Cape Town – The role that UK public relations company Bell Pottinger played as communications adviser for the Gupta family has raised considerable doubt about the veracity of news in South Africa, according to two independent political analysts.
Bell Pottinger, which recently stepped down as the Gupta-owned Oakbay’s public relations firm, is said among other things to have driven a social media campaign to try and divert attention from the Gupta family’s involvement in state capture by emphasising the role white monopoly capital plays in South Africa’s economy.
“It is noticeable that a lot of doubt has been raised in the public space about things like the performance of our economy, for example,” political analyst Ralph Mathekga told Fin24.
“Some interesting counter-narratives have been driven when one listens to the news. Just look at some of the policy failures that one would normally attribute to the governing party – those failures are being recast as resistance by white monopoly capital. Those arguments are gaining traction,” Mathekga said.
Bell Pottinger allegedly used a number of tactics to move attention away from the Guptas, such as a series of fake bloggers, commentators and Twitter users in an effort to manipulate public opinion, according to a report “Bell Pottinger - PR support for the Gupta family”.
The PR company claimed the report was released on Friday, March 31 by the South Africa Communist Party (SACP) to discredit it.
Mathekga said he believes Bell Pottinger’s alleged campaign has played an important role in casting doubt upon the credibility of mainstream news.
“I’m also of the view that a lot of their campaign work had to do with coming up with counter-narratives before the Cabinet reshuffle.”
Mathekga also pointed out that Bell Pottinger’s “work” extended beyond the media, as is evident in utterances made by the ANC Youth League and Women’s League, respectively.
“If you listen to them – it’s as if they’re reading from a script. It’s a message that is driven to excuse the culpability of policymakers who should respond to challenges prudently through policy measures.”
Independent political analyst Nic Borain agreed that the messages from the ANC Youth League for example are clearly a “scripted response”.
“And the people reading the script don’t necessarily have to believe it. They just have to say it. It’s a script for people who have difficulty to conclude that it is fronting a rent-seeking approach to the state and state contracts.”
Borain points out the messages come from the same groups who are benefiting from the demise of state-owned enterprises, such as Eskom and Transnet.
The modus operandi is highly sophisticated and technology-driven.
“And it’s almost impossible for our politics in South Africa, which is fairly straightforward and an open democratic system, to process this,” Borain said.
“We’re not built for that kind of secrecy and manipulation where it becomes impossible to understand whether things are true or not.”Read Fin24's top stories trending on Twitter: Fin24’s top stories