Charity Law Association says investigative journalism could be a charitable activity

Report to select committee says the profession could advance citizenship under existing law

Lawrence Simanowitz, partner at law firm Bates Wells and Braithwaite
Lawrence Simanowitz, partner at law firm Bates Wells and Braithwaite
Investigative journalism could qualify as a charitable activity, according to a Charity Law Association report for the House of Lords Communications Committee.

The report, which the select committee requested from the CLA as part of an inquiry into the future of investigative journalism, suggests that it is "conceivable" for investigative journalism to be a charitable activity according to existing law, although it says that any trust set up to support investigative journalism would have to fulfil several criteria.

The report says that the Charity Commission had accepted in principle that journalism might be useful in the advancement of citizenship, which is an accepted charitable purpose.

However, each applicant would have to demonstrate that their brand of investigative journalism would advance citizenship, by equipping people with the knowledge to engage more fully with society.

Lawrence Simanowitz, a partner at law firm Bates Wells and Braithwaite, one of the report’s authors and a former journalist, said there was "certainly one end of investigative journalism, and one end of journalism in general" which was charitable, and should be recognised as such by the commission.

"Journalism is a fundamental building block of a civil society," he said. "It’s time the Charity Commission moved with the times and accepted it as charitable."

In September, the commission said that it accepted that a local newspaper could in principle be charitable but individual applications would be considered on their own merits.

A spokeswoman for the commission said any application would need to be considered on its own merits against the existing legal framework.

"The extent to which investigative journalism may be charitable will depend on the extent to which, if at all, investigative journalism can be seen as carrying out a charitable purpose for the public benefit," she said.

"If investigative journalism were charitable, this may have more to do with charitable purposes that relate to the advancement of public education than those purposes that may, in principle, be supported by the activity of running a community newspaper - the advancement of citizenship, arts and culture and recreational facilities."

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