Commentators and ‘conflict of interest’

The idea that decision-makers have conflicts of interest is well established in law and the governance of private organisations. Those who have a direct or indirect (say, through a relative) financial interest in a decision usually have to excuse themselves from the decision-making process or at least declare their interest.

Though formal rules are less common than for decision-makers, the idea of a conflict of interest has spread into public debate and commentary. Two recent examples of a potential ‘conflict of interest’:

In a recent episode of The Gruen Transfer, an ABC TV panel show that discusses advertising, regular panel member Todd Sampson expressed strong views against an ad from a child abuse charity. Last Monday, the Fairfax press ran a story reporting that Sampson’s agency had done work for that child abuse charity, until they had a falling out in 2003. The reported claim was that this was a conflict of interest that Sampson should have disclosed.

Today, The Age ran a story about the departure of Monthly editor Sally Warhaft, reportedly over excessive meddling by editorial board chair Robert Manne. The report contains these paragraphs, emphasis added:

Monthly contributors contacted by The Age, most of whom declined to be identified, expressed shock at Dr Warhaft’s departure and praised her abilities as an editor.

“I’m deeply disappointed by what has transpired,” said regular contributor Gideon Haigh. “It does change my attitude to the magazine. Sally was a very good editor, as good an editor as I’ve worked with in 25 years as a journalist.”

What isn’t mentioned in the report is that Haigh is was Warhaft’s partner. Continue reading “Commentators and ‘conflict of interest’”