Government rejects recommendation to make ‘public interest journalism’ charitable 

28 Jan 2020 News

The government has rejected a recommendation to change the law and make it easier for news organisations to become registered charities. 

Last year the Cairncross review, which explored the sustainability of high-quality journalism, recommended making it easier for news organisations to obtain charity status by making “the advancement of public interest journalism” a charitable purpose. 

This would mean that those organisations would be able to claim the tax benefits that come with being a charity.

Last year the government said it intended to take the proposal further and consulted with the Charity Commission. It has now concluded that widening the list of charitable purposes to include public interest journalism is not necessary, in its formal response to the review published yesterday.

The government found that some local and community news organisations had already obtained charity status as had some educational news outlets. It added most news organisations would not want to become charities because it would place restrictions on how they could operate. 

“Charitable status is unlikely to be a suitable model for most news publishers given charities must be established and operated to advance charitable purposes only for the public benefit. Most news publishers would be either unwilling or unable to register and operate as charities,” it said. 

The government highlighted that news organisations that registered as charities would be “prohibited from being ‘for-profit’ companies”, and that a “news publication may in the course of its activities support a political party”, which would also not be possible for a charity.

It also pointed out that “newspapers tend to publish a mixture of different journalism”, and that a charity would not be able to subsidise the non-charitable content. 

It concluded: “Charity as a formal status has a special meaning that relies on public trust and goodwill and needs to be applied consistently. The government is not persuaded that changes to this status should be made… In the UK it is already possible for not-for-profit journalistic organisations to register as charities, and as such the government does not consider it necessary to modify the legislation.” 

How to register a news organisation

Aarti Thakor, director of legal services at the Commission, has written a blog explaining how charities “can and do use journalism as a tool to further their charitable purposes”.

She also highlights what the Commission would expect from anyone looking to register a news organisation as a charity . 

She said: “A charitable news organisation might therefore further charitable purposes like the advancement of education, citizenship or community development, the arts, culture, heritage or science, or human rights.

“What matters is that you can draw a clear link between the journalism your organisation funds or carries out and the charitable purposes it is set up to advance.” 

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