Inigo Wilson – not freedom of speech but inability to do his job

The Inigo Wilson affair is continuing to attract a lot of attention from both the blogosphere and mainstream media. It’s also doing a good job of highlighting that the wisdom of the crowds isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Most of Wilson’s outraged supporters still appear to be labouring under the misapprehension that his suspension is all to do with violating his freedom of speech and a campaign by the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

In fact as I opinionated originally it appears to be to do with his job. An Orange source has apparently revealed that Inigo Wilson was actually suspended for saying: “Consultation - a formal system for ignoring public views while patronising them at the same time.” It’s more than a slight problem for a community affairs manger to say that publicly, even if in jest.

For a legal opinion check out the well respected OUT-LAW news from lawyers Pinsent Mason. Robin Mcllroy, an employment law specialist says the case raises the interesting and increasingly relevant point of whether an employee’s conduct in his own time can affect his employer’s reputation.

“As a general rule, conduct committed outside employment can potentially justify disciplinary action depending often on the nature of the employee’s job and the potential damage to the employer’s reputation,” she said. “But many factors will be relevant, including the terms of an employee’s contract and any applicable policy.”

My emphasis on “depending often on the nature of an employee’s job”. Personally I find it unbelievable that any community relations specialist could fail to realise that the ‘Lefty Lexicon’ would give offence. Most first year PR students would have more of a clue that Wilson has displayed, because simple common sense would kick in.

There is not just his naivety in failing to anticipate what would happen, but there is also the difficulty he will face in conducting any community relations anywhere in the future. Every single community campaigning against a phone mast will be shouting that Orange has admitted that it will ignore and patronise them. It doesn’t matter if Wilson was trying to ironic or witty, in his job he should know he shouldn’t be that daft.

For a more reasoned take on the miserable storm in a teacup see what Chris Applegate has to say. And while you’re at it see why Doctorvee thinks having Wilson in charge of community affairs is like having a Luddite in charge of IT.

And it’s not just me who thinks Inigo Wilson is somewhat lacking in professional commonsense. James Barbour, managing consultant of Hill & Knowlton Public Affairs, writes: “cellphone giant Orange had suspended its Community Affairs Manager for some comments elsewhere on the web which are, depending on your point of view, at best spectacularly ill-advised, and at worst downright offensive.  Perhaps not a great career move for Inigo Wilson – in fact one wonders how he’ll play this one down in future job interviews.”

If Wilson does end up being dismissed then I can’t see firms lining up to give him another PR job. Of course the sensible solution would be for him to simply come out and say “Sorry, I was foolish and apologise profusely for the offence I have caused”. It might not fix the problem, but it might save part of his career.

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About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/blogs/ James Barbour

    Thanks for the nod – much appreciated. It's a tremendous shame that the twin red-herrings of the MPAC intervention and the "private capacity" defence seem to be detracting, in much of the online discussion, from the real meat of this issue.

  • jummy

    i've got a question. i hoope spomeone may answer it.

    how was it that inigo wilson's political writing became associated with orange telecom?

  • jummy

    excuse the spelling please.

  • Sam Coates

    The Consulatation definition was clearly referring to the Labour Government and its Quangos approach – yes I'm sure someone might take it literally but who?

    There is absolutely nothing in his excellent article that should make him think to post anonymously – quite the opposite – that is the point.

  • http://simoncollister.typepad.com Simon Collister

    Stuart, as ever good insight. I toatally agree with your analysis but I think the problem is that for political bloggers it is a politically charged 'freedom of speech issue' whereas as for PR bloggers it is a more straightforward reputation issue.

    Jummy, Inigo states in his article he works for a major telecomes firm… plus there's Google to cement the link!

  • http://profile.typekey.com/TheSanityInspector/ The Sanity Inspector

    Maybe Mr. Wilson was a bad fit in the P.R. world all along, and knew it, and finally came out with that statement in a moment of epiphany.

  • jummy

    simon,

    that was my observation: wilson didn't associate himself with orange at all. the only manner in which inigo wilson's political opinions came to be associated with orange telecom is through the intervention of an mpac-organized effort. specifally, they sought to punnish political speech with which they disagreed by anonymnously investigating the speaker's livelyhood and leveraging their employers against them. granted, technology made the stalking of wilson back to his employer easier, but is it an acceptable practice?

    completely aside from secondary and tertiary considerations (such as an employer's right to terminate an emloyee), orange would be ratifying this practice by following through with terminating wilson.

    so it is something of an inversion to say that free speech issues are a red herring in this case.

    or perhaps not quite; perhaps both mpac's provacative attack on a citezen's political speech and orange's rights to terminate employment whatever the circumstances are germane. it could be that it is instead a choice orange must make of which value of theirs are they willing to act on: their devotion to their rights as a business or their devotion to all citizens rights to freedom of speech and concience.

    orange asserted anti-censorship values with an anti-cesnsorship campaign. will they reverse those values?

  • http://simoncollister.typepad.com Simon Collister

    As I suggested, there are two arguments going on here. To the political bloggers freedom of speech is the main issue used to bang their ideological drum. To PR bloggers there are the issues of brand, reputation and the power of social madia/the internet at stake.

    As a result two different conclusions can be – and are being – drawn. Both have been played out here and over at simoncollister.typepad.com

    It's also worth pointing out, MPAC is accused of intevening to whip up this story. It is nonsense to say that without MPAC's actions the affair wouldn't have happened. As soon as Inigo put his name to the article at CH it was only a matter of time before someone online got wind and forced him to face his critics.

    Imagine if someone at Orange had seen it first and advised Inigo his comments might not be appropriate. All this could have been avoided.

    As countless PR people are finding out the internet, web 2.0, social media etc can be a big challenge, but it also offers significant opportunities.

  • jummy

    i hope that freedom of speech is a principle we all consider ourselves bound to, and not a toy drum which can be alternately be left aside or picked up opportunisticly from time to time for the purpose of making a superficial and self-serving "racket".

    it is specious to theorize that mpac was only an agent of inevitability in this case. we can suppose that others may have read the entry and undertaken a similarly bold campaign of vengance, but we may also suppose that frogs spontaneously emerge from pond scum if we were inclined to disregard what is in evidence.

    wilson's piece was posted on the 2nd. it remained there without controversy for better than a week, having rolled inconsequentially off conservativehome's front page by the 11th, when mpac "senior acrtivist", ali-gation, posted the results of his investigation into wilson's background with a call for mpac members to contact not he, but his employer, with their disagreements. its not that nothing happened within that span which would have made wilson's piece wider news: it was on the 8th when mpac administrator, musab, posted an appeal for mpac members to seek out targets for their "islamophobia" campaign. the appeal stated…

    "So, if you spot an Islamophobic article, watch an Islamophobic report or hear an Islamophobic interview please put it up on this forum… and [we'll] be ON it."

    …and events followed accordingly.

    we can suppose with greater integrety that the alleged "racism" and "extremism" percieved in wilson's piece was and is chiefly in the eye's of mpac, regardless of what convenience mpac's legwork affords others eager to suppress tory views for whatever reason.

    i'm finding that a new rule for public discourse is being forged here which we should not be so eager to accept simply from schadenfreud: employees have an obligation to their employers to maintain anonymity or silence as citizens.

    i suggest hopefully that this dirty work was left to mpac because other britons who may have read and disagreed with wilson's piece did not regard it as "extreme", which it clearly isn't, and recognized the anti-speech implications of the sort of action which was nonetheless taken. hopefully.

  • http://simoncollister.typepad.com Simon Collister

    Freedom of speech is not a simple concept with a single definition. It is made of many interdependent exchanges between an individual and society; cultural experiences; historical precedents. What I'm trying to say is: the participation of FOS in the Inigo case is massive and far-reaching but it is not simple.

    MPAC are exercising their FOS speech in drawing attention to Inigo's comments. If you try to deny them that right then you are as guilty as you allege them to be.

    I have repeatedly made out that PR bloggers are looking into the actions of eg Inigo and Orange from a PR perspective. This isn't to say that FOS isn't an issue (although in my view it isn't), but in the context of a PR/reputation debate FOS is not an element.

    Stuart has provided legal evidence to suggest that Inigo's justified Orange's decision to suspend him.

    I don't want a philosophical debate on the concept of FOS what I do want (and got) is a debate on the issue from a PR perspective (reputation management) using established beliefs and professional experience and a context to the affair which is established by the current legal frameworks which Stuart highlighted.

    Thanks

  • ed

    I have to say I don't really agree with the above post's analysis.

    First of all, Pickled Politics don't give any indication of the nature of their source that I can see. It seems like post-facto rationalisation out of a dislike for the conservative backlash, which would not be surprising coming from a left-leaning website.

    Secondly, the complaints Orange were responding to referred to Islamophobia, not cynicism, as their theme.

    Thirdly, "consultation" is only one word in a range of pr terminology, and the application was to a political situation rather than a corporate one. Since the reference was political- Red Ken's charging system- I'd imagine a clever guy like Wilson would easily be able to swat it away on the grounds that it was a political point.

    Finally, what person unaware of the irony of some time-buying terms like "consultation" would be any good in the pr world anyway?