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D-Day for Bell Pottinger as hearing set to kick off

Aug 17 2017 13:03
Matthew le Cordeur

Cape Town – Democratic Alliance (DA) spokesperson Phumzile van Damme will testify at the disciplinary hearing into Bell Pottinger in the UK on Friday, the DA confirmed on Thursday.

The Public Relations and Communications Association’s (PRCA's) disciplinary hearing into Bell Pottinger follows a complaint lodged by the DA in July.

The party alleged that Bell Pottinger stoked racial hatred in South Africa in the work it did for the Gupta family and President Jacob Zuma's son Duduzane, both shareholders in Tegeta Exploration & Resources.

Leaked Gupta emails have shown that the PR company orchestrated a narrative on "white monopoly capital" that has divided the ANC. The divisions came to a head at the ANC policy conference.

Bell Pottinger CEO James Henderson told the BBC that "we were very naive" and said they had no intention to stir racial hatred.

In the same interview, Atul Gupta insisted that Bell Pottinger's work with his family was completely above board. "We have always had some companies who are doing some sort of PR, and Bell Pottinger is one of the PR [companies] in the group. I don't know what is this narrative...  white monopoly capital. If you go to search any revolutionary speech in this country always exist. It don't know where this term comes from, believe me [all sic]," Gupta told the radio station.

However, Lord Tim Bell, who left the firm he founded in 2016, said the Gupta account was one of the reasons he left. In an interview with UK-based PR Week, Bell slammed Henderson’s statement that he was misled by lead manager Victoria Geoghegan, who was dismissed last week. "He is the chief executive for God’s sake, it's his job to know what is going on," he said.

Tomorrow's hearing

Van Damme said that while the hearings will not be open to the public, she will update South Africans on the doorstep of Bell Pottinger's head office following the hearing.

“The hearing will commence tomorrow morning with the DA giving a verbal summary of our complaint against Bell Pottinger detailing how the pro-Gupta propaganda campaign contravened the PRCA’s Codes of Conduct,” van Damme said in a statement on Thursday.

“A representative of Bell Pottinger will thereafter be given the opportunity to respond to our case.

Members of the PRCA disciplinary committee will then be invited, in turn, to question both the DA and the Bell Pottinger representative. On conclusion of the hearing, the committee will be in its deliberations.

“The hearing will, unfortunately, be closed to the public at an undisclosed location,” she said. “Although the DA would have preferred for this hearing to be open to the public, we will respect the decision by the PRCA.

“The DA will, however, keep the South African public and media informed regarding this matter,” she said.

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