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Secretive unit and Government “propaganda” on Prevent

Secretive unit and Government “propaganda” on Prevent

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday May 03 2016

The Guardian runs a number of articles today on the report published by the civil rights organisation, CAGE, detailing the anti-extremism projects disseminated by the Prevent linked Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU) using “grassroots” initiatives as a front for government sanctioned “propaganda”.

The newspaper covers the report’s unearthing of disturbing links between the cross-departmental unit, which is part of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, and its “counter-narrative” campaigns which have purportedly been organised by “grassroots organisations”.

The report discloses links between RICU and projects outsourced to a media and communications company, Breakthrough Media, suggesting that Government sanctioned “propaganda” is entering mainstream discourse under the guise of Muslims’ grassroots initiatives to tackle radicalisation and extremism.

The report claims the work of Breakthrough Media is protected under the Official Secrets Act circumventing parliamentary and public scrutiny of its work for the Government and deceptively marketed as “independent”.

The report notes the double standard seemingly applied by the government which has “railed against ‘sock-puppet’ NGOs and introduced a ban on charities in receipt of public money lobbying against government policy” while supporting the clandestine work of a government agency.

The report, which makes a plea for greater accountability and transparency over the work of RICU, notes “When ‘civil society’ organisations become tools of government, as is evidenced in this report, it spells the end for civil society.”

According to the report, “The evidence we have gathered suggests…the government is attempting to engineer the contours of debate around the legitimacy of Muslim life in the UK by promoting certain organisations and views, and that the veil of secrecy [under the Official Secrets Act] is there to allow organisations to present themselves as independent and based within the grassroots of their communities.”

The report cites a number of examples of initiatives, some launched to great media fanfare, but which were actually the products of the secretive unit working with the media company to deliver on-target messaging advancing the Government’s “counter-narratives”.

The Guardian covers one such example of an Olympics 2012 video which was produced for dissemination to global Muslim audiences and whose provenance, as a Government-driven media output, has never been acknowledged.

The report uncovers a number of these secretive connections which give the lie to “counter-narratives” being delivered by the Muslim community.

The work of RICU has not been subjected to the same level of public scrutiny as Prevent. There was a reference to the work of the unit in a past report by the Intelligence and Security Committee which questioned the unit’s effectiveness given the loose nature of its metrics. In its2010/11 annual report, the ISC noted the need to evaluate the effectiveness of the Prevent programme “and the benefits of RICU in particular”.

The recommendation was preceded by one contained in the ISC’s 2008/09 report which observed:

“Given our concerns about the difficulty of measuring the success of work on PREVENT as a whole, we asked RICU how it was measuring its contribution. We were told that there were four key strands: “measuring changes in audience attitudes; analysis of public discourse on counter-terrorism; stakeholder views; and evaluation of RICU campaigns and intervention”.

“Asked about RICU’s tangible successes so far, we were told that:

“During the Gaza conflict RICU ensured that the Government’s position was communicated… a major counter-narrative campaign has been initiated… a network of community  organisations established… local partners in priority areas have been briefed and provided with communications advice… relationships have been built with key media channels… research into audience segmentation… has been completed… [and] guidance on communicating with Somali and Pakistani [communities] in the UK has been circulated.”

From the CAGE report, it would seem the RICU’s concern with running “major counter-narrative campaign[s]” through “a network of community organisations” via “provid[ing] communications advice” and using “relationships with key media channels” while utilising “research into audience segmentation” to hit a target audience has considerable precedence.

It is alarming that the Government has gone to great lengths to conceal the identity of the civil society organisations that have, wittingly and unwittingly, been peddling government propaganda.

Indeed, when the Home Office published itsannual report on the work of the OSCT in 2013 and noted the unit had “supported community-based campaigns that rebut terrorist and extremist propaganda and offer alternative views to our most vulnerable target audiences. We have worked with digital communications experts to help fifteen civil society groups exploit the potential of the internet,” we submitted an FOI seeking the identification of the 15 groups and the content of the counter-narrative messages.

The Home Office declined to disclose their identities or the content of the Government’s “counter-narrative” messages.

With the publication of the CAGE report, we have some insight into information that has been withheld from the public and in particular, Muslim communities.

If the lament of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson, was the lack of transparency by Government on Prevent and its activities, those fears will be heightened by what we now know and the calls for an independent review of Prevent will be strengthened on the back of the deception that has been sold to Muslims and the British public alike.


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