Bell Pottinger campaign used potentially racial divisive material says independent review.
Bell Pottinger accepted a commission from Oakbay Investments Pty Limited (“Oakbay”) a holding company for the Gupta family interests in South Africa. It is alleged the Gupta family have significant influence on South Africa government policy, who gets appointed to key roles and who gets, benefits from large government contracts. Referred to in South Africa as “state capture”. The allegations are denied. The commission was in essence to run a PR and marketing campaign to move attention from the alleged close links between the Guptas and key people in, connected to the South African government. Bell Pottinger sought to do this by putting out a counter story, narrative.
Bell Pottinger commissioned an independent review of its work on the Oakbay account by international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills which has found that, “certain material created by Bell Pottinger…. was potentially racially divisive and/or potentially offensive and was created in breach of relevant ethical principles. [Bell Pottinger’s] senior management should have known that the campaign was at risk of causing offence, including on grounds of race.”
“the BP account team used other tactics in relation to the economic emancipation campaign which arguably breached the relevant ethical principles‚ including taking steps which might mislead or undermine journalists who were asking questions in relation to the campaign.….members of BP’s senior management should have known that the campaign was at risk of causing offence‚ including on grounds of race.….In such circumstances BP ought to have exercised extreme care and should have closely scrutinised the creation of content for the campaign. This does not appear to have happened.”
The Chief Executive of Bell Pottinger although not involved in this account resigned shortly before the report was released.
The Huffington Post South Africa has put four questions to Bell Pottinger, others have put similar questions.
1. How much did Bell Pottinger earn from the Oakbay account?
2. Would Bell Pottinger now consider paying profits from the account toward some charitable organisations, maybe like those working toward reconciliation efforts in South Africa?
3. Are (ex-CEO) James Henderson and (former BP partner) Victoria Geoghegan going to be the only employees held responsible?
4. Would there be another apology issued to South Africans affected by the divisive campaigns?
Others have also asked about other PR and marketing commissions e.g. allegedly for the ANC Youth League Bell Pottinger has run recently in South Africa.
Bell Pottinger has so far not answered.
Bell Pottinger gave up the Oakbay account in April 2017.
Bell Pottinger was accused of running a campaign in South Africa on behalf of Oakbay which was divisive, offensive and stoked racial tensions. It is reported that the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), a UK trade body has found Bell Pottinger guilty of breaching its code of conduct in its work on the Oakbay account and the PRCA should state what measure it plans to take on 5 September.
The logical conclusion of the independent review and the reported PRCA finding is that Bell Pottinger did indeed run a divisive, offensive PR and marketing campaign in South Africa for Oakbay recognising it may well cause racial tensions.