Friday, March 23, 2012

How much was Oxford Business Group paid?

Clare Rewcastle Brown
 | March 23, 2012
The Oxford Business Group's Country Report on the Malaysian economy is nothing more that a public relations spin commissioned by the Barisan Nasional government, claims a British journalist.
First it was APCO and FBC Media. Now the grandiosely entitled Oxford Business Group (OBG) has stepped into the role of paid cheerleader for the Malaysian Government.
I draw attention to this, because the news agency Bernama has been faithfully reproducing ‘OBG’ economic announcements and forecasts as if they were some form of genuine and independent analysis, when in fact they are just further public relations (PR), purchased at taxpayers’ expense.
On March 17, Bernama quoted the OBG in order to speculate on a June election in Malaysia.
According to the news report: “The fourth factor which points towards May or June is Malaysia’s economy which is poised to continue its progress in 2012, as stated by Oxford Business Group (OBG), a global publishing, intelligence research and consulting firm.
The report also showed that foreign direct investment (FDI) in Malaysia has increased, with inflation under control and a stable financial sector.
With strong performance in most sectors of the economy in the last 12 months, the report said that Malaysia is expected to achieve better performance in 2012.
However, any such OBG pronouncement should be treated with the caution that it is merely a pro-government press statement and Bernama is failing in its duty by not pointing this out.
Indeed our investigations have shown that ‘OBG’, which is also separately hired by Sarawak’s Taib Mahmud, is nothing more than a PR outfit that specialises in a branch of the advertorial market called ‘country reports’.
‘Emerging economies with discredited regimes’
Its August name, the Oxford Business Group, is just one example of how this company sets out to present itself as something it is not. OBG has nothing to do with Oxford or its University.
In fact, its advertised headquarters belongs to a office-hire-centre (service-office) in Great Titchfield Street, London. Our enquiries have revealed the company has only occasionally utilised the office here.
The centre also has mail box and answer phone facilities (secretarial services) to enable clients to give the appearance of a staff and office presence.
The claims that Oxford Business Group is a “global intelligence research and consulting firm” are equally misleading.
The chief mover and shaker behind the enterprise, the British businessman Michael Benson Colpi, presents his Country Reports and economic press releases as if they were a form of invaluable investor intelligence.
However, although these reports appear to be marketed at a very fancy price on the OBG website, they are in fact paid for by the governments that commission them, which is a very different business model indeed.
You only have to look at the countries that have utilised the OBG’s services and those that haven’t. Don’t bother to seek OBG investment advice on Europe, America, Australia or indeed any country where there is any form of transparency or auditing of government expenditure.
OBG specialises instead in “emerging economies” and countries where discredited regimes are seeking positive coverage, which they cannot get elsewhere!
Misleading reports
Without exception, OBG Country Reports always feature a large picture of the relevant country’s political leader on the front page and then proceed to pour praise onto his policies on every other page.
For example, of Ghadaffi, OBG’s 2010 Libya Country Report said: “The country’s earlier political history was troubled, but since 1969 [the date of Ghadaffi's coup] institutions have developed at a steady pace and are now largely stable”!
Likewise of Tunisia’s now deposed dictator Ben Ali, OBG’s 2010 Country Report opined: “political and social stability lie at the core of the Tunisian model”!
Of Syria OBG headlines on “High Powered Diplomacy as the world beats a path to Damascus” OBG continues: “With expanding trade ties and rising levels of foreign investment, as well as a young and rapidly growing population, Syria is poised for economic growth in the coming years. Reform programs are under way in many areas”
With such insightful forecasts as these, what credibility should be given to OBG’s supposedly objective and independent analysis of Malaysia?
Indeed, despite all sorts of claims about graphs and professional economic evaluation, the OBG’s Country Reports read more like travel guides than investment tools.
“Fun and quite useful if you are visiting the country”, commented one economist we questioned. But he went on to suggest that no serious investor would consider relying on what is essentially a government commissioned puff piece for making genuine investment decisions.
It is perhaps of use when evaluating and understanding the true nature of the Oxford Business Group guides to consider whom Benson Colpi has hired to author them.
It turns out that his editorial director is none other than a former editor of a number of discredited pornographic papers in the UK, one Peter Grimsditch.
Unqualified economic ‘experts’
In the course of his career Grimsditch has presided over the now defunct Daily Sport (famous for inflicting the public with obscene front page presentations of women each day) and also the tawdry Star newspaper.
Grimsditch admits to having been sacked from both posts.
Our research has further shown that the vast bulk of Grimsditch’s staff consists of recent graduate writers working on short term contracts and with no discernible economic qualifications.
“These young kids are drafted in to whichever country it is and given six months to interview the powers that be”, observed our source, who organises economic conferences in the Middle East.
Recent ‘experts’ whom Oxford Business School have deployed to Malaysia and Sarawak for example are the youthful ‘Regional Manager’, an American Daniel Moore, who has acquired a BSc in Marketing and the equally green Jana Treek, a German who has acquired an MA in Information Science.
I question whether these writers have quite the heavy weight economic credentials that should allow them to opine on the Malaysian economy under the guise of being a “global intelligence and consulting firm”?
How much did BN pay?
OBG is clearly on an on-going retainer for the BN government, since it team continues to issue a stream of encouraging press releases on a regular basis. Press releases that supposedly objective news agencies like Bernama treat like genuine economic analysis.
So, surely it is time that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s private office (Prime Minister’s Department) made an open statement about how much it is paying for this dubious service?
After all, we discovered that tens of millions of ringgit were paid out to FBC Media for the same sort of self-promoting rubbish, before they were deservedly exposed for corrupting the BBC.
The concern about the activities of organisations like Oxford Business Group is not that they are providing misleading investment advice. No investor would bother with them.
It is that the BN government and its organs like Bernama are using these purchased puff pieces about the economy to try and mislead its own people in the run up to an election.
This is why I believe they deserve to be exposed.
Clare Rewcastle Brown is the founder-editor of Sarawak Report and an FMT columnist.
~ Free Malaysia Today

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