Bell Pottinger is not off the hook just yet – DA

Protesters outside London's Bell Pottinger office. (Photo: Supplied)
Protesters outside London's Bell Pottinger office. (Photo: Supplied)

Cape Town – The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomed the Public Relations and Communications Association’s (PRCA) decision to expel Bell Pottinger, but said it wants full disclosure of its operation in South Africa.

The decision to boot the UK-based PR firm out of the industry body follows a complaint lodged by the DA that Bell Pottinger exploited racial tensions in South Africa on behalf of the Gupta family, and Duduzane Zuma, President Jacob Zuma’s son.

The PRCA said Bell Pottinger will not be eligible to reapply for corporate membership of the PRCA for a minimum period of five years.

“Bell Pottinger has brought the PR and communications industry into disrepute with its actions, and it has received the harshest possible sanctions," PRCA director general Francis Ingham said in a statement on Tuesday.

DA spokesperson Phumzile Van Damme praised the swift action. “The DA commends PRCA for the transparent and professional manner in which they pursued this matter,” she said in a statement.

“This sanction is the most serious penalty a firm can face and is of significant reputational damage for the embattled spin doctors,” she said.

“The PRCA found that not only did Bell Pottinger fail ‘to maintain and protect its own reputation’, but also ‘the standing of the profession as a whole’.

“What this means, is that while Bell Pottinger will still be able to conduct PR work internationally, it can no longer do so with the honour of being a member of Europe’s largest and most influential PR and communications membership body. This will cause a major knock in their credibility, and no doubt, their bottom line.

“The DA thanks the people of South Africa for making it loud and clear that unethical conduct by private companies in aid of corrupt individuals will not be tolerated.”

However, Van Damme said the ruling did not mean Bell Pottinger "was off the hook just yet".

“Bell Pottinger must take responsibility for their actions and disclose all information regarding their Oakbay Capital account and reinvest all monies from their Oakbay account back into South Africa,” she said.

“The DA is exploring further steps that can be taken to force the full disclosure.”

OUTA welcomes ruling

OUTA also welcomed the ruling in a statement, saying it was confirmation of the “power of civil society and political action in reaction to the outrageous conduct of this world renowned public relations organisation”.

Referring to Bell Pottinger’s expulsion from the industry body, OUTA chairperson Wayne Duvenage said: “This is a clear indication that the South African society at large was right to express outrage and disgust at the conduct of both the Gupta family and Bell Pottinger, about their carefully and purposefully planned social media strategy to inflame racial discord in South Africa."

OUTA criticised Bell Pottinger’s senior management, who “blame lower ranking colleagues for the mess and turmoil they have caused not only their firm, but the people of a foreign country”.

Bell Pottinger founder Lord Tim Bell told Talk Radio 702’s Money Show on Monday evening that the whole board should resign, following the exit of CEO James Henderson earlier in the day.

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