Opinion: We must be wise to the media's methods

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

Amid much fun at the recent Charity Communications conference, one session proved a revelation.

No, it wasn't the homespun tales of Max 'most celebrities are only interested in themselves' Clifford. Instead, it was the session on television and the benign job one speaker claimed it does of treating charities and their clients with care and respect.

Having already heard several good reasons why we should not put charity clients on Richard and Judy, we then heard several more about why any dealings with TV are, in essence, a massive gamble, betting your existing reputation and future income on the word of people who make money from exploiting your integrity and who will often do anything to secure the biggest ratings.

We were told that, even if the individual film-maker or production company is caring and compassionate, and understands your worries, the broadcaster can demand another edit that puts an individual or their charity in a bad light. And any credits are at the whim of the broadcaster. No amount of time, effort or money expended guarantees your charity a plug, at which point you may have to buy expensive advertising time to get your name, number and website address properly displayed on air.

Perhaps charities are so desperate for TV coverage that they fail to consider having a formal contract setting out the points about editing, credits and more. In what other situation would a charity ignore legal protection when the outcome could transform its funding and prospects for good or ill?

It's unfortunate that the conference did not feature an old friend, Mike Jempson, director of the charity MediaWise. As part of its extensive work on media ethics, MediaWise has plenty of experience tackling issues of representation and redress, from training to guarding reputations to individual help if a client gets 'turned over' by a tabloid or the TV. With a long track record of developing media codes and guidelines, MediaWise might also be a good organisation to tackle a key theme of the conference: how to manage better the endless demand from journalists for case histories and real people to illustrate your charity's concerns.

Amid horror stories of private phone numbers being given out without permission or preparation, it was clear that many charities are unsure about how to identify, promote and protect their best media resource: articulate people with a story to tell.

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