The resignation of Fairfax Media deputy chairman Mark Burrows was an absolute no brainer.

No company director can accept money or work from a competitor, so from the moment his Lachlan Murdoch advisory gig on the CMH privatisation deal was made public on January 22, his time on the Fairfax board was over.

I was staggered that nothing had happened after a week and that the mainstream business commentators weren’t calling for blood. On Tuesday morning this decree was issued that if Burrows didn’t quit, I’d be running for the Fairfax board at the 2008 AGM.

Thankfully, common sense has prevailed, although it is remarkable that Burrows himself disputed there was a conflict all the way through.

Even more disturbing was John Durie’s column in The Australian today declaring the Burrows conflict to be a “trumped up charge”.

“If that work is a sackable offence, investment banks and other advisers won’t be sitting on boards for much longer. To suggest there was an unmanageable conflict in the first place was an insulting joke,” Durie wrote.

Durie is arguably Australia’s best business commentator and he’s done more than anyone to argue the case for better corporate governance and transparency in recent years.

However, having been poached last year by Rupert Murdoch from The AFR on more than $300,000, he’s now sullied his reputation for independence by arguing a close friend of the Murdoch family should sustain an untenable conflict.

When my wife, Paula Piccinini, joined the RACV board in late 2006, I had to sell my $500 worth of shares in IAG because the two business have a major insurance joint venture together.

I just can’t imagine what the RACV directors would say if Paula was suddenly off pocketing millions advising QBE and Suncorp on some major deal.

Presumably Burrows and John Durie think it’s okay for the deputy chairman of Xstrata to advise BHP on its Rio takeover.

How about the deputy chairman of Qantas taking a fee for advising Toll Holdings on the sale of its stake in Virgin Blue?

If media companies and their senior journalists cannot both practise and preach ethical behaviour, what moral authority do they have to tell everyone else how to be behave?

Finally, there’s one more to disclosure to make. I’ve signed a book deal with Harper Collins, a division of News Corp, but it won’t affect my commentary on the company or the Murdochs, as this piece demonstrates.

Today’s Mayne Report edition has more on the Burrows conflict.

Peter Fray

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