OPINION: Editorial - Never try to avoid your critics when they come calling

LUCY MAGGS

The Royal British Legion hit the headlines this week when it was blasted by the Campaign Against Arms Trade for accepting sponsorship from arms manufacturer BAE Systems for this year's Poppy Day.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade used the opportunity to get some excellent publicity, including a slot on the BBC's Today programme where a spokesman for the organisation likened the relationship to King Herod sponsoring a special day reserved to prevent child cruelty.

BAE has defended the donation saying it was appropriate since the company has probably provided equipment to the British Armed Forces for the past century. But the Legion has battened down the hatches and is unwilling to comment on the matter.

The Legion is certainly not the first charity to find itself hauled over the coals for accepting money in some form from, what some consider to be, an inappropriate source. NCH was recently criticised for accepting a donation from BAE after its staff chose to support the children's charity, the RSPB was attacked in the past for having investments in an oil company involved in a major oil spillage and WWF has been lambasted for its relationship with BP.

What charities should have learned from these past cases is the value of a quick and open media response explaining often completely justifiable reasons for taking a donation or making an investment. The Legion has decided to keep quiet and as a result the media representation has been decidedly one-sided.

There needs to be an open discussion in the media about the grounds on which charities feel justified to turn down donations. The public needs to be informed that the arguments are not cut and dried. But in order for the debate to be aired the sector has to speak up and defend itself.

Burying heads in the sand is not the solution.

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