Opinion: The sector's sound of silence

Rachel O'Brien, director of external affairs at the Institute for Public Policy Research

The Red Cross has faced the unenviable task of deciding whether to accept a £25,000 donation from the Trinity Mirror Group. The money was half the estimated profit made from the use of fake pictures of British soldiers abusing Iraqis.

Had it taken the money, it could also have played to the media's vanity by doing its very best to make a loud statement about the vital role that the media can play in highlighting injustice. And just as loudly, it should have stressed how deeply counter-productive and destructive it is when journalists get it wrong.

But this was not the only story dominating the news where the behaviour of the media deserved to become central to the news. A 14-year-old girl gets pregnant and has an abortion having sought advice and support from her school and health services. Her mother finds out and goes ballistic.

She then - unforgivably - parades her child in front of the media and poses with her in the press.

For any charity working with families, young people and children, the story raised familiar and thorny issues about children's confidentiality.

And again last week, the press was up in arms about a High Court decision to extend the interim ban on publication of Maxine Carr's identity and release. The News of the World argued that such a blanket ban is little short of "gagging the media".

In the coverage of these issues, the voice of the voluntary sector has been conspicuously absent. For all I know, charities were out there raising these issues with newsdesks but being ignored. It happens. A lot. But my suspicion is that for many, these issues fall into a category where the sector is reticent to go. While charities are good at coming out with vague criticisms about the way in which different groups are represented by the media, it has been less effective at meeting some of the bigger issues head on - when the News of the World ran its 'name and shame' paedophile campaign, the big children's charities did not squeak.

Maybe it's time for the sector to be bolder with the media agenda and engage in a more concrete debate about the self- regulation of the press.

- Lisa Harker is recovering from an accident.

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