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Oxfam criticised by Charity Commission after accusations of 'political bias' in tweet

Oxfam criticised by Charity Commission after accusations of 'political bias' in tweet
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Oxfam criticised by Charity Commission after accusations of 'political bias' in tweet5

Governance | David Ainsworth | 19 Dec 2014

Oxfam “should have done more” to avoid being seen as politically biased against the government, the Charity Commission has said in a report published today.

The Commission said in the same report that charities should have written sign-off procedures for tweets and that trustees should have direct scrutiny of the campaigning process.

The Commission investigated Oxfam over an image it tweeted entitled The Perfect Storm. The investigation followed a complaint from Conor Burns, the Conservative MP for Bournemouth West, who said a tweet sent by the charity was “overtly political and aimed at the policies of the current government”.

The tweet was part of a social media campaign leading up to the publication of a report called Below the Breadline, produced jointly by Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and the Trussell Trust. But the Commission said the charity should have made it clearer what the purpose of the tweet was, and how it was linked to the report.

“We considered that the tweet could have affected the views of those who received it and could be misconstrued by some as party political campaigning,” the Commission said in its report.

“A charity must remain neutral and should consider working with other parties to help ensure public perceptions of neutrality and, as set out in an example in our guidance, that acceptable political activity is that which ‘supports the charitable purposes and that perceptions of the charity’s independence are unaffected.’

“Although we accept that the Charity had no intention to act in a party political way, we concluded that the charity should have done more to avoid any misperception of political bias by providing greater clarity and ensuring that the link to the Below the Breadline report was more obvious.”

The Commission said other charities should have “written authorisation and sign-off procedures” for sending tweets, and that as much care must be taken with social media as any other activity.

“For trustees to have clear oversight of the campaigning work of their charities is essential,” the Commission said.

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam, said he accepted his charity had not done enough to avoid accusations of bias.

"We are pleased that the Charity Commission is clear that our tweet was motivated by the desire to draw attention to the problems facing poor people in Britain today and was not party political," he said.

“At a time when increasing numbers of British people are surviving on food hand-outs, we have a responsibility to draw attention to their plight and challenge the politicians who have the power to help them.

“The Commission found that in relation to this tweet we did not do enough to avoid people misunderstanding our intentions and we accept that. We have reviewed our social media procedures to reduce the risk of tweets being misconstrued in future.”

Gaza complaint

The Commission also looked into Oxfam over the publication of an advertisement entitled Gaza. Trapped. which appeared in August.

The advert called for the ending of the blockade in Gaza (being the restriction on entry to and from Gaza) and an end to violence by both sides engaged in the conflict.

The Commission said this advert was also political campaigning but it was acceptable for the charity to run it.

“Whilst this was a political activity, we were satisfied it was undertaken in the context of supporting the delivery of Oxfam’s charitable purposes and was within the scope of our guidance on campaigning and political activity,” the Commission report said.

“Where charities engage in such an activity which concerns an area of international conflict with complex causes, they should ensure that the matter is approached in a way which clearly supports the needs of their beneficiaries. We are satisfied that the charity has done so here.”

Mike Wade
Director of Fundraising and Communications
NDCS
5 Jan 2015

Oxfam began by sending in relief to peasants in Nazi occupied Greece, in conflict with government policy., They were censored in the 80s and 90s for being too political when saying the apartheid system was evil. Long may they continue to speak out!

Sacrastronaut
23 Dec 2014

It's great to see Oxfam, the Charity Commission and the Conservatives working together to bring much needed media attention to the issue of poverty in the UK. Well done all.

Sacrastronaut
23 Dec 2014

It's great to see Oxfam, the Charity Commission and the Conservatives working together to bring much needed media attention to the issue of poverty in the UK. Well done all.

Adrian Beney
Partner
More Partnership Ltd
19 Dec 2014

I get why the Commission has slapped Oxfam on the wrist for these two campaigns. But I would encourage Oxfam and other charities to carry on pushing the boundaries of what is allowed and what isn't.

Should we be more outraged that Oxfam has tweeted a semi-political statement, or that there are families in our country who have to rely on foodbanks? Or more outraged that Oxfam has tweeted a semi-politcal statement or that in the summer Hamas and Israel were inflicting violence on each other rather than earnestly working to better to the lives of all their peoples?

And to Mr Conor Burns MP I say "please spend your time asking yourself why there are so many foodbanks in the UK at the moment. Unlike most politicians I am not bothered as to whether it's the coalition's fault, or the Tories' fault, or the last Labour government's fault. I am bothered that in a civilised country we have people who don't have enough food. And instead of posturing and blaming someone else we should ask whether we pay enough tax to provide for a truly civil society, and whether the nation would be better served by opening SureStart centres rather than closing them, and paying people to mend our roads, and welcoming immigrants as contributors to our economy and culture. And so on."

So Oxfam - good on you. And the Charity Commission - please grow up and occupy the role of champion of the not for profit sector rather than lapdog to whichever government happens to be in power. We need a body which will speak truth to power not one which is afraid of those who wield it.

Carl Allen
19 Dec 2014

Bureaucracy has often been an effective, efficient and economical means to hamper or rout.

And where bureaucracy forces the organisation's governance to take a new and direct role in any matter, then the impact of bureaucracy becomes enhanced.





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