Microsoft, Red Cross and UN sucked into global news fixing row

Investigation by The Independent reveals conflict of interests over coverage promised by media firm to software giant

Microsoft has been sucked into the row surrounding a London-based media company currently under investigation by broadcasters for making editorial programmes without declaring it had a commercial relationship with some of those it featured.

Both the BBC and the US-owned broadcaster CNBC are investigating FBC Media following an investigation by The Independent which showed it had made numerous factual programmes about Malaysia after being allocated millions of pounds by the country's government to promote it.

This newspaper has evidence that Microsoft was "guaranteed" coverage on a flagship programme which FBC was commissioned to make for CNBC – which is screened in Britain – for a major launch that the global technology company was planning in Europe. CNBC recently suspended the show, World Business, pending the outcome of its investigation.

The Independent has seen a nine-page letter written to Microsoft's senior communications managers, in which FBC promised coverage of its opening of the European Microsoft Innovation Center in Aachen, Germany, and a second project in St Petersburg, Russia.

The document referred to World Business under the heading "FBC Guaranteed Distribution Placement". It told Microsoft: "Our flagship programme, World Business, is a weekly half-hour business news magazine, which covers the trends shaping business, particularly from a European perspective.

"We can foresee placing coverage of the Aachen opening within the programme the weekend of May 1&2, which means guaranteed placement on CNBC Europe, PBS-TV in the US, Star World Asia and 12 national broadcast markets in Western and Eastern Europe." PBS is America's public service broadcaster and Star World is part of Rupert Murdoch's global News Corp media empire.

In its letter to the Microsoft PR chiefs, FBC pointed out: "Due to our distribution agreements with each of the broadcasters, FBC maintains final editorial control over the reports featured within any of its broadcast programmes."

Last night CNBC said: "We have suspended all broadcasts of the World Business programme indefinitely. We cannot comment further for legal reasons."

FBC, which ran a hybrid business combining public relations work with factual programmes, featured the Microsoft founder Bill Gates in its publicity material. Alongside his picture, FBC said "clients include heads of state, governments and ministries, special economic zones and property projects, companies and international organisations".

The FBC letter to Microsoft, dated 2 March 2004, is jointly authored by John Defterios, until recently FBC's former Group Vice President for Content and host of CNBC's World Business between 2000 and 2007.

He is now a presenter on the global news network CNN. The document is set out as a "proposal outlining the broadcast/production strategy" for Microsoft's European initiatives, which included a good news story of Microsoft working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and Red Cross to provide technology for refugees.



Microsoft in Russia

"The project event April 15th in St Petersburg tells a wonderful story of how technology can enhance the everyday lives of those who need it the most, immigrants and refugees trying to establish a foothold in society after economic and social displacement or upheaval," said the FBC document. "The UNHCR-Red Cross initiative is a perfect example of public-private partnership, which often goes unnoticed within the daily news flow of any given day."

FBC promised "to provide a 'daily news hook' to what in essence is a rich feature story linked to one of the most pressing issues today: how to help those in need make a fresh start. We believe this story, enhanced by similar project partnerships by Microsoft in the region, can be of particular interest."

It offered Microsoft "guaranteed" coverage of the St Petersburg event on Tech Watch, a monthly technology programme it produced for airlines to show as part of their in-flight entertainment.

It is unclear whether UNHCR or Red Cross knew of the Microsoft/FBC PR campaign associated with this initiative. In a statement, Microsoft said it had had a commercial relationship with FBC Media from 2003 until March this year. "Where FBC guaranteed that news items would appear in their World Business programme, we understood this was based on the content meeting FBC editorial selection criteria in line with their agreements with CNBC and other broadcasters and subject to final editing before transmission," it said.

FBC promised to make every effort to obtain coverage for the St Petersburg project on the BBC, including on the respected technology format Click, which is shown on the BBC News Channel and BBC World News. "FBC would deliver 'same day' coverage of the event...and couple that effort with feature story placement on the major Pan-European and national broadcasters who have specialised programming highlighting technology and economic development," it said.

FBC denies any impropriety in its programme making. Its lawyers have told The Independent that the company ran production and commercial divisions, which "are and always have been quite separate and distinct". The programmes it has made "have always been fair, balanced and impartial".



Malaysia

The BBC, which declined to comment on the Microsoft letter, continues to investigate FBC after screening a series of programmes on BBC World News made by the company and covering controversial Malaysian issues, especially its contentious palm oil industry.

The BBC said FBC had not told it of its commercial relationship with the Malaysia government. The Independent has established that entries in the Malaysian government's Supplementary Budget 2010 show that FBC Media (UK) was allocated 28.35m Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) – nearly £6m – for work on a "Global Strategic Communications Campaign" ordered by the Malaysian government in 2009. In a previous statement, the BBC said: "FBC has now admitted that it has worked for the Malaysian government. That information was not disclosed as we believe it should have been when the BBC contracted programming from FBC."

The BBC has decided to stop showing any FBC programmes while it reviews their relationship.



Indonesia

FBC is also being investigated by US news magazine The Atlantic, for which the FBC founder Alan Friedman produced a blog from the World Economic Forum in Davos this year. Friedman wrote a favourable review of the "statesmanlike debut" performance of the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, while the FBC powerpoint presentation lists Indonesian Tourism and Tourism Malaysia as past clients.

The US website Politico noted how other commentators at Davos focused on the Arab Spring and largely ignored Mr Yudhoyono's speech, which Friedman, a former Financial Times journalist, hailed "the most impressive, crisp and even visionary speech given by any world leader here in a long time".

Paper trail

Microsoft began its commercial relationship with media firm FBC in 2003. A nine-page strategy document written in 2004 obtained by The Independent contains excerpts which show that when the technology giant launched its European Microsoft Innovation Centre in Germany in 2004, FBC drew up a plan for Microsoft to target broadcasters with its "corporate messaging" and gave a guarantee to Microsoft that it would "place" coverage of the launch event on World Business, the weekly programme it made for the CNBC network. CNBC has suspended the show and is investigating FBC.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments