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ShellNews.net: Online Greenery?: Online Greenwash (or whitewash) would have been a more truthful headline

Email from Alfred Donovan to the Financial Times: Monday 6 November 2006

Dear Sir

I am writing in connection with the FT article published on 3 November entitled: Online Greenery. Are you aware that the author, Mr David Bowen, has used the FT as a free PR platform for a client company, Shell, without declaring that Shell is a current client?

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/9450a566-6b3f-11db-bb4a-0000779e2340.html

Mr Bowen, a “website effectiveness consultant”, is apparently a regular columnist for the Financial Times and FT.com. His current article compares what the energy giants are doing online in relationship to “green” issues and, as he puts it, “who does it best?”

Mr Bowen is up front in declaring that BP is a client of his company, Bowen Craggs & Co. There is no such declaration in respect of Shell.  The fact that the positive comments about Shell appear in an article rather than a paid advert gives the content added weight being viewed as impartial expert commentary when in fact it is by an employee of a paid consultancy. This is surely unprofessional conduct.

To make matters worse, the facts quoted by Mr Bowen are incorrect. Contrary to his assertion on behalf of his client, the Tell Shell internet discussion forum was not uncensored.

I have printed below an email sent to Mr Bowen on the day the article was published. Thus far there has been no response.  Please note the reference to an email I received from Shell General Counsel Richard Wiseman admitting censorship of the Tell Shell forum.  A copy is available on request. Alternatively you are welcome to confirm with Mr Wiseman directly the veracity of what I have stated.

Is any other energy company featured in the article a client of Bowen Craggs & Co?

As I am sure that you would not want your readers to be misled, I trust that you will publish this letter along with any clarification/apology.

Yours faithfully
Alfred Donovan

EMAIL FROM ALFRED DONOVAN TO DAVID BOWEN OF “website effectiveness consultants”, BOWEN CRAGGS & Co: 4 November 2006.

Hello David

I read with interest your article published in the Financial Times under the headline: Online Greenery.

Financial Times: Online greenery: “Tell Shell, an uncensored forum set up eight years ago, is currently offline”

While you openly declared that BP is a client of your consultancy, you neglected to do so in respect of another client which received a number of positive plugs in your article: Shell.

I would also point out for the record that you misled readers by describing “Tell Shell” as “an uncensored forum.”  Richard Wiseman, the General Counsel of Shell International Petroleum Company Limited admitted to me in an email in November 2005 that contrary to grand claims made on “Tell Shell” by Shell executive John Hofmeister, in fact Shell has carried out censorship of postings.  This came as no great surprise as we had been monitoring “Tell Shell” for some time and already had proof that Shell was secretly carrying out censorship, even of postings made by Shell employees. Within days of Mr Wiseman’s admittance, “Tell Shell” was suspended and has remained so for the past year.

The following is a self-explanatory section from the Wikipedia article entitled Royal Dutch Shell: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Dutch_Shell#Pioneering_use_of_the_Internet:_The_.22Tell_Shell_Forum.22)

Pioneering use of the Internet: The “Tell Shell Forum”

The Royal Dutch Shell Group was the first multinational to set up an online discussion facility for its stakeholders and the public to engage in open debate about its activities: the “Tell Shell Forum.” This was a farsighted innovation years before the advent of the blog sites which now proliferate on the Internet. On 7 June 1999, Mr. John Hofmeister, Shell’s then Director of Human Resources, confirmed in a posting on the Forum that “We genuinely do welcome all comments, positive and negative. We also believe that employees must be able to speak out without fear of rebuke or retribution. This website is in itself evidence that we are interested in seeking your views and willing to listen and respond.” (Mr. Hofmeister is now President of Shell Oil Company in the United States). The intention to provide a forum without editing of comments by the forum staff members was confirmed in a posting made on the Tell Shell Forum by Claire Harris of Shell International Petroleum Company on 16 November 1999, under the subject heading of “Uncensored forums”. Extracts from these postings can be read in a prophetic article by Shell critic Alfred Donovan posted on “the Tell Shell Forum” on 25 October 2005 shortly before the Forum in its “blog” form was suspended. At some point the censorship free policy changed. Shell now admits a policy of staff members editing comments made by forum members of the Forum. The Donovan article goes further by alleging that secret editing of posts by the owners of the forum has taken place on the forum. The Tell Shell Forum in its “Blog” form remains suspended. In May 2006, it was reported that Shell intends to appoint a digital agency with “experience in turning around corporate reputations” (Campaign Magazine: “Shell seeks agency for online makeover”).

Was your agency the lucky one chosen by Shell? If so, you have a huge challenge. In this connection, I would suggest that you read an email sent to Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer yesterday: http://royaldutchshellplc.com/2006/11/02/shellnewsnet-royal-dutch-shell-reputation-issues/

I would also respectfully suggest that it might to best not to emulate your client, but to be honest, open and accurate, otherwise your firms online reputation my end up like your client Shell: in deep mire.

Regards
Alfred Donovan
Owner RoyalDutchShellPlc.com

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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