Sunday, June 8, 2008

Trevor Phillips and Channel 4 - A conflict of interest?

While reading the Mail on Sunday main story (what I suppose ought to be called the "cornflake choker": C4 PAID RACE CHIEF OVER SHILPA ROW) I initially felt the Mail had a point.

You may remember the row over Channel 4's Big Brother and remarks aimed at Shilpa Shetty. Trevor Phillips, as Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was condemning Channel 4 during the controversy. Following the row, Phillips has been employed as a consultant (working outside his role as Chair of the Commission) to do a project with Channel 4 related to ethnic cultures.

It certainly raises questions but, as usual, when you read the small print, the story doesn't really live up to the "shock horror" two-inch headlines, which the Mail gives it. Without saying it, the Mail story gives the impression that Phillips was advising Channel 4 during the Shilpa Shetty row. Reading to the bottom of the article (as usual the truth increases as the BS decreases the lower down the story you read), however, it seems the consultancy work has been done some time after the row and on a specific task: a research project into the television viewing habits of ethnic communities in the UK:

A spokesman for Mr Phillips and the EHRC categorically denied there had been any conflict of interest.
He said that Mr Phillips had taken payment from only one organisation and that part of his fee for that work would go to charity.
'It was agreed from the outset that the chairman's job would be a part-time one, after he had served a full year.
'It was always Trevor's intention to work independently in the area of diversity and broadcasting in his own time.
'Everything has been totally above board. His role as a consultant is not to show companies how to circumvent the law but to help them be better at providing equal opportunities for all their workforce.
'Trevor has gone through all the correct processes of declaring his interests, so there is no conflict.
'The work he is doing for Channel 4 is nothing to do with the Commission's work. He has deliberately absented himself from all the Commission's discussions about Channel 4.'

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