Charities have traditionally enjoyed less robust treatment from the press than other major institutions such as banks, MPs, the church or – in the past few weeks – sport. But as the recent high-profile media coverage shows, charities are no longer seen as sacred cows, too good to be challenged. The spate of stories has led to declarations that the sector is "under attack". But talking about attack and defence shifts responsibility onto the messenger. It suggests that charities are somehow victims of a media conspiracy and, in doing so, absolves us from looking at ourselves and asking: are we doing things right?
Yes, we are being challenged, but why shouldn't the media ask questions and hold us to account?
Yes, some of the coverage has been unnecessarily personal and unpleasant – and some of it is simply wrong, based on a misunderstanding of how modern charities operate; but our challenge isn't to try to stop the media asking awkward questions; it's to address the issues that cause concern, demonstrate that we've addressed them and take the chance to explain better how the sector works, why we do what we do and – crucially – what a vital difference we make to the world.
It's good to see some charities recognising this as an opportunity to re-engage with supporters. Examples of this include Save the Children's supporter promise, Breast Cancer Now's fundraising promise and Friends of the Earth's donor-engagement letter. The sector needs to accept that this type of media scrutiny isn't going away, then get on the front foot to deal with it.