Daily Mail investigations of charity fundraising 'in the public interest', says undercover journalist

Undercover reporter Katherine Faulkner tells Media Trust Summit that charities should take criticism 'on the chin'

One of the Daily Mail's summer fundraising stories
One of the Daily Mail's summer fundraising stories

The Daily Mail's undercover investigation of charity fundraising practices this summer was not an attack on charities but rather a journalistic initiative that was in the public interest, the journalist who carried out the investigation has said.

Speaking at a panel discussion called Are Charities Under Attack From the Media? at the Media Trust Summit in London today, Katherine Faulkner, assistant news editor at the Daily Mail, said it was time charities "accepted a bit of scrutiny" and campaigning charities should be prepared to face questions if their chief executives earned more than £100,000 a year.

Faulkner said she wanted to rebut the idea that the Mail's undercover investigation of fundraising practices at the now defunct agency GoGen in July was a "concerted attack" on the sector.

She said that despite the popular conception that the newspaper had deliberately targeted charities and went on a "fishing expedition" for negative news about them, the reason she had gone undercover was that she had been contacted by a whistleblower who had worked at one of the agency's call centres and provided her with detailed evidence of wrongdoing there.

She said she empathised with sector participants who felt they were under attack because the scrutiny the press had experienced after the phone hacking scandal had been a "painful time for all journalists".

Faulkner said most of the people she had spoken to about her coverage had recognised that the investigation had served an important purpose for the sector, but she admitted some had told her it had destroyed trust in charities and would affect their ability to raise revenues.

She said she had asked herself whether she should have done the investigation but concluded it would have been wrong not to because poor practices would have gone unexposed. "This is an important story that needed to be told," she said.

She said no one should be beyond the scrutiny of the media and charities did not receive the same scrutiny as public bodies. They did not have to comply with freedom of information requests from journalists, she said, despite sometimes receiving millions of pounds of public funding.

"It's time for charities to accept a bit of scrutiny," she said. "It shouldn't be seen as an attack but rather part of their responsibility to their donors and the public."

On the subject of the Daily Mail's coverage of charity campaigning, she said it was a journalist's job to be critical and charities that took a political stance should be prepared for a few questions if their chief executives earned more than £100,000.

"You've got to take it on the chin," she said.

She urged all chief executives of charities that worked with agencies to "do what I did for a day" and listen in on agency fundraising calls.

She said they would hear members of the public who were "really really distressed" by the calls. "I can tell you that those calls are damaging the reputation of your charity every day," she said.

Photos and videos of Faulkner were forbidden at the event and there was no photo of her in the conference programme. Faulkner apologised for this on the panel, saying it was for security reasons because she did undercover work.

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