I was astonished to read this week in the Daily Mail that the BBC has ordered the news presenter George Alagiah to step down as patron of the Fairtrade Organisation, in case there is a conflict of interest.
Bizarrely, the Beeb seem to have only just noticed this risk as the presenter has been patron of the charity, which helps farmers in the developing world, for several years.
In a letter to Fairtrade explaining his resignation, Alagiah said that senior colleagues at the corporation “believe that Fairtrade represents a potential conflict of interest which could undermine my impartiality. In the many years that I have been your patron there has not been a single complaint (that I am aware of) to the BBC, so you can imagine how taken aback I was by the decision.”
We should not be surprised however. The BBC has also chosen to ignore the warnings of its own governing body, the BBC Trust, that Alan Sugar’s appointment as a government enterprise tsar risks a “greater than normal risk to the impartiality, integrity and independence of the BBC” because of his role in The Apprentice.
Lord Sugar may not be involved in making government policy, but he will be attending Cabinet meetings to advise on enterprise matters and will inevitably be involved in media appearances relating to The Apprentice in the run up to the general election, which is expected next June as a member of the incumbent administration.
Perhaps the difference is that George Alagiah is a mere news presenter, and one of many, whereas the former Surallan has become a national phenomenon because of his (admittedly enjoyable) antics in The Apprentice boardroom. But it is clear to me which of these three figures presents the clearer risk of a conflict of interest.