Norwegian public relations firm First House hit back at “unconfirmed rumours” aired by a senior political commentator that the firm was campaigning, on behalf of Chinese interests, against the Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland. While it has clients with economic interests in Asia, First House denied it had been commissioned by China to take part in any smear campaign.
Jagland and some other committee members’ positions are coming up for re-election, wrote newspaper Aftenposten. Political editor Harald Stanghelle commented that Norwegian-Chinese relations had received a lot of attention recently, with the government refusing to officially receive the Dalai Lama in a bid to appease the superpower still angry after dissident Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Stanghelle said China wants those 2010 committee members removed in the autumn vote, which include Jagland.
Stanghelle wrote it was strange that Morten Wetland, a partner at First House and a former UN ambassador, would have shared gossip in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv that his most embarrassing day as an ambassador was when the Nobel Committee awarded US President Barack Obama the Peace Prize. Stanghelle queried whether Wetland’s departure from diplomatic discretion had anything to do with rumblings that First House had been hired by “Chinese interests” to campaign against Jagland and the Nobel Committee.
“Usually we don’t comment on client relationships, but in this case we see the need to make an exception, because Stanghelle spreads and gives further authority to unconfirmed rumours that we are breaking our industry’s code of ethics,” wrote First House in a statement. “Is is not correct that we have China as a customer.”
The statement said it was unthinkable the firm would participate in a public debate on behalf of a paid client, without disclosing the interest. Wetland told Aftenposten First House is a large company that obviously has clients with economic interests in China, but it had not been paid to influence the Nobel Committee’s composition or promote China’s interests.
“If Stanghelle had taken the trouble of asking me if these rumours are true, then I would have told him that we do not have such assignments as he insinuates,” said Wetland. “If we had such assignments then that would be grossly culpable.” He said the comments about his time as a UN ambassador were made on his behalf, not First House’s, and were relevant in the context of the committee debate.