OPINION: Don't take the tabloid route if you want trust

"They're back!" exclaimed one of the tabloids the other day. It was referring to the alleged "hordes" of asylum seekers, refugees and people of non-British origin who are "massing" at the other end of the Channel Tunnel awaiting their chance to slip through and sponge off British taxpayers.

At the same time, we are force-fed stories about escalating crime - especially burglaries, guns and drugs - creating the impression that crime rates are rocketing and that we are all on the verge of being murdered in our beds.

It's utter rubbish, of course. While some of the reported facts may be true, the way in which they are reported gives a totally inaccurate and misleading impression of what is actually happening. Why? Because it sells papers and, more worryingly, can shape public opinion.

I can see you thinking: "Where's she off to on this one?" Well, in opinion poll after opinion poll, journalists fare quite badly when it comes to being trusted by the public. Conversely, and consistently, charities do well on matters of trust. We must, therefore, in publicising our causes, avoid being tempted to use some of the more dubious tabloid tactics.

When it comes to campaigning, for instance, charities need to set the facts out for public scrutiny and garner as much support as possible.

The temptation to over-egg or, to use the Hutton jargon, "sex-up" the story, can be huge. After all, we want headlines to reach wide public audiences.

But we shoot ourselves in the foot if we succumb. If we over-inflate numbers of people in need, or who will be adversely affected by a government policy, we are putting our reputations at risk. Sooner or later, someone will check the figures. When this happens with a newspaper, they can point to their careful wording and say those inaccurate impressions are the responsibility of readers. It's water off a duck's back and, anyway, conflict sells more papers.

Charities, on the other hand, have everything to lose. Our high levels of credibility and public trust, so valuable in ensuring our voices are heard, face untold damage if seen as based on figure-massage or exaggeration.

As the voluntary sector learns from, and gets closer to, the other sectors we must safeguard our integrity above all else and avoid a tabloid approach to the truth. Forget the hype! Geraldine Peacock is a charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner

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