February 6, 2011 / 12:36 AM / 7 years ago

UK weighs special unit to combat Olympics bad news

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain’s Foreign Office should set up a “rapid response unit” ahead of the 2012 Olympics to rebuff or correct negative stories which could damage the country’s reputation, lawmakers said on Sunday.

The foreign affairs committee expressed concern that the Foreign Office’s overall message was ill-defined and that Britain should be promoted as a “diverse, inclusive and friendly country. Or in a word ... generous.”

The Foreign Office (FCO) should also push London’s status as the only city to have hosted the Games three times -- in 1908, 1948 and now 2012.

“The FCO ... will have a responsibility for seeking to influence overseas perceptions of any problems that arise,” the committee said in a report “FCO Public Diplomacy: The Olympics.”

“We recommend that the FCO should form a ‘rapid response unit’, set up well before the Games, which is adequately resourced and prepared to take swift action to rebut or challenge negative stories appearing in the world media.”

About 25,000 journalists will attend the Games and four billion people will be watching on their televisions.

The Olympics can boost a country’s profile, as was the case with Sydney when it hosted the 2000 Olympics, but there is a greater risk of a disastrous Games damaging a country’s reputation.

In its evidence, the FCO recognized the Games can help with Britain’s security, and said it would use the event to promote a message of tolerance and moderation in strategically important countries.

The Pakistan cricketer and England spin coach Mushtaq Ahmed is among others who will feature in a series of short films online talking about what Britain has meant to them.

The committee praised the FCO’s work on using social media and Twitter to get its message across, especially at a time of government cutbacks. But it warned of a danger of failing to regard Olympic public diplomacy as a priority.

The FCO said it planned to set up a British Business Embassy in London in line with the Conservative-led coalition’s aim of promoting greater trade and inward investment.

But the committee suggested the FCO could do more, including holding a major trade event close to or during the Games “to secure the maximum commercial benefit to the national economy.”

Editing by Keith Weir

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