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Irish PR firm defends itself

By Kevin Mcpartlan

A consultant argues that Glenevin does not gloss over abuse but advises government officials to handle the public

When I picked up the latest edition of The Independent I certainly did not “buy the truth”. Rather I read an ill-researched and disingenuous comment piece by Moses Odokonyero under the headline “Irish PR failure will be success for Uganda”. How can I be so sure that it was untruthful, ill-researched and disingenuous? Well, it was about me.

For I am one of the Irish consultants working with Glenevin, the operational risk and security consultancy firm which is working with the government.

From the opening paragraph, Mr Odokonyero misrepresented me and my co-workers. Glenevin has not been engaged to “clean the dirty image of the Uganda Police Force”. We have been asked to offer training to staff of the Government of Uganda to better equip them to actively manage the country’s global reputation. Clearly this involves us working with a number of agencies, including the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) but our brief is broad-ranging. Some of Glenevin’s consultants are involved in providing training to a small number of police officers to reduce conflict in public order incidents, but this is only a fraction of our work.

Our brief here in Uganda is to provide training. The suggestion that any consultant working with Glenevin is “swinging mallets at protestors” is not only wrong but also grossly irresponsible journalism.

I must confess, being an outsider here, to not always appreciating the nuanced manner in which Ugandans use the English language. Perhaps the word “dictator” means something different here. To my Irish mind, an elected government with fixed parliamentary terms, complete with a constitution which separates powers of the executive, legislature and judiciary, cannot accurately be described as a dictatorship. In Ireland, we call that a constitutional democracy.

I actually take offence at the invitation to readers to infer that I am engaged in the glossing over of human rights abuses and corruption. At best Mr Odokonyero based this implication on ignorance. I sincerely hope that this is the case for it would be a sad reflection on a student pursuing a Master’s degree in Journalism and Communication, and for the actual rather than titular independence of this publication, if it were motivated by some more sinister agenda.

Had Mr Odokonyero asked, we could have told him that our brief expressly states that our work is aimed to better equip the Government of Uganda’s staff to influence the perception of the country for the benefit of all its citizens. I would have thought that the importance of fact-checking was part of any journalism and communications curriculum but perhaps the truth didn’t quite fit the argument which Mr Odokonyero wished to make.

One of the few statements contained in the article which is true is that public relations is a management function. That is not to say that a public practitioner is obliged only to act as a mouthpiece for their employer. In fact, I would go so far as to say that any PR person who did act in such a fashion is a liability to the organization which they represent.

An effective PR person does not act as a one-way street for information. They not only communicate to an audience, they also communicate views, opinions, priorities, concerns and questions from that audience to their client. An effective PR professional facilitates multi-directional communication which challenges all parties, including their client. I am delighted to be involved in Glenevin’s project here in Uganda particularly because the people I deal with on a day to day basis are so open to challenge and so hungry to improve their skills.

Finally I wish to address the rather snippy remarks attributed to “Editor” at the end of last week’s article. Glenevin is a well established company with a proven international track record. The team working on this project here in Uganda is extremely experienced and skilled. Between us, we have worked in dozens of countries, for multinational companies, NGOs, international bodies and governments. The fact that Glenevin prefers to deal with its clients in a confidential manner really should not be presumed to suggest it lacks credibility.

In conclusion I wish to add that despite the above criticism of The Independent, I salute them for offering me an opportunity to reply to last week’s article when I alerted them to my dissatisfaction without hesitation. I believe this demonstrates a commitment to responsible journalism which is to be greatly encouraged. It was also demonstrated by Moses Odokonyero when he supported my request to exercise a right to reply.

The author is a consultant working with Glenevin, an Irish public relations firm engaged by the Uganda government, and most visibly by the Police Force.

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