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By Ilse de Lange


Civil society organisations want Bell Pottinger to reveal all

The organisations' lawyers have asked the company to provide them with the terms of reference for the Herbert Smith appointment and their mandate.

Three South African civil society organisations intend making submissions to UK regulatory bodies about the conduct of Bell Pottinger in relation to Oakbay and wants the public relations firm to provide them with all information in its possession.

Lawyers acting for the Helen Suzman Foundation, Section 27 and Save South Africa wrote a letter to Bell Pottinger’s CEO James Henderson requesting access to the terms of reference and all information which will form the basis of the investigation to be undertaken by international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills LLP.

HSF Director Francis Antonie said the request flowed from the intention of the organisations to make recommendations to the relevant UK regulatory bodies in order to assist them in coming to a proper understanding of the social, economic and potential legal implications of Bell Pottinger’s conduct.

The request follows recent revelations which led to the “unequivocal and absolute apology” issued by Bell Pottinger in which it accepted responsibility for the “offensive” campaigning and race based narratives pertaining to the concept of “economic apartheid” in South Africa.

The apology stated that “at various points throughout the tenure of the Oakbay account, senior management have been misled about what has been done” and said the firm had commissioned a probe by the law firm Herbert Smith Freehills LLP into the actions of the company and would publish the findings.

The DA has laid a complaints against Bell Pottinger with the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in the UK, which led to the PRCA launching it’s own investigation.

Francis said the public interest organisations were concerned that the impact of Bell Pottinger’s conduct should be viewed in the correct context by Bell Pottinger’s own senior management, by the UK regulatory bodies and by the public at large.

“In arriving at any conclusions about Bell Pottinger’s conduct, it is plainly necessary to have an appropriately informed understanding of South Africa’s constitutional project, the legal framework, its history regarding race and sectarian politics, and the challenges which the country faces.

“These organisations are hopeful that, in light of the expressed commitment in its apology to accountability and transparency, Bell Pottinger will respond positively to their approach,” he said.

The organisations’ lawyers have asked Bell Pottinger to provide them with the terms of reference for the Herbert Smith appointment and their mandate, access to all underlying information and documentation on which any investigation and report are based, together with any interim reports already prepared and access to any other information in Bell Pottinger’s possession.

They also want access to the final investigation report once it is available.

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