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LONDON — Here’s a very big win for the good guys. The £100 000 a month London agency which promoted the Gupta agenda in South Africa – including instigating a threat to use the UK courts to close down Biznews – has suddenly seen the error of its ways. After steadfastly denying any wrongdoing by his company and claiming its clients were innocent victims, Bell Pottinger’s owner and CEO James Henderson today issued a grovelling apology: “full, unequivocal and absolute” to quote from the statement. News like this takes time to digest. Nice. But given the damage this firm’s dark media arts has created in South Africa, and the personal attacks and despicable social media deeds conducted under its instruction, I’m pretty sure this doesn’t close matter. But perhaps, to paraphrase Churchill, it is the end of the beginning. – Alec Hogg
By James Henderson*
Three months ago, Bell Pottinger announced that it had decided to cease work for Oakbay Capital. We had worked for them for a year, following a competitive bid process.
When we terminated our work with Oakbay, we said we were doing so because of increasingly strong social media attacks on our staff and our business from South Africa, and that we regarded the criticisms of what our team had done as unfair.
These attacks on, and criticisms of, our staff continued and were clearly the result of strong and sincere anger. Most seriously, it was said that we had supported or aided campaigns to stir up racial division in South Africa. Therefore, we called in the leading independent international law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills LLP, to review the account and the work done on it. That investigation is still continuing and will be completed in the next few weeks. We intend to publish the findings of that report and take appropriate action.
However, we have already been shown interim evidence which has dismayed us. Much of what has been alleged about our work is, we believe, not true – but enough of it is to be of deep concern.
There has been a social media campaign that highlights the issue of economic emancipation in a way that we, having now seen it, consider to be inappropriate and offensive. At various points throughout the tenure of the Oakbay account, senior management have been misled about what has been done. For it to be done in South Africa, a country which has become an international beacon of hope for its progress towards racial reconciliation, is a matter of profound regret and in no way reflects the values of Bell Pottinger.
— Prof Thuli Madonsela (@ThuliMadonsela3) July 6, 2017
Though the inquiry is ongoing, we have dismissed the lead partner involved and suspended another partner and two employees so that we can determine their precise role in what took place. As soon as we were made aware that we had been misled and that work was being done which goes against the very core of our ethical policies, we acted immediately.
At Bell Pottinger – a proudly diverse and international team – we have good, decent people who will be as angered by what has been discovered as we are.
We wish to issue a full, unequivocal and absolute apology to anyone impacted. These activities should never have been undertaken. We are deeply sorry that this happened.
- James Henderson is Bell Pottinger’s Chief Executive.