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Investigative journalism should be a charitable purpose, say peers

By David Ainsworth, Third Sector Online, 17 February 2012

House of Lords

House of Lords

Lords Communications Committee says the government should think again about changing the law

The government should consider legislation that allows investigative journalism to be a charitable purpose, according to a House of Lords committee.

A report from the Lords Communications Committee says the Charity Commission should "provide greater clarity" on how far journalism can be charitable under current law.

The committee published the report, The Future of Investigative Journalism, at the end of an inquiry. It says investigative journalism lacks funding and organisational support, and recommends a number of changes to improve it.

One way to redress a shortfall in funding would be to allow charities to carry out investigative journalism, the report says.

It quotes David Levy, head of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, who told the committee it might be possible for a local newspaper to be charitably funded under current law, but that it would be difficult for charities to carry out investigative journalism at a national level without falling foul of rules governing campaigning.

It also quotes the Charity Law Association, which called for investigative journalism to be recognised as a charitable purpose in its own right.

The government’s position is that it is not "currently inclined to legislate" to allow investigative journalism to be a charitable purpose, the report says. The report calls on the government to reconsider this view.

"We believe that charitable status may be one route to encouraging philanthropic investment in this area and therefore recommend that the government reconsiders its current disinclination to legislate in this area," it says.

"Given the vital contribution of investigative journalism to the well-being of democracy, we also ask the Charity Commission to provide greater clarity in this area and to take into consideration both the current pressures on investigative journalism as well as its democratic importance when interpreting the relevant legislation."

It also says it might be possible under current law to use philanthropic funds to support other types of not-for-profit organisation.

"Some of the alternatives to charitable ownership, such as the employee-owned model of the Camden New Journal and the West Highland Free Press, are not charities but could still be possible beneficiaries of philanthropy," the report says.

"The model of an industrial and provident society (they can, but need not also be, a charity and hence subject to Charity Commission rules) is probably the type of alternative structure which is most relevant in this context."

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