The Kazakh government has long been known to spend millions abroad to improve its international image, hiring prominent public relations firms like BGR Gabara, Portland Communications, Tony Blair Associates, and Media Consulta. But EurasiaNet reports that some of those companies appear to have gone beyond arranging the typical infomercials on big international channels and similar strategies. The website has uncovered several examples of alleged manipulation on Wikipedia entries related to Kazakhstan officials and government interests.
Noting that Wikipedia registers all changes made to its pages’ content and the IP address of those who edit entries, EurasiaNet has identified that someone from a Media Consulta IP address apparently made several changes to the Wikipedia page of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in 2010. Among other things, that individual added the positive-sounding sections “Dialogue Between Religions” and “Preventing Global Nuclear Threats” to the president’s profile. Edits to the Kazakhstan page also came from the same IP address.
IP addresses linked to Portland Communications are registered on the Wikipedia page for Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former chairman of the Kazakh government-controlled BTA Bank. Currently living in London, Ablyazov is involved in an expensive legal battle with BTA in a British court over charges that he defrauded the bank. According to EurasiaNet, a user with an IP address linked to Portland has deleted all references to a possible political motivation for Ablyazov’s 2002 arrest and conviction in Kazakhstan for abuse of power.
The company’s representative confirmed that Portland “was engaged by BTA Bank in May 2010 to support [its] communications around the large-scale litigation against its former chairman” and said the firm “provides factual, public, and sourced information about the court case.”