Bureau of Investigative Journalism denied charitable status for second time

By David Ainsworth, Third Sector Online, 8 March 2012

Iain Overton

Iain Overton

Managing director Iain Overton says he might make a third application to the Charity Commission

An organisation set up to promote and carry out investigative journalism has had its application for charitable status turned down for a second time by the Charity Commission.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an independent not-for-profit organisation based at City University in London, was set up because its founders were concerned that national organisations were no longer properly resourcing investigations that might be in the public interest.

The bureau has argued that there is a strong public benefit to investigative journalism and that it has a clear charitable purpose in promoting citizenship and democracy. The commission did not accept this argument.

Iain Overton, managing director of the bureau, said his organisation appeared to have similar objects to the Journalism Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that "promotes, develops and sustains free and fair journalism across the world", which was recently granted charitable status.

"We’ve taken legal advice from a number of specialist charity lawyers who tell us that the majority of what we do is charitable," he said.

Overton said that the lack of charitable status had caused funding problems. "We’ve just had a major funding application rejected because we didn’t have charitable status," he said.

He said he might submit a third application for charitable status that focused more closely on the educational aspect of the organisation’s work.

Last month, a report from the House of Lords select committee on communications, recommended that investigative journalism should be considered a charitable activity

But Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, said in his written evidence to the inquiry that "government is not currently inclined to legislate" to recognise investigative journalism as a charitable activity.

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: "The promotion of investigative journalism is not a charitable purpose in itself. If charity funding were used to support investigative journalism, it would have to be shown to be doing so in order to advance a charitable aim, such as advancing education."

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