Controversial UK public relations firm Bell Pottinger may no longer be working for Gupta-linked Oakbay Investments, but the PR outfit’s impact on media narratives in South Africa appears to be living on. Speculation has been rife that Bell Pottinger came up with the ‘white monopoly capital’ phrase to deflect attention away from the Gupta family and their central appearance in the Public Protector’s State of Capture report. Of course, this narrative of blaming whites, and in particular white males, has started to creep into mainstream media. One just has to look at Huffington Post South Africa’s recent embarrassing publishing and subsequent retraction of a dubious fake opinion piece that slammed white males. Like a moth to the flame, it’s becoming clear that media houses can’t resist topics such as ‘white monopoly capital’ to drive up clicks. It’s only fair and expected in our democracy that our media freely debate any topic, but surely they should also start asking more questions about where these debates originate from. – Gareth van Zyl
By Liesl Peyper, Fin24
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 African 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.”