Archive for the ‘FT’ tag

Why so little coverage of new Press Complaints Commission chair?

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A new chair of the Press Complaints Commission was announced on Friday. I say announced, though perhaps whispered would be a better description.

The Financial Times reported the news that Baroness Buscombe is to take over after Sir Christopher Meyer steps down at 17.03 on Friday. The Media Guardian followed this up with a piece at 18.35 – about half an hour after most people have turned off their PC’s and have headed off to enjoy their weekend.

The following morning the Press Complaints Commission added the news to its website (though the press release is dated 14th November). The FT ran another hundred words on Saturday. The Times buried it in the Business section’s ‘Need to Know‘. There was no mention of it in today’s media sections and, most curiously of all, the PCC did not even notify the people on its mailing list (including me).

Why such limited coverage? Baroness Buscombe will be the first woman to run the industry body, and will take over from the controversial Meyer after two full terms in office. She will have responsibility for press self-regulation at a time when it is very unclear about its future, and under threat from State regulation (via the internet), legal precedent (particularly with regards privacy law), and the economic crisis in the news industry. Even Sir Christopher Meyer said last week that the PCC may not survive if the industry chooses to go ahead with ‘swingeing budget cuts‘.

Wouldn’t it be helpful to know more about her, about how and why she was chosen, and about the issues she will face when she takes up her new position?

Instead, the most detail provided by the press comes from Media Monkey, which tells us:
‘She is a Tory peer, and has been a frontbench spokeswoman in the Lords, which some may find little surprising (her most-admired politician is Oliver Letwin); favourite TV is Scrubs; her hidden talent is being “a bit of an actress”; her desert island objects, also according to Campaign magazine’s helpful guide, the A-List, are “Green & Blacks chocolate, an iPod and Mitsouko by Guerlain”; and the blue baroness reckons Meryl Streep should play her in the film of her life’

Written by Martin Moore

November 17th, 2008 at 3:41 pm

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Who should judge if a charity has done a good job?

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Selective and misrepresentative media coverage has led the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), the body that co-ordinates a dozen international humanitarian charities, to decide not to evaluate the overall success of these charities on the ground (according to today’s FT). DEC made this decision “due to the increasing tendency for the media to report evaluations selectively and take criticisms out of context” (Brendan Gormley quoted in the FT).

It’s easy to see why Gormley and others should take media coverage so seriously. A couple of months ago The Times reported that, following the significant amount of footage of the earthquake in China and the access given to domestic and foreign journalists to cover the disaster, over $900m was raised in aid. By contrast, despite a death toll nearly twice as high, and similarly awful destruction and suffering, Burma received only about $55m in aid.

Most aid agencies – and The Times article – linked the level of fundraising directly to the amount of media coverage. There were stories every night on the news from China, yet hardly any footage from Burma. As Mark Astarita from the British Red Cross said at the time, “At the end of the day, charitable giving doesn’t necessarily follow the need. Disaster fundraising follows the news agenda”.

So media coverage matters. And that includes coverage of the charities’ performance. Therefore if an independent report makes criticisms of their performance – as did a 2004 study of the way charities dealt with the 2002 drought in southern African – and the media pick up on those criticisms, then those charities receive less funding. Or so they believe.

This has led DEC to look ‘for new ways to ensure accountability’. Or, to be less euphemistic, to be less comprehensive in its post-appeal evaluations, relying on occasional reviews. And even with these not guaranteeing they will be made public.

But if the charities do not audit their own performance, who will? Journalists sometimes like to assess the way charities do their job, or where their money goes. But these assessments tend to be either unduly critical – ‘look how this money is being mis-spent!’ (e.g. see ‘Myanmar cyclone: Drug lord crony will profit’), or unduly uncritical – i.e. simply appeals for more funding (e.g. ‘Give disaster appeals a life’). Few journalists have either the time or the resources to monitor the work of a charity over a long period.

Perhaps the answer is for charities themselves to do less auditing and more reporting. As I argued in a previous post, if charities adopted some of the values of journalism and began reporting regularly on what they were doing – and this is reporting I’m talking about, not PR – then they couldn’t help but talk more honestly about the successes and failures on the ground.

Some charity heads will still complain that any self-criticism will be leapt on by journalists looking for fault, but at least it gives charities more control of the story, it enhances their commitment to transparency, and provides them with a defensible position should they need it.

Written by Martin Moore

July 8th, 2008 at 5:12 pm

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