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Chinese walls

Last night, Channel 4 News reported that the government’s proposed NHS reforms could create a conflict of interest between doctors and patients, where doctors could be put in the position of purchasing treatment for patients from providers in whom they themselves have shares. Now, I am not a supporter of the government’s reforms but of the all the criticisms and concerns that could be raised, a conflict of interest in this way is arguable by the far the easiest to ‘solve’.

Conflicts of interest are not unheard off within businesses who provide some sort of service, where different departments have to satisfy different groups with competing needs. This is where a business will set up an information barrier, called a Chinese Wall between the two departments. It’s a practice that law firms use a lot because it sometimes happens – not through deliberate action on the law firm’s part – that two parties in a dispute are both the firm’s clients. The ideal solution is to drop one client. Of course, that can have financial consequences in the long term through lost business. The next best solution is the Chinese Wall. It’s an established and accepted practice. 

Now this particular story about NHS reforms was broken by Channel 4 News. Now Channel 4 News is a commercial broadcaster. As well broadcasting programmes, there are funded by advertisers. There is an inherent conflict of interest between the news teams and the advertising teams. Would Channel 4 say that their product is tainted as a result or have they taken appropriate safeguards?

On one level, we have to trust Channel 4 that they have put in place those safeguards. But we also have a strong regulatory system.

The Promise

For a new and historical perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict, check out the recent Channel 4 drama The Promise, the story of 18 year old Erin who goes to Israel on her gap year juxtaposed against her grandfather’s experience as a soldier in British Palestine between the Second World War and the birth of the state of Israel.



Incentives – attack on imagination?

I now have a channel on Youtube where I will be collating posted videos on incentivised recycling, and particularly the Recyclebank schemes operating in the UK. Honestly, for subject that sounds as if it would be as interesting as “watching paint dry” (to quote someone I know), you’d be surprised how many videos there are. I thought the Channel 4 News item about the scheme in Windsor and Maidenhead offered some food for thought:

The journalist spoke to a resident (described as recycler) in Windsor and Maidenhead. When talking about the reaction of his children, he said that they were disappointed that they no longer get the washing up bottle at the end of the week to turn into a robot but are happy when they are taken to the cinema. Why this particular juxtaposition? To me, it sounds like that the children are disappointed when they are denied the opportunity to use their imagination but are ‘happy’ when given the opportunity to have their imagination fed with pre-made images.

All of sudden, incentivised recycling sounds less like an instrument for environmental protection and more like an attack on people’s freedom through the suppression of people’s minds. It sounds fantastic but, in the light of cuts to higher education funding, particularly in arts, humanities and social sciences, it does raise an interesting question.

What the green movement got wrong

Last night, I saw the documentary of the above name on Channel 4 followed by the debate. The trailer made it sound like some major critique of the environmental movement. The truth is that it simply highlighted, while environmentalists agree that there is a problem which needs to be solved practically, there is disagreement on what is meant by ‘practical’. Shock horror!

Perhaps more disturbingly, the so-called neo-environmentalists – those who support nuclear power, genetically-modified food and geo-engineering – appear to have been co-opted by big business. I don’t doubt the sincerity in their beliefs. But the problem with neo-environmentalism, as George Monbiot pointed out in the debate, it that it doesn’t deal with the root cause of climate change or other forms of environmental degradation: corporate and elitist power and imbalance of the world’s resources.

After all, why do we need to produce genetically-modified food to tackle food shortages when there is actually a global food surplus? Because most of the food is in the hands of the Western minority.  Why do we need to geo-engineer (i.e. tinker) with the very makeup of the environment when, as one of the neo-environmentalists said in the programme, it is tantamount to inducing a volcanic eruption every year?

Neo-environmentalism is not even practical. Sure, if money was no object, then we could spend the billions on building a series of nuclear power plants, which will only be ready in at least fifteen years, and dig really deep holes in which to bury the waste. Plus, even if we did have the money now, we don’t know if we’ll have the money in the future. Likewise, with geo-engineering. Or we can deal with the problem now, for far less, by turning to renewable energy and making the difficult choices.

Finally, nuclear power goes totally against the principle of the green movement, which is that we have an obligation not just to people living now but to future generations.


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