One of the UK’s biggest PR firms Bell Pottinger has been expelled from the leading industry trade organisation over its involvement in stoking up racial tensions in South Africa.
An investigation by the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) found Bell Pottinger guilty of having deliberately stirred up racial hatred in a very sensitive area of the world.
Francis Ingham, Director General at PRCA, which represents 400 businesses and 200 individuals, told Reuters “there is something rotten at the heart of the company” and that the firm’s South African campaign was a “completely reprehensible piece of work”.
Bell Pottinger was reputedly paid £100,000 a month for its services by Oakbay Capital, a South African company owned by the wealthy Gupta family.
The Guardian highlighted Bell Pottinger’s role in South Africa and its creation of a ‘economic emancipation’ campaign which used traditional and social media, including a fake blog and Twitter account, to target wealthy white South African individuals and corporations. The agency’s alleged role was to stir up anger about ‘white monopoly capital’ and ‘economic apartheid’ to draw attention away from the wealthy Gupta family, who have been accused of benefiting financially from their links to President Jacob Zuma. Bell Pottinger, which created and commissioned content, did not invent ‘white monopoly capital’ but used the term ‘on occasion’.
The NewStatesman reported how journalists were also subjected to sexual slurs, or had their homes vandalised. “I have never in my life encountered a situation where I have clearly been surveilled and then accused of cheating on my wife by faceless people,” says Peter Bruce, a columnist and former editor of Business Day, a leading broadsheet.
Bell Pottinger has a track record of being linked to a number of dubious and unethical regimes and campaigns. Previous clients have included repressive governments of Egypt and Bahrain, the Pinochet Foundation and Trafigura, the commodity firm involved in a waste-dumping scandal in Côte d’Ivoire. The firm was hired by the US Military in a huge $540m (£416m) “covert” propaganda campaign in Iraq after the 2003 invasion which included creating fake terror and news-style videos.
Human right groups have called for an urgent inquiry into the ongoing conflict situation in Yemen which has led to what has been called the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. A joint NGO letter, signed by 62 organisations both local and international, to the United Nations Human Rights Council said the number of abuses has increased since 2015.
Why has so much journalism succumbed to propaganda? Why are censorship and distortion standard practice? Why is the BBC so often a mouthpiece of rapacious power? Why do the New York Times and the Washington Post deceive their readers?
Weapons of Mass Deception reveals: How the Iraq war was sold to the American public through professional P.R. strategies. “The First Casualty”: Lies that were told related to the Iraq war. Euphemisms and jargon related to the Iraq war, e.g. “shock and awe,” “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” “axis of evil,” “coalition of the willing,” etc. “War as Opportunity”: How the war on terrorism and the war on Iraq have been used as marketing hooks to sell products and policies that have nothing to do with fighting terrorism.