Opinion: Charities used and abused by reality TV

Nick Cater, a consultant and writer, catercharity@yahoo.co.uk

Has-been? Wannabe? You're in luck. It's that time of year again, when the witchetty grubs of I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here get sacrificed to TV profits, followed soon by Celebrity Big Brother's endless banality.

The unfortunate connection between the two - and other dire reality shows - is the use of bought-in charity decency to excuse the knuckle-scraping inanity of watching a clutch of egos usually unworthy of intelligent attention annoy each other in an enclosed space.

As last week's report from the Voluntary Action Media Unit suggests, the media-charity relationship remains a fraught one. And although VAMU's assistance - in particular, its 24-hour online journalist's contact book askcharity.org - is excellent, complex issues remain when reality TV companies come begging for charity partners.

It would be nice to leave aside the underwhelming nature of the content of these programmes, but that is where the problems begin, with sometimes dubious 'celebrities', from past drug users to convicted fraudsters, and their potentially less-than-savoury behaviour, all neatly associated on primetime TV with the easily eroded integrity of charities.

If charities gained significant positive publicity from the exercise, that might help. But the conventional interpretation of the rules imposed by regulator Ofcom until recently, that TV gameshows and the like "should not give undue publicity for individual charities", was used by programme producers to give charities almost no profile at all.

The new broadcasting code drops that approach to insist merely that appeals should benefit a wide range of charities, which means producers can no longer hide behind Ofcom to deny more profile to some washed-up soap actor's favourite cause.

And what about the money? If obtained via the usual phone voting, the cash comes without follow-up contacts, without 28 per cent or more Gift Aid and without any up-front fee or guarantee of income. And charities can sometimes - according to a survey carried out last year by the Media Trust - wait six months to get their cash.

Given the cosy conspiracy between well-paid celebs and TV, who is the innocent gooseberry, unable to see how much their undervalued probity is being used and abused? Is it time charities got tough with television?

As Big Brother would say, "you decide".

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