PR firm failed in ‘race hate’ campaign

  • 4 September 2017
  • From the section Business

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A law firm has criticised Bell Pottinger’s senior management for failing to exercise “extreme care” over a campaign in South Africa.

Herbert Smith Freehills was commissioned by the PR firm after an outcry over allegations that it fuelled racial tensions in South Africa.

South Africa’s Democratic Alliance party had accused Bell Pottinger of a “hateful and divisive campaign”.

It was run for Oakbay, a firm owned by the wealthy Gupta family.

The Democratic Alliance accused the PR firm of emphasising the power of white-owned businesses in the Oakbay campaign, which used the #WhiteMonopolyCapital hashtag.

In its review released on Monday, the law firm said: “[Bell Pottinger’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.”

Herbert Smith also found that certain material created by Bell Pottinger for the economic emancipation campaign “was negative or targeted towards wealthy white South African individuals or corporates and/or was potentially racially divisive and/or potentially offensive and was created in breach of relevant ethical principles”.

James Henderson, chief executive of the PR firm, resigned on Sunday ahead of the release of Herbert Smith’s review.

He had issued an “unequivocal” apology in July and four staff were dismissed or suspended.

Almost two weeks ago, the UK trade body, the Public Relations and Communications Association, found that Bell Pottinger had breached an industry code of conduct and upheld the complaint from the Democratic Alliance.

The Guptas have been accused of using their connections with South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, to win contracts and influence political appointments. Mr Zuma and the Guptas strongly deny all allegations.

Bell Pottinger left the Oakbay account in April.

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