How host nations polish the image of autocrats when they visit

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The visit of Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, to the UK was accompanied by a torrent of adverts depicting him in a positive light. Pro-Saudi messages were plastered on London billboards and black cabs, media outlets and vans. Meanwhile, demonstrators were protesting outside Downing Street over MBS’ involvement in Yemen’s war, accusing him of war crimes and calling him a “horrible dictator.”

We want your help reporting the several occasions that host nations have revamped their streets when foreign leaders come to visit, with a focus on foreign leaders of an autocratic nature.

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Key facts we think are central to the story

  • From the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 in China, to the genocide in East Timor in Indonesia, public relation firms have a long history of helping autocratic leaders (Vice) improve their image and cover up the atrocities in their countries.
  • London is at the forefront of this so-called “reputation-laundering” (Guardian), with firms including Bell Pottinger and Portland Communications leading. 

Questions we’d like to ask

  • What are some of the more recent examples of host nations promoting a pro-image of autocratic leaders?
  • Out of these examples, which adverts depicted the face of these leaders?
  • What are some of the reactions from the public during these occasions?
  • Which PR firms have a reputation for “reputation-laundering”?

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