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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Stuart Bruce

International Public Relations Adviser | Trainer | Author | Media Commentator | Conference Speaker | University Lecturer | Online PR | Digital Corporate Communications | Crisis Communications | Digital Public Affairs