Image building gone wrong?

| by Dr Vickramabahu Karunaratne

(December 18, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Melanie Newman and Oliver Wright of The Independent of London reported on 6 Dec 2011, that Bell Pottinger International attended a meeting of Tamil dissidents in London organized by the British Tamils Forum (BTF) and the NSSP. This news item said “Days before President Rajapaksa’s arrival in London in December 2010, Tim Ryan, the chairman of Bell Pottinger International, and a colleague attended an open political meeting in Harrow organized by the BTF and the Nava Sama Samaja [New Social Equality] Party. Gobi Ratnam, a Tamil journalist who chaired the event said the pair stood out as the only white people present. They said they were from Bell Pottinger. ‘They said they wanted to listen to our problems, to learn and help the Sri Lankan people,’ Mr. Ratnam said. ‘A lot of people were talking to them.’
Dr Vickramabahu Karunaratne, the Sinhalese general secretary of the NSS Party who ran for president in 2010, gave a speech at the meeting in which he called for Tamil forces to join a new alliance of opposition members and breakaway groups to challenge the government – comments that were widely reported.” On the other hand the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), which is a not-for-profit organization based at City University, London, also came out with its investigation report. 17-4BIJ, which bolsters original journalism by producing high-quality investigations for press and broadcast media, reported the same incident and published a picture of Tim Ryan with my self.
The news item added “Dr Karunarathne spoke with Mr. Ryan after the speech. He told the Bureau he had not known Mr. Ryan was working for the Rajapaksa government prior to the meeting, but ‘he made me aware of that’.

Working for the Rajapaksas
Mr. Ryan told him he was ‘collecting information to help the government campaign,’ he added. Bell Pottinger refutes this. It says, its representatives were interested as part of their brief to learn and to understand the views of the Sri Lankan Diaspora in the UK. The BTF claims Bell Pottinger representatives also attended a Tamil Remembrance event at London’s Excel Centre on November 27, 2010. The firm has not confirmed this.”
Meeting Tim for the first time
I met Tim for the first time, while I was waiting for the meeting to start. It was held at the Harrow Sports Club public room. I thought, at first, he was a provincial media person who dropped in to see what was happening. He was accompanied by two others, if I remember correct.
Head of Bell Pottinger
The chap was very cordial and introduced himself as the head of Bell Pottinger. I thought it sounds strange. As reported, he talked to me after the meeting and explained that they are working for the government, to improve its image. When I returned from the London visit I was attacked by goons, set up by the government. I do not believe that Bell Pottinger has any thing to do with it. However Mr. Ryan promised those who were there that the company will work for resolving the national problem in Lanka, and they will report all events correctly. Obviously he wanted to avoid any conflict in that meeting, where few hundred Tamil radicals attended. My speech was published in several websites; hence Mr. Ryan’s presence in that meeting did not add much to the drama. The company clearly works at grass root levels to collect information; and their agents are trained to cover radical, militant meetings. A company chairman wearing a plain jacket walked in to a meeting of angry Tamils and radical socialists to gather information; could have been a page from a Hadley Chase novel.


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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