Guptas' ex-PR firm swallows its words and apologises

06 July 2017 8:31 PM

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JOHANNESBURG - UK-based PR firm, Bell Pottinger, apologised unequivocally on Thursday for "anyone impacted" by the work it did for the Gupta-owned Oakbay.

The communications firm stopped working for Oakbay three months ago as pressure mounted on those associated with the family's businesses over allegations of state capture.

At the time, the company said it terminated its contract because of strong social media attacks on its staff and its business from South Africa, and that it regarded the criticisms levelled against it as unfair.

Bell Pottinger had been accused of helping to orchestrate social media attacks on well-known journalists who did exposés on the Guptas, and of fomenting racial divisions by promoting the term "white monopoly capital", in attempts to divert attention away from the family.

The company said it called in the leading independent international law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills LLP, to review the account and the work done on it.

In a statement released by Chief Executive James Henderson on Thursday, the company said that while it was still waiting for the findings of that investigation, the evidence it had been shown in the interim "dismayed us".

"Much of what has been alleged about our work is, we believe, not true — but enough of it is to be of deep concern," he said.

"There has been a social media campaign that highlights the issue of economic emancipation in a way that we, having now seen it, consider to be inappropriate and offensive."

The hatred directed at Bell Pottinger by South Africans when their divisive and subversive social media campaigns came to light, led to the communications firm making its Twitter account private.

At the same time, Henderson laid the blame for the campaign at the hands of more junior members of staff.

"At various points throughout the tenure of the Oakbay account, senior management have been misled about what has been done.

"For it to be done in South Africa, a country which has become an international beacon of hope for its progress towards racial reconciliation, is a matter of profound regret and in no way reflects the values of Bell Pottinger."

Henderson said the company fired a lead partner involved in the account and suspended another partner and two employees while it determined what role they played in the matter.

"As soon as we were made aware that we had been misled and that work was being done which goes against the very core of our ethical policies, we acted immediately."

He also committed to publishing the findings of the review report and to take appropriate action.

"We wish to issue a full, unequivocal and absolute apology to anyone impacted. These activities should never have been undertaken. We are deeply sorry that this happened."

The apology came in the same week as the UK's communications watchdog announced it would investigate Bell Pottinger for ethically compromising practices.

Political Analyst Justice Malala said the apology was too little too late.

"This is a firm that took on this family in 2014 when we all knew what was going on between this family and President Jacob Zuma - that is the first thing.

"They have fired the lead person, the lead employee on this account but there are three others who are suspended.

"What about this company taking full responsibility and releasing absolutely all the communication they have between themselves and this family so that we can see what exactly they did?"


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