An electronic media feeding frenzy is taking a bite out of Sting, the British rocker and self-styled defender of the environment and the downtrodden. In recent days, British newspapers and blogs have savaged the musician for playing a concert in Uzbekistan, which is home to one of the world's most repressive governments. Sting may have exacerbated his image crisis by appearing unrepentant over his appearance in Tashkent, for which he reportedly received over $1 million.
Sting made his trip to Uzbekistan last October in connection with Art Week Style.uz-2009, a culture and arts festival, organized by President Islam Karimov's daughter, Gulnara.
The furor over the concert erupted February 21, when a picture of Sting in a T-shirt sitting next to a tiara-wearing Karimova at a Tashkent fashion show highlighted a story posted on the Daily Mail's website about the Uzbek extravaganza. The report went on to dwell on the Karimov regime's appalling human rights record. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. It also noted that Uzbekistan is notorious for its widespread use of forced child labor in the cotton sector. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The Daily Mail report additionally featured criticism of Sting's Tashkent concert by Craig Murray, Britain's controversial former envoy to Uzbekistan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. "It appears that Sting is a hypocrite," the Daily Mail quoted Murray as saying. "He's incredibly stupid to be unaware of what sort of regime it [Karimov's administration] is."
The Daily Mail report cited a statement issued by Sting in which he appeared dismissive of the notion of any lapse in judgment, and which did not contain any expressions of regret.
"I played in Uzbekistan a few months ago. The concert was organized by the president's daughter and I believe sponsored by UNICEF," said the statement, cited by the Daily Mail. ""I am well aware of the Uzbek president's appalling reputation in the field of human rights, as well as the environment. I made the decision to play there in spite of that."
According to British broadsheet, The Guardian, UNICEF had nothing to with the October 17 concert, tickets to which reportedly cost $1,000-$2,000, an amount roughly 45 times greater than the average monthly salary in Uzbekistan.
Writing on his own blog, Murray, the former British envoy to Uzbekistan, described Sting's defense as "transparent bollocks."
"He got paid over a million pounds to play an event specifically designed to glorify a barbarous regime," Murray continued. "Is the man completely mad?"
Since the appearance of the Daily Mail report, Sting's reputation has taken a beating in a variety of blogs. In a representative comment posted on a blog maintained by The Guardian, a poster identified as GeorgeH84 assailed Sting's unapologetic stance. "The whole statement makes him sound like a man who's nicked someone's handbag and has to explain himself when being caught. ? He must know it was wrong, and if he doesn't he's beyond thick."
Another poster decried the image of rock stars as front men for charitable and other noble causes. "Perhaps the only good thing which might result from this is that we finally put to be the myth of the 'musician with a conscience,'" wrote a poster identified as MaxZorin. "For some reason we seem to elevate certain performers ? to be more than just mercenary minstrels, when it should be perfectly clear by now that for all of them it's simply about selling records and T-shirts."