The FRSB said in its adjudication report last week into Oxfam and its former fundraising agencies Listen and the Street Academy that the MoS headline "Oxfam Targets Donors Aged 98" was inaccurate because the FRSB had found no evidence that the charity or its agencies expressly targeted elderly supporters.
But Associated Newspapers, the MoS’s publisher, told Third Sector it had written to the FRSB "in strong terms", denying any suggestion that its headline or part of its article published in June was inaccurate. It also published a story yesterday saying the FRSB had gone "far beyond its remit" in chastising the newspaper.
It also published an editorial saying the criticism of its headline was "absurd" because the MoS had footage of a fundraising trainer at Listen repeatedly asking recruits how they would respond to pensioners who complained about being 98 years old and unable to afford a £10 monthly donation.
The newspaper also quoted Kate Hoey, the MP for Vauxhall who sits on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into charity fundraising, saying: "It is surely not for the fundraising standards regulator to criticise headlines. It should focus on the deeply worrying revelations about dodgy charity fundraising."
The MoS and Hoey also criticised Oxfam for issuing a statement in response to the FRSB’s report in which its chief executive Mark Goldring said the charity was pleased to have been cleared of the newspaper’s "most serious accusation". Goldring had said: "We have always been clear that their headline claim that we targeted elderly or vulnerable people in our fundraising is, as the FRSB has found, not only misleading but completely untrue."
Kirsty Howarth, group legal adviser at Associated Newspapers, also said that the FRSB had "no proper basis" for making "unfounded criticisms" of the newspaper. She said it was "astonishing" that the regulator had ruled that a training session run by Listen in which the trainer said of elderly people that "they haven’t said they are dead or they’re going to die" did not breach the principle of "respectfulness" in fundraising.
The FRSB’s report concluded that all three organisations investigated did breach the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice in a number of ways, and Listen had placed the public under "undue pressure" to donate. The telephone agency, which no longer works with Oxfam, also highlighted the FRSB’s criticism of the MoS’s headline in a statement issued last Friday.
Alistair McLean, chief executive of the FRSB, said in a statement: "There should be no doubt that this was categorically an investigation into charity fundraising and not into the Mail on Sunday’s reporting.
"While the board felt that the newspaper headline was misleading, the fact remains that a number of breaches of fundraising standards were uncovered."