24/08/2017 13:41 SAST | Updated 24/08/2017 16:06 SAST

Ruling: Bell Pottinger Broke Professional Code Of Conduct During Gupta Campaign In SA

Reports say the trade body is considering taking further action against Bell Pottinger.

President Zuma accompanied by Atul Gupta and Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba.
President Zuma accompanied by Atul Gupta and Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba.

Bell Pottinger broke a professional code of conduct while carrying out work for the Guptas in South Africa, a UK trade body has ruled.

It follows a hearing on Friday by a Public Relations and Communications Association committee into the controversial UK PR firm's work for the Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments, following a complaint by the Democratic Alliance.

The PRCA said ahead of that hearing that if the committee were to reject the complaint, then this would be announced by the end of Wednesday, reported PR Week. No such announcement has been made.

Phumzile Van Damme, DA shadow minister of communications, said the party had received confirmation that its complaint had been upheld, and Bell Pottinger had five days to appeal.

If Bell Pottinger appeals, the PRCA's Board of Management will consider the appeal and either approve, amend, or overrule the decision by the Professional Practices Committee and then publish the final decision during the week beginning 4 September 2017.

"During its work for Oakbay Capital, the Gupta family and the President Jacob Zuma's son, Duduzane Zuma, Bell Pottinger exploited the already sensitive race relations in South Africa, and a strong message must be sent to the PRCA that unethical conduct by its members will not be tolerated," said Van Damme.

"We trust that a strong sanction will be given against Bell Pottinger. We reiterate our call for Bell Pottinger to do the right thing and disclose all Gupta contracts and monies from their accounts with the Guptas and reinvest it into South Africa."

The Guardian reported that Bell Pottinger will be given a "disciplinary sanction" by the PRCA, which is considering a range of actions it could take against the company, including terminating its membership of the trade body.

The PRCA will publish the committee's decision in the week commencing Monday, 4 September and Bell Pottinger will be given an opportunity to appeal.

Read: Why An Industry Body Hearing Is Ill-Equipped To Hold Bell Pottinger To Account

PRCA director general Francis Ingham told PRWeek: "Our final decision on this case will be made once it has been through the full and balanced process set out in our Professional Charter and Codes of Conduct, including any appeals. We can't comment further while the process is ongoing."

It was alleged the firm's campaign was aimed at increasing racial divisions around a white monopoly capital theme to avert attention from state capture claims, as well as creating fake social media accounts to personally tarnish journalists and others such as former finance minister Pravin Gordhan.

Read: Ferial Haffajee: The Gupta Fake News Factory And Me

In July, Bell Pottinger dismissed senior partner Victoria Geoghegan and three other staff apologised for having run an "inappropriate and offensive" campaign for Oakbay.

"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," said James Henderson, Bell Pottonger's chief executive.