Published: 18 February 2011

Why does the media give so little coverage to charities?

The charity sector is ignored by the mainstream media, says nfpSynergy driver of ideas Joe Saxton 

The recent focus by David Cameron on the Big Society has done many things; for me, one thing it has re-emphasised is that we are an invisible sector. Charities have virtually no systematic coverage in the mainstream media.

While the business sector gets its own pages and its own slots in newspaper and broadcast media, there is no equivalent for charities (unless you count the very small coverage in Wednesday’s Guardian). All sorts of other areas of our lives get coverage – sports, arts, fashion, personal finance, more sport – but not charities.

An invisible group

I have heard people ask whether the media is hostile to charities. Oh, that we should be so lucky – they are just indifferent. As a sector we are an invisible group in all but two situations: when we are devils, or when we are angels. We get coverage when fat cat charity chief executives are felt to be paid too much or somebody can find a way to criticise aid charities in emergencies or children’s charities in the latest scandal. And then we get coverage when a plucky charity worker or cancer nurse does something amazing, or a charity campaign gives the government a bloody nose.

Nowhere is this lack of interest more apparent than at the BBC, our supposed public service broadcaster. Who is their charity or third sector correspondent? What radio or TV programme covers the work of charities in any meaningful way? Nada, nothing, rien. Perhaps they count the five minutes of the week’s good cause on Radio 4 or the annual telethon bursts of Children in Need or Red Nose Day/Sport Relief.

A third sector correspondent?

Maybe it is a shortage of correspondents that means there is nobody who covers charities. Sadly not – the BBC is awash with correspondents for a staggering breadth of issues. There is an arts correspondent, dozens of business and political correspondents, home affairs correspondents, education correspondents, sports correspondents, media correspondents, environment correspondents. But have you ever seen a charity or third sector correspondent? I haven’t.

The BBC website is no better. Take a look at it. Where would you go to try and find information about charities or the third sector or even the Big Society? A website search reveals there are articles which mention charities – but they are scattered to the four winds. Anybody who is interested in charities and their work has no place to go (while they do for technology, entertainment, science, education, health, politics, business, sports and so on).The only argument I have heard in defence of the status quo is that it allows correspondents from all sorts of disciplines to cover charities. This would be a possible argument, if it wasn’t for the fact it doesn’t apply to any other important area of coverage.

Better coverage

The arts aren't covered by anybody with an interest; they are covered by Will Gompertz. This means he grows his expertise in the subject. It means people approach him with interesting stories. It means that he can be the focal point for anything the BBC does in the arts. And it works. When every correspondent can cover charities it means that no correspondent covers charities with expertise or insight or regularity.

I could go on ranting but I won’t. If we want charities to be better understood by the public and by opinion formers we need better, week-in, week-out coverage. With three-quarters of the public giving to charities, around a quarter regularly volunteering and an untold number depending on their services, is that really so much to ask?


Joe Saxton, driver of ideas, nfpSynergy

Joe Saxton is driver of ideas at nfpSynergy, and is the founder and Chair of CharityComms. Joe works on a range of specific projects particularly those looking at impact, communications or trusteeship. He also works on the overall direction and development of nfpSynergy.