivers messages about mining that appeal to this desire – there will be no happiness, no development, or independence without mining.
ASI advises, ‘Once you know what your audience think, design message to grab their attention and motivate them’.
ASI warn governments it is important that their propaganda does not seem like propaganda, if it does people wont believe it – ‘anything that implies propaganda turns people off’. For example, they note when making propaganda videos ‘at ASI we rarely use narrators, preferring to film real stakeholders using their own words. What they say is convincing because their testimony is honest and vivid’.
ASI also note when delivering propaganda, ‘journalists are perhaps the most important audience of all,
since they influence almost all other stakeholder groups. You want them to understand [the economic reform] so that they can explain it correctly and so that they are less likely to fall prey to charges levelled by your opponents’.
In a special section in the strategy devoted to media relations. ASI advise governments to ‘cultivate good relations with reporters … Treat them with respect. Return their phone calls promptly and courteously’. ASI continue ‘issue press releases often … [this] will help kill off the foul rumours spread by your opponents’. Also they argue ‘put quotes into your press release, telling reporters why this matter is important … do not bribe journalists. Educate them, put on seminars and conferences, take them on road trips to privatised industries or buy them lunch and discuss the issues openly’
So if you are trying to sell Rio Tinto’s return, or mining to a worried public, you need journalists to help you sell this as good news, which everyone will benefit from. This will be particularly helpful when activists produce evidence that shows for instance Rio Tinto are war criminals, or have been involved in polluting vital ecosystems. So give the media plenty of quotes, and press releases – buy them lunch, wine and dine them, so they see your point of view is the right one, and opponents are nothing by activists talking nonsense.
ASI also give government advice on how to deal with journalists who publish stories that are critical. For example, if a journalist report about the negative experiences landowners have had with mining, such as pollution or violence. In these cases ASI advise, try to ‘talk to the editor or publisher. If that does not work, give your best leaks and stories to their chief competitor. And if possible in some cases exclude bad newspapers from your advertising budget’
When publishing propaganda ASI advise governments to target a range of audiences using a range of mediums. So we have seen the Momis government push the mining/Rio Tinto agenda through a range of different mediums that target particular audiences. New Dawn radio goes out to communities in certain regions of Bougainville. Consultation forums target landowners. Social media hits the middle classes.
ASI emphasise to governments many different mediums should be used. They claim for instance ‘comic books are easily read by the semi-literate’. They also mention a £270,000 (K1 million) video they produced in Tanzania ‘ASI got months of free television publicity in Tanzania for the government’s reform programme by hiring a popular entertainer to produce a pop video on privatisation’
ASI conclude with one last important piece of advice ‘never forget face-to-face meetings’. So we have seen the Momis government use ‘consultation’ forums as a place to encourage people into supporting mining.
ASI also note whenever delivering messages make use of the President. ‘Your President or Prime Minister can get you coverage better than anyone else in your country. Have him or her make speeches and grant interviews … as often as possible’. Not surprisingly the President has become the public face of mining.
Sadly this strategy documents is not interested in the future of the people or the land, only in manipulating citizens into accepting economic policies that will benefit the powerful.