Orange PR blogger row grows

My Inigo Wilson post has triggered a huge response. It’s revealing that most of those repeating Wilson’s more offensive views have done so via email, rather than in the comments. Just for clarity I have not deleted any comments that support Wilson and will not do so. What I might do is edit them to remove racist, sexist, homophobic or similar language.

Most of the defenders of Inigo Wilson appear to be missing the points I was trying to make. I’m all for free speech and that you should be free to say whatever you want, within the law, and since I’m not a lawyer I can’t really pass judgement. It is also irrelevant how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ the Muslim Public Affairs Council is – it is what is being said that matters, not who is saying it.

The crux of the matter is Wilson’s job. He is the community affairs manager for Orange. Community affairs is a huge issue for mobile phone companies as communities up and down the land object to mobile phone masts being built in inappropriate places. This includes 100s of ethnically and culturally diverse communities such as Beeston in south Leeds. As a local councillor I was frequently on the receiving end of the community relations efforts of mobile phone companies. Some were OK, some less so and none were outstanding.

He cannot possibly do his job if he holds extremist views, or if he doesn’t understand that expressing them – even in jest – will cause offence. Community affairs requires sensitivity and an understanding of the people you are working with. A community affairs manager is a company’s public persona and it therefore is of concern if his publicly expressed opinions are totally at odds with the company’s corporate values, which in Orange’s case include believing “the success of any company lies in the quality, commitment and diversity of its people”.

A community affairs manager is also usually responsible for community consultation regarding the new mobile phone masts sites. It is therefore alarming that Inigo Wilson says “Consultation - a formal system for ignoring public views while patronising them at the same time.” Even if you are charitable enough to ignore his racist comments, then this one alone highlights his unsuitability for doing the job he is employed to.

It’s his unsuitability for public relations or community affairs which is the reason why Orange had to act as it did and it’s nothing to do with curtailing free speech or bowing down to pressure from MPAC.

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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://www.order-order.com Guido Fawkes

    His Islamophobic crack doesn't strike me as extremist. It was mildly amusing.

    Indelicate in his position admittedly.

  • http://www.di2.nu/blog.htm Francis

    And from this post I'll be adding a new definition to any copy I make of Inigo's dictionary

    Extremist: Someone who holds views I disagree with

    It occurs to me that Beeston is not the only community in the UK. Many other communities might actually agree with his view of the left-wing/islamic grievence mongers

  • Don

    I think you are missing the point that Wilson was attacking those who mis-use language.

    Hence, when he says;

    "Consultation – a formal system for ignoring public views while patronising them at the same time."

    He is not advocating that, he is criticising those who use the word insincerely.

    His definition of Islamophobia (crass and unfunny, I grant you) is intended to highlight the fact that some people (not always or only moslems) use the word as a way of shutting down a debate, rather than to describe an attitude which undoubtedly and regrettably does exist.

    He might just as easily have said;

    Anti-semitism; any criticism of the State of Israel and it's actions, however bloody.

    Some would be offended, others might just recognise that there are those who use that argument.

    I'm very far from sharing Wilson's political views and found his piece laboured and turgid, but racist it was not. It was a criticism of language use by those in his (and your) profession.

  • http://www.pr-consultant.co.uk/blog/2006/08/inigo-wilson-suspended-by-orange.html Public relations consultant /blog

    Inigo Wilson suspended by Orange

    Oh dear. As Stuart Bruce points out, not much point turning up to one of his public meetings. And having devastated his any credibility he may have had as an honest party to any consultation, Orange would do well to pay Inigo Wilson off quietly.

  • http://www.bloggerheads.com/archives/2006/08/inigo_wilson.asp Bloggerheads

    Inigo Wilson

    Given what’s happening in this little corner of the world, I feel it important to make a statement regarding the Inigo Wilson affair. Happily, I can do so simply by agreeing with statements made by Dave: Backword – Zip Your…

  • http://blog.hackingcough.com Chris Edwards

    It seems that Wilson missed his own point if he really was only attacking the hijacking of language by political factions. Why bung in the entry on Palestinians? Is that a word used by the left wing with a different meaning to the way it is used by the right?

    I'd have thought Wilson hates the idea of his job anyway. I thought the right didn't have any truck with pinko concepts like society or community, least of all "community affairs".

  • http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/719 Pickled Politics

    More on Inigo Wilson

    My source tells me that contrary to the received wisdom regarding this Orange employee, he wasnt actually suspended due to the definition of Islamophobic or Palestinians. You see, Wilsons job is to persuade people to accept mobile phone m…

  • Don

    Chris,

    'Why bung in the entry on Palestinians?'

    Fair point. Perhaps because some parts of the debate on the ME take their own faction to be axiomatically beyond criticism? As I said, he could as easily have said;

    Anti-semitism; any criticism of the State of Israel and it's actions, however bloody.

    It would have been equally true.

    'I'd have thought Wilson hates the idea of his job anyway.'

    Yes, I got that impression too, but it doesn't make it any less despicable to target an internet opponent's 'real world' existence. Unless he's crossed the line into death threats or seriously vile abuse.

    'I thought the right didn't have any truck with pinko concepts like society or community, least of all "community affairs".'

    Dunno. Don't have much truck with the sort of Daily Mail, golf-club, isn't-Jeremy Clarkson-witty, EU-wants-to ban-chutney, style of rightist Wilson seems to represent.

    But this is a witch hunt by MPAC, bad new for free speech if they suceed.

  • Don

    Chris,

    'Why bung in the entry on Palestinians?'

    Fair point. Perhaps because some parts of the debate on the ME take their own faction to be axiomatically beyond criticism? As I said, he could as easily have said;

    Anti-semitism; any criticism of the State of Israel and it's actions, however bloody.

    It would have been equally true.

    'I'd have thought Wilson hates the idea of his job anyway.'

    Yes, I got that impression too, but it doesn't make it any less despicable to target an internet opponent's 'real world' existence. Unless he's crossed the line into death threats or seriously vile abuse.

    'I thought the right didn't have any truck with pinko concepts like society or community, least of all "community affairs".'

    Dunno. Don't have much truck with the sort of Daily Mail, golf-club, isn't-Jeremy Clarkson-witty, EU-wants-to ban-chutney, style of rightist Wilson seems to represent.

    But this is a witch hunt by MPAC, bad news for free speech if they succeed.

  • http://robskinner.typepad.com/my_weblog/ Rob Skinner

    I agree with you, Stuart. Freedom of speech is a red herring here. It's what's appropriate in the circumstances that matters. Orange would, presumably, take an equally dim view of someone working in one of its shops who swore at customers. Yet no one would ask why Orange was taking away the assistant's freedom of speech.

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

    Rob

    You have cut to the heart of the issue follwoing Stuart's lead.

    As I posted (http://simoncollister.typepad.com/simonsays/2006/08/update_on_inigo.html) I don't think anyone is denying Inigo of his right to feedom of speech.

    His employer is rightly deciding whether it wants to associate itself, its customers, brand values and all with Inigo's distasteful views…. which I'm sure it doesn't.

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

    Rob

    You have cut to the heart of the issue follwoing Stuart's lead.

    As I posted (http://simoncollister.typepad.com/simonsays/2006/08/update_on_inigo.html) I don't think anyone is denying Inigo of his right to feedom of speech.

    His employer is rightly deciding whether it wants to associate itself, its customers, brand values and all with Inigo's distasteful views…. which I'm sure it doesn't.

  • Sam Coates

    He hasn't expressed any extremist views, and we don't know the details of his job.

    Next?

  • jummy

    wilson expressed not a single "racist" view in his excellent and witty satire.

  • jummy

    rob skinner. yours is a false reasoning. wilson did not insult customers in the shop. wilson hung up his apron, traveled home, and delivered his opinions in a forum completely apart from his work. the thugs who are to properly be chastised here, are the ones who staked out his driveway, followed him to work the next day and attacked him there.

    please, we will get nowhere if you continue to lie about this.

  • http://greengathering.blogspot.com/ IanJGreen

    On politics and language go back to the master – read George Orwell's essays. All language is political because it is about power – ie the relationship between "him" and "her" or "us" and "them" or "black" and "white". Words should be used very carefully as, no doubt, Mr Wilson now understands.

  • jummy

    "It's revealing that most of those repeating Wilson's more offensive views have done so via email, rather than in the comments. Just for clarity I have not deleted any comments that support Wilson and will not do so. What I might do is edit them to remove racist, sexist, homophobic or similar language."

    that is a good way to explain the abscence of any such commentary. makes you look noble, for real.

  • Darren Enderby

    Inigo's article does NOT identify Orange as his employer. Therefore nobody reading the Conservative Party's website, ConservativeHome, where it was posted (and which does not accept anonymous lead writers), would feel anger at Orange. Moreover, the indirectly-implied* views – including support for Israel and possible hositility to radical Islam – are nothing that a British subject wouldn't encounter regularly. I feel that the people purporting to take offence, are going out of their way to be offended, and to try to link that to Orange. It is because he has been discovered, indirectly and by detective work, to be an employee of Orange that they regard him as vulnerable. But if he goes, others even in non-PR roles will eventually not be able to make private blog posts that MPAC and similar organisations object to; even an anonymous post might be traceable by the TCP/IP address using detective work, and hence to an individual, hence to that person's employer and/or home address, just as Inigo was able to be traced to an employer he had not named.

    * it is very hard to know what views Inigo may hold, as the views are implied in the form of an indirect negative "this is what I think lefties are saying or privately say or mean – including about the meaning of 'consultation' – and I disagree with it"

  • http://www.stuartbruce.biz Stuart Bruce, BMA PR

    Darren, it's hardly "detective work" to spend 30 seconds to do a Google search. If you knew about the sensitivities and difficulties that mobile operators face when erecting masts then you wouldn't need to question how inappropriate Wilson's comments were. Jokes about consultation being about patronising people are inappropriate when people feel that is exactly what mobile operators are doing to them.

    Even if you think people are being too sensitive (where I actually agree with you) it is irrelevant because even the most stupid PR person should have expected exactly that response.

    The only three conclusions you can draw are that:

    1) he didn't care that this would turn into a problem for his employer
    2) he wasn't professional enough to understand what the result would be
    3) he deliberately wanted to cause trouble and provoke a confrontation

    Given his job, any of these three are grounds for suspension.

    If he wasn't responsible for community relations then none of them would be grounds for suspension, so there is absolutely no risk of the same happening to others in non-PR roles.