The front page of The Sun today featured a story about the fees Just Giving charged for processing donations to Captain Tom’s campaign to raise funds for NHS charities.
I won’t comment on the contents of the article, partly because I didn’t read it, but mostly because there isn’t anything interesting to be said about the ‘charity sector should do everything for free’ assumption that underpins this and other similar articles.
Various far more influential charity sector people than me tweeted their support for Just Giving, their distaste for The Sun’s position presented in the article, and implicitly a criticism of regular charity-bashing that occurs in the press.
Although it’s right to defend the charity sector from this kind of ill-considered attack, it also plays into the hands of The Sun and its strategy of getting attention through feigned outrage. This is what The Sun does. It is like a petulant child doing things it knows will get a reaction. It is in the business of selling newspapers, not selling news, and it chooses to do so by finding ‘stories’ that it can present in ways it thinks will cause outrage. This also isn’t very interesting to me.
What is interesting to me is that The Sun (and other media/press organisations) find it acceptable to undertake this kind of charity-bashing. I’m all for open discussions about and critique of charities and the charity sector as it’s an important force for improvement and preventing ‘untouchable’ people from doing very negative and illegal things in the name of charity and doing good, but that isn’t what is going on here.
In political theory there is the idea of the Overton Window. It describes how politicians can only propose and support policies that fit are popular, sensible and acceptable. No politician could do anything radical or unthinkable. There exists, I think, a similar window for the press of things that are considered acceptable to use for generating outrage, and things that aren’t.
Articles about the government’s funding of the NHS is considered fair game, but if The Sun went too far outside the window, for example by criticising the NHS, then it would run the risk of the public outrage it seeks to create being directed at The Sun. Another example; the Queen is outside the window of topics of outrage but most of the rest of the royal family isn’t. And quite clearly, the charity sector is currently within that Outrage Window.
So, if we want to change The Sun’s attitude towards the charity sector and stop unwarranted charity-bashing, we need to shift where the charity sector is in the Outrage Window. Making it as socially unacceptable to bash charities as it is to bash the NHS is the goal here.
The charity sector is starting from behind as past scandals give reason to be mistrusting of charities, and it doesn’t have a single identity in the way the NHS does, but it doesn’t seem like an insurmountable problem, although perhaps one that would require greater concerted effort than could be achieved at present times.