The London headquarters of PR company Bell Pottinger in London. Picture: REUTERS
The London headquarters of PR company Bell Pottinger in London. Picture: REUTERS

On Monday, three senior South African journalists formally lodged a defamation claim against the now defunct Bell Pottinger over its role in the "white monopoly capital" media campaign.

London-based lawyers Leigh Day on behalf of Ferial Haffajee, Peter Bruce and Adriaan Basson are seeking damages in England for defamation and breach of privacy resulting from Bell Pottinger’s role in the controversial media campaign. The journalists have formally lodged a claim with AIG Europe, the insurer for Bell Pottinger.

The white monopoly capital media campaign essentially sought to build animosity towards critics of former Jacob Zuma and his faction, amid growing evidence of state capture by the Guptas.

The Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments engaged Bell Pottinger from 2016 to manage the Gupta’s reputation and corporate communications.

Haffajee, editor-at-Large for the Huffington Post SA, Bruce, a senior columnist at Business Day and the Financial Mail, and Basson, editor-in-chief at News24 were all targeted by the white monopoly capital media campaign in a barrage of tweets published by twitter "bots".

The three journalists had published reports that were critical of the Guptas and their allegedly corrupt relationship with Zuma.

The journalists say the tweets were highly offensive and falsely portrayed them as biased and lacking in integrity, and purveyors of fake news who were paid by their white bosses to criticise the Guptas.

The tweets also included the unauthorised and offensive use of their faces super-imposed onto images, such as Haffajee’s face being used on a series of images of women in sexualised positions.

They allege that Bell Pottinger was either responsible for some or all of the various tweets concerning them and/or was knowingly involved in the process of their publication.

Richard Meeran, head of Leigh Day’s international department and lawyer for the claimants, said: "This case highlights the increasingly worrying menace of social media backed by sophisticated technology being used to manipulate public opinion with fake information.

"The attempt to stifle reputable journalists investigating serious issues of corruption is extremely concerning and needs to be properly investigated and subject to the judicial process. Our clients aim to establish precisely what transpired and who was involved in the white monopoly capital campaign against them, and hold them to account legally."