Meet the D.C. PR Firm Shilling For Fiji's Military Coup Government
The flag of Fiji.
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Qorvis Communications – a Washington-based public relations and lobbying firm – is deeply involved in managing the online and social media activities of the military coup government of Fiji, the firm’s government filings reveal.
Nowhere on the websites and Twitter accounts in question does Qorvis disclose its involvement. The firm, which works on behalf of a number of foreign governments, declined to answer questions about its work for the Fijian government.
Fiji, ruled by a military coup government since 2006, faces serious criticisms for its spotty human rights record and has been presented with public diplomacy challenges as NGOs and trade union groups condemn the government’s behavior. Following the coup the U.S. government imposed sanctions against Fiji’s government, which is led by Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, and says such restrictions will remain in place until a democratically–elected government assumes power.
Journalist Anne Lenzer took notice of Qorvis’ contract with Fiji in December, reporting for Huffington Post that “Fiji, Bainimarama, and his draconian decree-drafting Attorney General have since sprouted new websites, Twitter accounts, and YouTube pages, and a steady stream of PR Newswire alerts about the military’s excellence have appeared.”
Newer Foreign Agent Registration Act disclosures, filed in June, offer more details about the firm’s work on behalf of Bainimarama’s government, specifically in the social media realm. In a section of the filing titled, “Activities Conducted by Registrant on Behalf of the Government of the Republic of Fiji,” Qorvis states that it “managed social media accounts” and lists a number of websites and Twitter accounts.
While Qorvis may be unwilling to discuss its relationship with Fiji, Bainimarama openly touted his government’s decision to retain Qorvis’ services in his November, 25, 2011 budget address, as Lenzer reported.
“We are also making investments in institutions to bring them up to speed as modern government institutions,” Bainimarama said.
“We have, for example, brought in an American consultant, Qorvis Communications, to assist with training and support for our Ministry of Information — to ensure its operations take into account advances in social media, the Internet and best practices regarding the media. They will also help coordinate external communications, including promotion and packaging of various investment incentives.”
Indeed, Qorvis’ latest FARA disclosures and registration of domain names indicate that it has taken on a wide range of responsibilities in promoting the policies of Fiji’s government.
“WHOIS” lookups of domain name registration information reveal that “ecofiji.org,” “empowerfiji.org,” “travelfijitoday.org,” “investfiji.org,” and “fijigrowth.org” were registered by Qorvis employees, although the sites offer no disclosure of Qorvis’ involvement.
The FARA filing also listed three Twitter accounts — @FijiPM, @FijiAG and @FijiRepublic — under “activities conducted by registrant.” When contacted for clarification about the extent of the firm’s role in managing the Twitter accounts and websites, Qorvis executive vice president Seth Pietras declined to comment. “[O]ur policy is not to discuss the work or training we perform with our clients,” he said.
The Twitter accounts have emerged as active public diplomacy platforms for the island nation’s coup government.
In December, the Twitter accounts energetically backed up the Ministry of Information’s pronouncement that a delegation from the Australian Council of Trade Unions – a group critical of Fiji’s labor and human rights policies – was “ not welcome” to visit Fiji.
In early December, tweets from the @FijiAG account lashed out at the ACTU, claiming, “ACTU call to place Fiji on Labor Party platform blacklist w/ Zimbabwe, Burma is absurd & devalues plight of these ppl,” and “#ACTU interested only in misrepresenting Fiji’s #open, #welcoming nation–a detriment to all Fijians.”