Tania Mason: Charities must speak out when they are wronged by the media

13 Jul 2021 Voices

There have been few complaints to the Independent Press Standards Organisation by charities, but charities must stand up for themselves, writes Tania Mason.

The Spectator’s attacks on the National Trust get more hysterical by the week. This month its columnist, the Thatcher biographer Charles Moore, alleged that the charity asks job applicants at interview whether they voted for Brexit, and rejects them out of hand if they voted to leave. He also accused the Trust of being in cahoots with Stonewall to recruit LGBTQ allies to “spy on and weed out anyone who thinks, speaks or acts in an ‘unacceptable’ way”. And he claimed there is “an atmosphere of fear and bullying” against “anyone who holds a view opposed to the neo-Marxist model prevalent in the organisation”.

Even by Spectator standards, this is astonishing stuff. The column quoted a single anonymous source (basic journalism training advises at least two) and offered the Trust no right of reply. It came in the wake of another article by Moore in March which was headlined “Broken Trust: the crisis at the heart of the National Trust”, and which claimed the charity ignores its members, frowns on local expertise and allows Black Lives Matter to set its agenda.

The Spectator sank even lower this month with a story in the Real Life section headlined “The National Trust delinquents strike again”. The subheading detailed how “a man in his sixties urinated on the busy village green in full view of dozens of playing children”. The article was about a man who stopped his car, blocking the road to other vehicles, to relieve himself on the writer’s local village green. But that wasn’t his worst crime – the dirty stop-out had a National Trust sticker on his windscreen. Of course the Trust is directly responsible for the wrongdoings of every individual member.

Until recently the Trust responded with calm, weary dignity to the magazine’s output. For example, a letter from director-general Hilary McGrady in June addressed controversy over the charity’s report on the links between its properties and historic slavery, saying the report “was not driven by ideology, our intention was simply to acknowledge factually these aspects of history. In a 2020 Policy Exchange survey, 76 per cent of respondents said we should do more to educate the public about such connections. There is no truth in the allegation that we are pursuing a political agenda.”

But, like a hound after a fox, the Spectator has remained hellbent on continuing the onslaught. Eventually, the National Trust had enough. It hit back publicly against Moore’s latest claims, describing them as “ludicrous” and “ridiculous” and demanding a retraction from the publication. What’s more, it has said it will complain to IPSO, the press standards regulator, about the inaccuracies in the article.

This is good to hear. There have been few complaints to the Independent Press Standards Organisation by charities to date, as pursuing one is inevitably timeconsuming and an unwelcome distraction from charities’ missions. But as the sector is dragged further into various government-sponsored culture wars, the atmosphere feels increasingly febrile, and charities must stand up for themselves. Where they are genuinely wronged by the media, they should make full use of the opportunities for redress, including lodging complaints with the media organisation concerned and with IPSO.

For more news, interviews, opinion and analysis about charities and the voluntary sector, sign up to receive the Civil Society News daily bulletin here.


More on