It's time we all wiped away the smears

05 September 2017 - 06:43 By The Times Editorial
Phumzile Van Damme of the Democratic Alliance National speaks outside the Bell Pottinger offices in London. File photo.
Phumzile Van Damme of the Democratic Alliance National speaks outside the Bell Pottinger offices in London. File photo.
Image: REUTERS/Neil Hall

The Times, with the African Network of Centres for Investigative Reporting, this week published a special report revealing the extent to which the UK PR firm Bell Pottinger ran a disinformation campaign that adversely affected South Africa's political and economic landscape.

It created a propaganda machine to not only discredit anyone, including journalists and high-profile politicians, who dares to question the doings of the controversial Gupta family, but also tried to dominate the national narrative to favour a certain agenda.

The fight against propaganda has to be taken to the man on the street

Its network of fake news produced at least 220,000 tweets and hundreds of Facebook posts to confuse the public between July 2016 and July 2017. Bell Pottinger CEO James Henderson resigned on Sunday and a report by UK law firm Herbert Smith Freehills found its senior management should have known their campaign was "at risk of causing offence". The UK's Public Relations and Communication Association has announced that Bell Pottinger would be suspended for five years for bringing the industry into disrepute.

The audacity of Bell Pottinger's actions has been the subject of many media reports, but exposing them has not put off the masters of propaganda. As this saga draws to a close, a new dirty campaign is born, now targeting Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. While there will be consequences for the Bell Pottingers of this world, it is not clear if anything will happen to those driving the smear campaign against Ramaphosa.

This is where the fight against propaganda has to be taken to the man on the street. The success of the campaign against Ramaphosa will rely on whether the public buys into it or not. South Africans have a responsibility to stay informed, be discerning when they consume news, identify news with an agenda when they see it, and spread the word to not believe it.


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