August 4, 2011
Posted by Keach Hagey
CNBC has pulled its weekend international business show, “World Business,” after a blog edited by Gordon Brown’s sister-in-law found that the show’s production company was doubling as a PR firm for Malaysian politicians.
The blog, the Sarawak Report, named after one of the states on the island of Borneo, reported that the London-based television production-company, FBC Media, had a contract with Sarawak’s Chief Minister, Taib Mahmud, to improve his international image. It suggests FBC carried out this contract in part through puff pieces in the news shows it produced.
“In light of serious questions raised last week, CNBC immediately initiative an examination of FBC and its business practices and has withdrawn the program ‘World Business’ indefinitely,” Brian Steel, senior vice president of media relations at CNBC, told POLITICO.
‘World Business’ did not run in the U.S. market, but aired in Europe on Friday nights and in Asia on Saturday evenings.
FBC Media, short for Fact Based Communications, was formed in 1998 as a “European-based media and entertainment group specialising in television format creation, production and distribution,” according to a cached version of its website. Its active website has apparently been taken down.
The company’s executive chairman is Alan Friedman (right), an American journalist who interned in the Carter White House and worked as a columnist for the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal. Last year, he wrote for The Atlantic as a special correspondent from Davos.
Although staffers were around to answer phones at FBC Media on Wednesday, messages left for Friedman were not returned.
On Friedman’s Wikipedia page, FBC Media is listed as as a “a London-based strategic communications, national branding and television and online content group with interests primarily in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.”
FBC Media is listed in lobbying reports as having paid tens of thousands of dollars to Washington-based lobbying firm APCO in recent years to lobby on behalf of the Malaysian government, the blog points out.
FBC Media has also produced content for an array of top news broadcasters, including CNN and the BBC.
Although the Sarawak Report alleges that CNN has “carried a number of shows made by FBC, including a number of interviews with [Malaysian Prime Minister] Najib [Razak] by the company’s President, John Defterios,” a CNN spokeswoman says this is not true.
“CNN’s recent interview with the Malaysian Prime Minister was set up solely by CNN with the PM’s office,” CNN spokeswoman Lauren Cone told POLITICO. “John Defterios became a full-time employee with CNN in March, at which time he severed his affiliation with FBC.”
Cone added that “there has never been a contract between CNN and FBC to carry any editorial content on CNN,” and “the only FBC content CNN has carried is FBC advertorial, clearly labeled, in commercial time.”
A spokesman from the BBC said the broadcaster “was not aware of some of the information provided and we will examine the claims made as a matter of urgency.”
All independent TV companies who make shows from BBC World News have to sign strict agreements to ensure against conflict of interest, the spokesman said.
“As a precautionary step, we will not broadcast programmes made by FBC whilst we look into these claims.”
The Sarawak Report was founded and is edited by Clare Rewcastle Brown, an environmental journalist who lived in Sarawak as a child and is a frequent critic of Mahmud’s leadership and its impact on Sarawak’s rainforests.