PR firm Bell Pot­tinger failed in ‘race hate’ cam­paign

The Malta Business Weekly - - FRONT PAGE -

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 op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Al­liance 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, con­firmed his res­ig­na­tion on Mon­day, say­ing he "nei­ther ini­ti­ated nor was in­volved in the Oak­bay work".

How­ever, he added: "I ac­cept that as CEO, I have ul­ti­mate ex­ec­u­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity for Bell Pot­tinger. I feel deeply let down by the col­leagues who mis­led me. How­ever, I think it is im­por­tant I take proper ac­count­abil­ity for what has hap­pened."

Four Bell Pot­tinger staff were dis­missed or sus­pended in July.

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