Would your charity take money from News of the World?

By Sue Wixley 11 July 2011

When James Murdoch announced his plan to shut down News of the World, the UK’s best-selling – and now most notorious – newspaper following the phone hacking scandal, he promised that the revenue from the final edition would “go to good causes”.

Chairman and chief executive of New International and son of Rupert, James Murdoch went on to explain: “While we may never be able to make up for distress that has been caused, the right thing to do is for every penny of the circulation revenue we receive this weekend to go to organisations – many of whom are long-term friends and partners – that improve life in Britain and are devoted to treating others with dignity.”

As well as offering to channel revenues for the last edition, Murdoch junior announced that free advertising space would be available to charities “that wish to expose their good works to our millions of readers.”

Within hours, there was a flurry of charities rejecting  the advertising offer. And the next day the Institute of Fundraising weighed in, reminding its members that “the decision as to whether a charity ought to accept a donation or not should be grounded in its mission and policy objectives” and pointing them to the Acceptance or Refusal of Donations Code of Fundraising Practice.

Tainted money…t’ain’t enough
Interestingly, the Salvation Army was amongst the charities which turned down the free ad space. I wonder what its founder, William Booth, would have thought of that? Booth famously argued that there was no such thing as dirty money if it would alleviate the suffering of the needy. “T’aint enough”, he apparently retorted to the accusation that he was taking tainted money.

This is not the first time that a charity pledge has been used to take the pressure off. NPC’s Martin Brookes spoke about this back in 2007 when he noted how ITV presenters Ant and Dec pledged to give all the profits from their next series of Saturday Night Takeaway to charity when it was discovered that viewers were calling in to vote in competitions that were fixed.

At the time few people asked questions about which charities would receive the money. “It was enough just to say the money would go to charity,” Martin noted. (Read Brookes’ lecture: A question of charity for more on this.) This time, I think, it’s less likely that the money will be dispersed without questions being asked of both the donor and the recipients, given the high profile nature of the donor and the public outrage NoW’s activities have sparked.

The Institute has outlined out some questions that charities should ask themselves before accepting ad space or money from the redtop’s final sale. Here are three questions that should be asked of News International with regards to donations from NoW’s last edition: which charities will receive the donation? how will the charities be chosen? And, what will the money achieve?

The News of the World might not have been a very responsible newspaper at times, but it could at least be a thoughtful donor.