Editors launch defamation suit against Bell Pottinger insurer
Publish date: 21 May 2018
Issue Number: 774
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Three SA editors have filed a defamation claim against AIG Europe, the insurer for now defunct Bell Pottinger, over its role in the so-called ‘white monopoly capital’ (WMC) media campaign, notes News24. UK-based law firm Leigh Day's international department said in a statement it was representing editor-at-large for the Huffington Post South Africa Ferial Haffajee, former Tiso Blackstar editor-at-large and senior columnist at Business Day and the Financial Mail Peter Bruce, and editor-in-chief of News24 Adriaan Basson. The three are seeking damages in England, where Bell Pottinger was based, for defamation and breach of privacy resulting from the firm's role in the WMC media campaign. The campaign, which was found to be racially divisive, was aimed at manipulating public opinion using social media. ‘The editors allege that 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 statement said. 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. 'This case highlights the increasingly worrying menace of social media backed by sophisticated technology being used to manipulate public opinion with fake information,' said Richard Meeran, head of Leigh Day's international department and lawyer for the claimants. UK law firm Herbert Smith was commissioned by Bell Pottinger's CEO, James Henderson, to investigate the claims and found certain material created for the campaign by Bell Pottinger 'was negative or targeted towards wealthy white South African individuals or corporates and/or was potentially racially divisive and/or potentially offensive and was created in breach of relevant ethical principles'.