Academics' chats with Gadafy return to haunt consultancy


Ethical issues arise where lobbying and Libyan money are concerned, writes ED PILKINGTON

REVELATIONS ABOUT a campaign launched by a consultancy firm in Massachusetts to improve the public image of Col Muammar Gadafy around the world have highlighted the ethical problems that arise when the distinction between lobbying and academia becomes blurred.

The Monitor Group apologised for mistakes it made during a PR campaign it ran on behalf of the Libyan leader between 2006 and 2008. The campaign focused on paying for top academics to go to Tripoli for personal conversations with Gadafy.

They included the Stanford University scholar Francis Fukuyama, Harvard’s Joseph Nye and Robert Putnam, and Benjamin Barber, formerly of Rutgers University. Prof Philip Bobbitt of Columbia University in New York was approached by Monitor to visit Tripoli in July 2006, but the trip never came off.

“I think the Libyans wanted somebody much more famous than I am,” Bobbitt said. “I think Monitor proposed me and the Libyans replied, ‘What about [New York Times columnist] Thomas Friedman?’ So that was the end of that.”

Bobbitt never went to Tripoli and was paid nothing by Monitor. He says he was willing to go on the principle that he would speak to practically any group that would engage with his ideas. “The bottom line is, academics should never be discouraged from talking to anybody, however odious the regime,” he said.

What made the Monitor project ethically problematic was that individual academics were paid for their time and expenses with money directly from the Libyan government. It is not known how much money was given to each academic, but the $3 million budget submitted to the Libyan regime by Monitor included $450,000 for a “visitor programme” that would cover “honoraria for visitors . . . travel cost of visits to Libya including special arrangements, debrief costs and follow-up costs”. The Monitor Group has admitted it made “serious mistakes”. It has also sought to justify the thrust of the campaign, saying “we undertook these efforts in good conscience within the then climate of optimism for the country’s future”. – (Guardian service)