Guilty! Bell Pottinger breached industry code, faces possible expulsion

JOHANNESBURG — Shockwaves are reverberating through the UK’s PR industry as Bell Pottinger now faces becoming just the second company in the PRCA’s history to be sanctioned by the PR body. This comes after Bell Pottinger has been found guilty by the UK public relations industry body for breaching its code of ethics amid the controversial work it did for the Guptas in South Africa. The investigation into Bell Pottinger comes amid a complaint from South African opposition party the DA. The PRCA is now expected to make its final decision regarding the nature of its sanction against Bell Pottinger by 4 September. South Africans will be watching closely. Meanwhile, Bell Pottinger also has five days to appeal the decision. – Gareth van Zyl

By John Bowker

(Bloomberg) — Bell Pottinger LLP has been found guilty by the U.K. public-relations industry body for breaching its code over work done for South Africa’s Gupta family that led to protests outside the company’s London offices, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The communications firm had been hired by the Guptas to help enhance their image following allegations that they paid off members of the government for state contracts. Bell Pottinger’s work for the Gupta’s Oakbay Investments Ltd. included a social-media campaign aimed at highlighting white dominance of the economy 25 years after the end of apartheid. The maximum penalty that can be imposed by the PRCA is cancellation of the company’s membership of the body.

The decision was reached following a hearing by the U.K.’s Public Relations and Communications Association in London on Aug. 18, said the person, who asked not to be identified as the decision hasn’t yet been announced. Bell Pottinger will now have five working days to appeal, the person said.

BBC Newsnight focuses on Bell Pottinger.
BBC Newsnight recently focused on Bell Pottinger.

The complaint was brought by South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance party after a series of emails leaked to the local media showed Bell Pottinger allegedly violated the PRCA’s charter in its work for the Guptas, who are friends with President Jacob Zuma and in business with his son. The firm dropped the family’s Oakbay as a client in April, fired a partner and suspended two other employees last month over what it said was “inappropriate and offensive” activities conducted in South Africa.

A representative of Bell Pottinger said they would call back when Bloomberg requested comment.

South Africa’s Eyewitness News reported the ruling earlier.