Amid the flood of interviews that Eddie McGuire has done over the past 24 hours, one line in the Herald Sun jumped out: “I don’t have to worry about conflict of interest any more, do I?”

The
lad still doesn’t get it. The conflict of being Collingwood President
while calling Collingwood games on Channel Nine and hosting The FootyShow
was always inappropriate – but at least it was totally open for public
scrutiny. By only giving up his on-air roles to become Nine’s CEO, if
anything his conflicts get bigger.

The worst conflicts are those
which remain behind closed doors – such as Tasmanian Premier Paul
Lennon using his influence to help direct more than $100,000 of public
funds to his brother’s company. Those who hold positions of power are
best placed to exploit a conflict and tend to have various people with
their own conflicts pitching deals all the time. Paul Lennon’s brother
was stupid to prevail upon him for favours and the Premier was even
more daft for agreeing.

By staying on as Collingwood president
and as a director of Melbourne Major Events, Eddie will have huge
conflicts as the all-powerful CEO of Channel Nine. AFL presidents are
privy to confidential information and once the rights go to Ten and
Seven next year, Eddie will be furnished with information that the CEO
of a rival network should not see.

Similarly, Eddie now finds
himself right inside the Foxtel camp ahead of what will be a very tough
negotiation with Seven and Ten. AFL presidents often comment about the
timing and appropriateness of the AFL draw and television broadcast
arrangements on free-to-air and pay-TV. Will Eddie complain if Foxtel
secures loads of Collingwood games ahead of Seven or Ten?

The
brutal truth is that Eddie’s new role will be to stymie the growth of
AFL in Brisbane and Sydney, given Nine’s rock solid commitment to rugby
league. There is an inherent conflict in his roles of promoting AFL at
Collingwood and promoting rugby league at Nine. He should resign as
Collingwood president at the end of this season.

Similarly,
Melbourne Major Events is all about securing big events for Melbourne,
events which are often televised. As CEO of Nine, Eddie will have an
unfair advantage over his rivals in knowing what’s on the shopping
list. Speaking of which, new MME chairman and News Corp director Rod
Eddington has been deluding himself in this week’s Herald Sun exclusives, claiming he’s chasing the soccer World Cup.

I
was good mates with Eddie’s little sister Bridget for a decade until
1998 and even stayed with the McGuire family in Scotland for a few days
in 1996. Bridget explained to her delightful but poor cousins, aunts
and uncles that television was a brutal industry and Eddie’s approach
was to “make hay while the sun shines”.

Eddie’s brother Frank
has certainly cashed in on his brother’s fame and connections through
some of the production work he’s done for Channel Nine and Bridget has
been successful in Channel Nine’s advertising department for a decade,
after Eddie first helped her get in the door.

All of sudden,
Eddie could start sending much more work to Frank and give his sister
Bridget a big promotion or annual bonus. With all this new power, it’s
these sorts of under-the-surface conflicts that he’ll have to watch and
past behaviour suggests the warning lights should already be flashing.

The
same applies to his huge network of mates, many of whom would love to
get in the door at Channel Nine. Will Eddie get on the phone and start
interfering with A Current Affair and Sunday if a mate is in the news. Steve Vizard and Brad Cooper are two very close mates who spring to mind.

Peter Fray

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