Greenwashing Government


Why has an international campaigning NGO just helped produce a piece of Government propaganda?

International campaigning NGO Avaaz have recently been pushing their “tck tck tck” campaign, aiming to mobilise popular pressure on world leaders in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate talks. As part of this, the group recently assembled hundreds of protesters in Parliament Square, to simultaneously phone Gordon Brown and call for action. One activist present, Iris Andrews, got through, and had her subsequent conversation recorded. You can watch a film of that conversation here.

Obvious from the outset is the complete lack of firm demands – not to mention the rather fawning response to Brown’s casual assurances. We shouldn’t be too judgemental about this, perhaps. Andrews’ style could easily be dismissed as a regrettable case of a slightly starstruck activist struggling to summon the right words under pressure. But something suggests that this is not quite the whole story. Why does this video – displayed on Avaaz’s website – carry a “Number10tv” logo in its bottom-left-hand corner? Number10tv, you may recall, is the online outlet from which Brown and others occasionally issue cringeworthy propaganda videos on behalf of the Government. Brown has clearly taken some advice on his presentation – no attempted Blairesque grins here. But what’s Avaaz’s story? Did the NGO somehow manage to get one of their cameras set up inside 10 Downing Street at the exact time the call was taking place? And if they did pull off that small miracle, why has the broadcast since been branded with a fat Number 10 TV logo?

Clearly one doesn’t have to be particularly cynical to see the fingerprints of the Downing Street PR machine all over this video. The broadcast has been stage-managed from the outset, with Avaaz’s clear co-operation. And Downing Street evidently see it as an invaluable piece of propaganda: it’s currently the top item on the Number 10 TV website.

Brown’s reference to Make Poverty History in particular is telling. Perhaps the best overview of that campaign(1) is riddled with evidence of its failure, on account of one factor above all: co-option by Downing Street. While the more critical voices within the MPH coalition, who wanted to stress the rich world’s complicity in reinforcing global poverty, were marginalised, the bigger NGOs cosied up to the Government. Meanwhile, the Government itself was busy ensuring that the campaign’s messaging was turned to its own advantage. Ultimately, with Gordon Brown and Hillary Benn (the then Secretary of State for International Development) proposing to join the campaign’s “white band” march in Edinburgh themselves; celebrities such as Bono and Geldoff straying so wildly off-message they could almost have been Government spokespeople; and large sections of the public believing, shockingly, that the campaign had actually been launched by the Government itself, virtually any element of political pressure originally weilded by MPH had collapsed. White band became whitewash.

While Brown attempts to nudge the climate movement into mobilising a similarly weak and co-opted campaign on climate change, the lessons of Make Poverty History appear not even to have been noticed, let alone internalised. If Avaaz thinks that co-operating in producing Government propaganda – in the process casting Brown as a responsive and progressive leader on the environment – is going to bring to bear the kind of political pressure that will prevent runaway climate change, clearly someone at that organisation badly needs their head examined. Bad as it may have become, MPH never helped directly to produce straightforward PR for Downing Street. Avaaz have just outdone them, and they have done so willingly.


Contact Avaaz:

• Ask them why, in the run-up to Copenhagen, they have just helped produce propaganda for Downing Street.

• Ask them whether they think collaborating in this way helps exert real pressure, or simply helps the Government greenwash itself.

• Ask them why they are not instead challenging and embarrassing the Government over its current climate-wrecking policies.

Please be civil, polite, and non-abusive.


(1) Nick Sireau and Aeron Davis, “Interest groups and mediated mobilisation: Communication in the Make Poverty History campaign”, in Aeron Davis, The Mediation of Power, Abingdon, Routledge, 2007, pp. 131-50.


One Response to “Greenwashing Government”

  1. The Climate Dilusion Says:

    Government is a science, things can not be rushed.

    They are only making themselves known, and when the time is right, they will be called upon by government to demand exactly what the government has planned all along.

    These very same NGO’s are going demand the enslavement of all mankind, using the Global warming , Climate Change SCAM, which “Government” THINK TANKS have created.

    The Time is not yet rife! Be patient

    You have to give them credit, they are very intellegent people.

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