Informing the next generation

Posted on Friday 20th May 2016
Gordon Burns & Christopher Graham

Top business people from across the region joined staff and students from the University of Bolton for an evening with the UK’s Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham.

Speaking at Bolton Business School’s ‘An Evening with…’ event, Christopher recounted his career path from Liverpool’s youngest councillor to overseeing the enforcement of the Data Protection and Freedom of Information Acts.

He also discussed the most controversial commercials he dealt with during his time at the Advertising Standards Agency, new legislation set to change the way companies deal with data protection and how to respond to cold calls.

After studying History at the University of Liverpool, Christopher was elected to Liverpool City Council in 1971 as a Liberal councillor.

He went on to work with the BBC in roles which included Secretary of the BBC, before becoming Director General of the Advertising Standards Authority.

Speaking with renowned broadcaster Gordon Burns, Christopher examined some of the more controversial advertisements including the Yves St Laurent advert from 2001 which featured the model Sophie Dahl naked.

‘It’s not a question of taste or decency, those are not what the rules were, it was whether an ad would cause serious or widespread offence,’ explained Christopher Graham. ‘On posters in the street this advert was causing real upset.’

After 948 complaints the advert was deemed offensive and subsequently removed, but it was not the most controversial one he recalled.

‘The most complained about advert during my time – and in fact the most complained about advert ever – was for Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was not about sex, the product, a dodgy advertising claim, it was about table manners. That’s what the Great British public is really concerned about.’

Christopher Graham left the ASA in 2009 to take up his independent position as Information Commissioner, appointed by Her Majesty The Queen and reporting directly to Parliament.

Freedom of Information requests have been hugely prevalent in the media since their introduction in 2005 and have brought to light a number of cases in the public interest. Speaking on the topic, Christopher Graham said that the most popular subjects were large public projects such as HS2 or controversial public issues such as fracking.

Data Protection has also been increasingly newsworthy, which has led to a 30 per cent growth in the number of people working in the Information Commissioner's Office.

New regulations will also put a greater emphasis on data security with dire consequences for companies who breach Data Protection. From May 2018 increased financial penalties of up to €20m or 4% of annual worldwide turnover for groups of companies (whichever is greater) can be imposed.