If CNN had acknowledged concerns about FBC Media’s spin operations and agreed to investigate the possible contamination of its programmes, because of its connections with that company’s President, John Defterios, criticism might have died down.
However, unlike the BBC and CNBC, who have both launched investigations and suspended FBC Media programmes, CNN has leapt to a fairly arrogant and unquestioning defence of its Business Presenter, who for years has combined that role with a senior position and substantial shareholding in the crooked PR/ Production company.
The problem is that John Defterios’s programme guests were sometimes his own PR clients. They had paid millions of dollars to his company in return for positive publicity and platforms in the global news media. Indeed FBC boasted in its promotional material that it was the only PR firm who could uniquely “guarantee” access to “blue chip”, ” editorial shows” on stations such as CNN, CNBC and the BBC. Anyone in the business knows that such guarantees could only be illegal.
FBC’s clients are believed to have included the Government of Khazakhstan and the Government of Malaysia, whose leading members have been recently interviewed by Defterios a number of times on CNN.
So why are CNN refusing to review this embarrassing situation? The BBC have stated that they “were not aware of some of the information” about FBC Media’s business model, which combines programme production with ‘strategic PR’ and have therefore suspended their programmes. Likewise, CNBC have said that “having examined FBC’s business practices” it has withdrawn their World Business show indefinitely.
CNN, however, are defiantly denying that there is a case to answer.
CNN’s defence of John Defterios
In 2001 John Defterios became President of FBC Media and as late as last month the company’s website described him as a member of their Executive Committee in these terms:
“Defterios….. serves as President of the group. In this capacity he oversees FBC’s factual programming and media services work” [FBC Website, July 25th 2011]
That media services work included signing up Abdul Taib Mahmud as a PR client in January 2011 and then proceeding to place him, Sarawak and the oil palm business in a positive light on shows aired across the world on global TV stations over subsequent months. These media services are spelt out in the company’s power point presentations.
Yet CNN have stated to Sarawak Report that they are satisfied that all has been well with their shows, because they claim that Defterios signed up as a full-time employee, as opposed to a contracted Presenter, in March. At this time, so the argument goes, Defterios severed all ties with FBC Media.
There are two problems with this argument. The first is that legally there is no difference between a member of staff or a contract worker when it comes to declaring sponsorship interests. The second is that there is no convincing evidence that Defterios did in fact sever his ties with FBC in March. To the contrary he continued to be advertised on their website as the President of the group and overseer of all operations and he continued to be registered as a Director and Shareholder of both FBC Media and the parent FBC Group in the UK’s company register.
Furthermore, his wife, Manuela Mirkos, remains as a full-time member of staff in the company.
CNN’s latest statement to Sarawak Report consisted of an astonishing decision to forward a three paragraph email from FBC yesterday, which was apparently designed to confirm that Defterios had severed relations in March and that therefore there were no further questions to answer. It thus appears that, although we now know FBC Media is an outfit that has been operating illegally, CNN is prepared to rely on its word entirely in the matter!
The FBC statement, however, raises more questions than it answers:
“To Whom it may concern: John Defterios resigned from FBC on 4th March 2011, he was subsequently removed from payroll in his capacity of President that month.
Also as agreed he has been removed from the Board of FBC which will be reflected in the financial statements under the Companies Act when FBC files its latest financial company return which is due in October 2011.
The website is undergoing changes and he has been removed as President and he was not the Managing Editor within FBC”. Jess Panesar, Group Finance Director, FBC Media (4th August)
The immediate question raised by this email is why the removal from the Board has not been dated and when that further agreement was made? There is also a glaring failure to mention anything about John Defterios’s substantial shareholding in FBC Media, which is the foundation for concerns about conflicts of interest over his role at CNN. The fact remains that Defterios remained registered yesterday both as a Director and Shareholder of FBC Media and FBC Group.
Equally, the lame excuse about changes to the website being the explanation for it being pulled down the day journalists started asking questions a week ago cannot cover up for the fact that Defterios was still being described as the “President of the group overseeing factual programming and its media services work” on that very site just days ago on July 25th.
It would be unwise for CNN to deny the significance of this issue and its potential reflection on the integrity of its programming. The most dramatic and important political event in Malaysia in the past month was the Bersih march for Free and Fair Elections, which galvanised tens of thousands onto the streets in KL and was matched by sympathy demonstrations in countries across the world.
Najib’s forces of law and order could have contained that march, but instead the peaceful demonstrators were brutally suppressed. They were sprayed by water cannons laced with acid and beaten with batons. Nearly 2,000 were arrested and 6 of those were kept in jail for weeks.
The week after that march Najib came on a promotional tour to London, where he was greeted by outraged Malaysian protesters at every event. Under these circumstances CNN was the only TV news station who saw fit to conduct a full scale interview with Razak, focusing on the economic purpose of his visit.
The interviewer was John Defterios and at the time last month several Malaysian commentators were sickened by his soft handling of the Prime Minister and his treatment of the Bersih movement. Now those same people are wondering if they have learnt why this was and whether the fact that Najib Razak is a RM28 million a year PR client of FBC Media could have affected the way he was promoted on CNN?
Not worth investigating?
Click here for this link
Click here for the Najib Razak interview on CNN in July